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GTE Drivers are “Asking How to Overtake” Toyotas in Bahrain

Toyota LMP1 team’s management expects Bahrain to be a tougher challenge than Shanghai…

Photo: James Moy/Toyota

Toyota Gazoo Racing team director Rob Leupen says that GTE drivers have asked the manufacturer about how best to overtake its hybrid LMP1 cars in the 8 Hours of Bahrain.

The Toyotas have been given the two largest Success Handicap penalties for the third race in a row because they remain first and second in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s theoretical LMP1 car points table.

Leupen said that while the Toyota TS050 Hybrid is the only LMP1 car to have raced at the Sakhir circuit before, this fact has been canceled out by its cuts in hybrid performance.

“It’s quite tough. You cannot do what you know you could do,” he told Sportscar365.

“It’s not nice to see when LMP1 and LMP2 cars are coming up to work out how to overtake you in the best way. It’s not nice if a GTE-Am driver is saying that we’re a safety risk on the track.

“We will try to make the best out of it. In qualifying, we knew that we would not be a challenger for pole position.

“We heard [our] drivers saying that in China they had a long corner onto the straight where they could use their four-wheel-drive but here you are a brick in the road.

“Even the lower categories are starting to complain. We have GT drivers asking us how to overtake us in the best way.

“The question is, are we doing the right thing? We have put this question out a few times these last two days.”

Toyota’s technical director Pascal Vasselon admitted that Bahrain will be worse than Shanghai was for Toyota in the power stakes.

In China, the fastest Toyota speed trap figure was 22 km/h slower than any of its non-hybrid LMP1 rivals while all of the LMP2 cars also posted higher top speeds.

After qualifying in Bahrain, all the prototypes plus two Aston Martin Vantage GTEs and a Ferrari 488 GTE Evo had registered a faster trap than the best of the TS050s.

“When [the handicap] is done with weight, this is something which is reasonably stable,” Vasselon told Sportscar365.

“But our success handicap is done uniquely with the powertrain. Here, again at a power circuit, it affects even more than Shanghai. It’s the second place where it hurts.”

However, Vasselon dismissed the suggestion that the drastically slower Toyotas will pose a hazard during today’s race.

“The answer I have made is that motorsport is dangerous,” he commented.

“As soon as you go and try to be faster there is a notion of danger. I would not follow that route that it’s dangerous.

“For sure, our drivers need to take additional care because LMP2 and GTs are sometimes coming back in places where they were not there anymore.”

Toyota Banking on Long Form to Win

Sebastien Buemi, who shares the No. 8 Toyota with Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, admitted that the team’s chances of victory in Bahrain hinge on its handling of the anticipated high tire degradation.

The Swiss driver suggested that Toyota’s top-end speed disparity is too great for its cars to be a factor on pure pace.

“The Ginettas were passing us like if we were LMP2,” Buemi told Sportscar365.

“If you look at the speed trap at the end of the straight, our fuel cut is much earlier so by the time we cross the line, we are between 235 and 245 km/h [on average].

“We are around 240 but the Ginetta is at 300 km/h. At that particular point of the track they are 50 to 60 km/h quicker than us. It’s difficult to have a fair chance.”

Buemi continued: “It’s a lot less [tire degradation] than it used to be here because we have a lot less power. But it remains a track where you need to care about the tires.

“Maybe we have less [wear] than them and then instead of being half a second or seven-tenths behind, we might only be two-tenths behind. Then maybe we are in the race. But on pure pace, we are too slow.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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