SMP Racing felt that Sergey Sirotkin’s fastest lap in Free Practice 1 at Spa was close to the maximum that the BR Engineering BR1 AER can achieve around the 4.3-mile circuit.
Sirotkin led a 1-2 for the Russian squad in Thursday’s opening on-track session with a time of 1:56.264 that was 2.4 seconds quicker than the best of the Toyota TS050 Hybrids.
SMP is using its high-downforce aero kit at Spa, while its main rivals Toyota Gazoo Racing and Rebellion Racing are using their high speed, low-downforce kits in preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
This has helped the BR1s run much quicker through the twisty middle sector while Toyota has generally been faster through the opening and closing sectors which are dominated by straights.
“It was impressive, but if you look at how this lap was made, you will see that it was low-fuel, new soft tires and the lap was absolutely clear of traffic,” a senior SMP team source told Sportscar365.
“There was nothing in his way. It was like when Kobayashi did 3:14 at Le Mans. It’s the same kind of lap.
“[The Toyotas] were not slow actually. They have a little bit more weight this race, compared to the last year’s race.
“Last year, in qualifying they were around [one minute] 54.5 [seconds]. So, we think they will be more or less there.”
It’s understood that SMP elected to use its high-downforce kit at Spa because its Le Mans bodywork is unchanged from last year and so it didn’t need to be rolled out for the penultimate WEC round.
Toyota driver Sebastien Buemi felt that SMP Racing’s early statement was “pretty impressive”.
“For [one minute] 56 [seconds], we’ve been doing 54s in qualifying when everything was pretty optimal, so to see a 56 directly in FP1 is pretty impressive,” he said.
“I’m not sure it would have been easily possible to match that lap time. We’ll see when it counts.”
Rebellion team principal Bart Hayden added that the pre-event EoT adjustment that saw the LMP1 non-hybrids’ fuel flow per lap limits rescinded for Spa is helping the drivers to push more, but wouldn’t suggest a closer gap to Toyota in the race.
“I think that not having to lift [and coast] will obviously be beneficial,” he told Sportscar365.
“I’m sure that part of the idea is for the ACO and FIA to get more data heading into Le Mans.
“It’s difficult to really know how we’re going to compare against Toyota. I’m sure it’ll be very close between us and SMP.”
ByKolles Hoping Gibson Switch Brings Reliability
Fellow LMP1 competitor ByKolles Racing is hoping to have its first truly “trouble-free” weekend in its first event since switching to Gibson’s V8 engine from a turbocharged Nissan V6 unit over the winter.
Team principal Manfredi Ravetto told Sportscar365 that he was “emotional” when he saw the car shake down for the first time with the Gibson engine in the build-up to Spa.
ByKolles lapped seven seconds off the pace in FP1 but produced more competitive times in FP2 with Tom Dillmann reaching the top of the leaderboard at one point in wet conditions.
“This partnership with Gibson is the right thing for the team in the right moment,” said Ravetto.
“These are very complicated cars, so adapting an engine to an existing car is really not an easy thing. But the guys worked flat out, night and day – literally.
“One weekend where you can say that it was a trouble-free one, we have never had. So, I am still curious to see what we can deliver if we have a trouble-free weekend. I am optimistic of this.”