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Toyota Encouraged by Non-Hybrids’ Prologue Pace

Non-hybrid Prologue speed ‘good for the championship’, according to Toyota technical boss…

Photo: Toyota

Toyota Gazoo Racing technical director Pascal Vasselon believes close LMP1 competition can be achieved in next season’s FIA World Endurance Championship, based on this week’s Prologue results.

His comments suggesting non-hybrid teams could win races in 2019-20 come after a closer-than-expected pre-season test at Circuit de Catalunya.

Toyota came away with the fastest lap, but the best of the non-hybrid entries from Rebellion Racing gradually improved over the four sessions to end up just three-tenths off the pace.

The quickest non-hybrid lap was a 1:29.408 set by Gustavo Menezes in the No. 1 Rebellion R13 Gibson, compared to the event-leading 1:29.141 set by Jose Maria Lopez.

Team LNT also made gradual gains, with the best Ginetta G60-LT-P1 AER lap from Formula 2 racer Luca Ghiotto putting the British-build prototype half a second off Toyota.

While Toyota opted to focus on long runs and the development of its new Michelin tire specification over the two days, Vasselon was nonetheless impressed with the non-hybrids efforts.

“I think it’s a very good year for the championship, and that Rebellion’s [pace] is not surprising,” he commented.

“But what Ginetta has achieved is very remarkable and a good move for the championship.

“I think it gives a lot of momentum to these teams because everyone is very close together: the top three cars of each team are within half a second.

“Obviously, they are in the window to win races, and with the success handicap definitely they will win races.”

Vasselon expressed confidence that the 14 kg weight increase imposed on the Toyotas before the Prologue, which made them heavier than at any point last season, was reflected in the pre-season times.

He reiterated that Toyota can therefore expect a fight for overall victory as it heads into the season-opening 4 Hours of Silverstone in September.

“Silverstone is a similar nature of track [to Catalunya]. There is a bit more grip and there are more high-speed corners, but it is a high-downforce track, so we should see something reasonably close there,” he said.

“Rebellion should be now ready to fight us at the front. I am confident that Rebellion will be there immediately.

“Ginetta may take a couple of races to get together, but I think we have three proper teams.”

Rebellion Pleased with Off-Season Changes

Rebellion Racing team owner Alexandre Pesci said he was satisfied with the pace of the Swiss team’s R13 Gibsons at Catalunya, and agreed on Vasselon’s point that the LMP1 field will tighten up next season.

“The technical work of the WEC, FIA and ACO with the modifications of the regulation for the non-hybrid cars will surely allow us to be more competitive during this season,” he said.

“In addition, this Prologue allowed us to test new drivers on Rebellion R13 cars. Our teams kept on working on the cars and ended up getting closer to 0.221 seconds of the Toyota Hybrids lap times.

“We hope that with the new EoT, it will allow us to fight in LMP1 category from Silverstone next month.”

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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