Toyota Gazoo Racing focused on optimizing its approach to tire use in the Total 6 Hours of Spa during Friday’s qualifying session in which it finished second and third to Rebellion.
The LMP1 team’s technical director Pascal Vasselon said that it opted to save a set of tires for Saturday’s six-hour race, rather than putting on a new set to challenge the No. 1 Rebellion R13 Gibson for pole.
The Japanese manufacturer was less fancied heading into qualifying mainly because of its cars arriving with larger success handicaps than the non-hybrid LMP1s.
Additionally, Rebellion swept the lead of all three practice sessions held across Thursday and Friday.
However, Kazuki Nakajima came up just four-thousandths of a second short of the time set by Rebellion’s Gustavo Menezes during the first set of flying laps in qualifying.
Menezes then stayed out for another lap, which enabled the American to eke out another three-tenths of a second to lay the foundations for Rebellion’s fourth straight WEC pole.
“We have been quite surprised by the very little gap after the first lap,” Vasselon told Sportscar365.
“We decided to use only one set for the two drivers, especially here where the tire degradation is quite high after the first lap, and starting the race stint on new tires and used tires is quite different in terms of pace. So we decided to favor the race and use only one set.
“We were surprised that car No. 8 was so close after the first run. After that [Menezes] took three-tenths so anyway it would have been difficult to go on top. We have no regrets to go on this strategy for the race.”
Menezes noted that he and Nato also shared the same set of tires and explained why the No. 8 Toyota was able to get so close during the first set of flying laps.
“We were struggling with the balance of the car and we knew we would need to make a big step with the balance,” he said.
“We were quite worried that they [Toyota] would take us, but we made quite a few changes and the car performed in qualifying.
“Because we have rear-wheel drive and they have four-wheel-drive, we struggled to get [tire] temperature on our first lap, so we were right there with the Toyota.
“On the next lap the pace stepped up quite a good amount. I think there was still more in there. Then Norman did an incredible job to continue on the same tires as me.”
Rebellion is using its high-downforce aero kit at Spa, while Toyota has opted to use its low-downforce kit that will also appear at the 24 Hours of Le Mans next month.
Vasselon explained that Toyota has tweaked its package to make it more suitable for Spa’s twisty middle sector which demands as much downforce and grip as possible.
“It’s definitely the package we will run at Le Mans, but here we are using the top end of this package in terms of downforce,” he said.
“We are using here what we would use for a fully wet Le Mans. When you see the gap in sector two, which is the downforce sector, it’s very big.
“We run it to prepare for Le Mans and it’s always very difficult for drivers to endure the low-downforce, so we prefer to give them a race on this package [ahead of] Le Mans.”
Any Conditions Manageable after 2019 Snowstorm
Vasselon acknowledged that while the prediction of rain at times during the race will likely compromise Toyota’s low-downforce aero, last year’s snowstorm proved the Le Mans package is stable enough to make it through any scale of adverse conditions.
Toyota won the 2019 Total 6 Hours of Spa in low-downforce trim against Rebellion’s high-downforce setup in appalling weather, although the Equivalence of Technology used then gave different LMP1 performance qualities to the current success handicaps.
To compare, the Toyotas are 28 kg heavier than they were at Spa last May, while Rebellion’s car is 53 kg heavier than it was for the WEC’s last visit to Belgium.
“It will be hard work [if it rains] because we are at the maximum level of downforce that we can have with this package,” suggested Vasselon.
“On the other hand, last year we were provided the worst-ever scenario we could have been provided at Spa with rain and snow, and still our drivers were able to get on top of these conditions.
“Rain will be challenging for us, but we saw last year that our drivers can tame even worse conditions than what we can have tomorrow.”