Toyota Gazoo Racing technical director Pascal Vasselon believes the LMP1 non-hybrids have become “very serious” competitors following better-than-expected performances from the privateers in Sunday’s Le Mans Test Day.
While the No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Fernando Alonso topped the time charts, a 3:19.680 lap registered by Mathias Beche in the No. 3 Rebellion R13 Gibson, put the Swiss squad within seven-tenths of Alonso’s pace-setting time.
Improvements also came from the pair of SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 AERs in the afternoon session, with Vitaly Petrov reeling off a 3:21.603 lap to be quickest of the Russian prototypes.
Andre Lotterer, meanwhile, slotted the No. 1 Rebellion into fourth on the time charts.
Vasselon admitted he was surprised by Rebellion’s pace, stating they made “large progress” from where the ORECA-built cars were in last month’s FIA World Endurance Championship season-opener at Spa.
“What we’re interested in is the progress,” he said. “Obviously, our new competitors are not stabilized, I would say, in their performance development.
“And we saw very large progress today, for the Rebellion but even more for the SMP cars.
“They are coming [on] very strongly and for sure we can’t rest so much.”
When asked whether Rebellion and SMP are now more of a threat for the race, Vasselon indicated they could pose a tougher fight than initially expected.
“Based on today, they are very serious competitors,” he said. “We are already pushing so we will try to find some extra tenths.”
The FIA and ACO have yet to finalize the Equivalence of Technology for the race, although has stated it will provide non-hybrids with enough fuel to prevent lift-and-coasting that teams battled with at Spa.
The Test Day EoT saw non-hybrids with a maximum petrol flow of 108 kg/h, compared to the Toyota’s 80 kg/h.
Final numbers for maximum petrol energy and maximum petrol per stint, as well as the refueling restrictor size, has yet to be released.
Lap Times “Better than Expected”
Vasselon admitted their test day pace was “better than expected” with no issues reported throughout the two sessions, which saw the two cars combine to complete more than 1,700 miles.
“We did a lot of laps, quite high mileage on several sets of tires,” he said. “It was a very good preparation for the race.
“It was a little bit better than expected [pace-wise]. Unlike last year, we didn’t do any qually run. We focused on race preparation.
“In terms of race pace, we’re significantly faster than what we were last year.”
Alonso’s low-3:19 lap time was nine-tenths slower than Toyota’s pace-setting time at the test last year, which Vasselon said holds no comparison due to not going for a qualifying simulation run on Sunday.
“If we want to compare to last year, we probably would have been able to do a [3:]17,” he said.