Toyota’s FIA World Endurance Championship technical director Pascal Vasselon said that the Hypercar manufacturer put a “special effort” into its preparations for qualifying at the 8 Hours of Bahrain, considering the impact it would have on the title race.
Friday evening’s 10-minute qualifying session was crucial for the points scenarios of both Toyota Gazoo Racing crews, which arrived 15 points apart in the drivers’ standings.
Kamui Kobayashi beat Brendon Hartley to the final pole position of the year, earning an extra point for the No. 7 trio that also includes Jose Maria Lopez and Mike Conway.
The result increased the No. 7 crew’s lead to 16 points over the No. 8, removing the possibility for the chasing crew of Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima to capture the championship by winning today’s race and their sister car finishing third.
Vasselon explained after the session that Toyota put an unusually high emphasis on priming both of its GR010 Hybrids for qualifying during the Free Practice sessions.
“During the day there has been a lot of qualifying preparation,” Vasselon told Sportscar365.
“This time for the championship fight, the point of the pole position was important.
“It was important for car No. 8 to get this point, because they had the chance to win [the title] if car No. 7 was third and car No. 8 wins [in the race].
“Now, car No. 7 just has to finish third and they win the championship. The qualifying point was important. This is why the two cars have done qualifying sims in every single session.
“And it’s true that during these qualifying sims, Brendon had the edge. But in proper qualifying Kamui has had the edge over him.”
Hartley led all three of the Free Practice sessions leading up to qualifying, but ultimately fell 0.29 seconds short of Kobayashi in the key timed session.
Vasselon attributed this to a large improvement on Kobayashi’s part since qualifying for last weekend’s 6 Hours of Bahrain, when Hartley won the duel to stick the No. 8 on pole.
“Just drivers get better and better, the more qualifying sims they do,” Vasselon offered.
“All of them have done four qualifying runs, which is unprecedented.
“Usually in our race preparation format, we have one race qualifying sim. This time there was a special effort, and this I think explains the lap times.
“I think Kamui has probably underperformed at the last race [qualifying session].
“Brendon did a 1:47.0 for the last race, and this time he has done a 1:46.5. So it’s half a second, but Kamui gained much more. I think that last weekend Kamui underperformed.”
Alpine Hoping to “Finish on a Good Note”
Matthieu Vaxiviere qualified third on the three-car Hypercar grid for Alpine Endurance Team, which is eager to “finish on a good note” according to team boss Philippe Sinault.
Alpine barely featured in the 6 Hours of Bahrain, but Sinault believes that the different parameters at play during the longer eight-h0ur race are giving the French squad encouragement that it can have a better run.
“The key is tire degradation,” Sinault told Sportscar365.
“We were quite OK during the first race until mid-race, and then we were struggling more with fuel consumption and tire degradation. We have worked on it.
“I think we have improved the settings of the car. The longer race will mean the weather is different, and also we have more windows to play with the tire strategy because we have more tires to play with in an eight-hour race.
“The plan is that we should finish on a good note. We want to be in front of Toyota, so we will try.”
Sinault hopes that the Alpine can manage to run 29-lap stints in today’s race, marking a one-lap improvement on its highest stint length figure in the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
He suggested that the cooler temperatures that will come with much of the eight-hour contest taking place in darkness should slow down the car’s rate of fuel consumption.
“We have put everything in order to gain a minimum of one lap,” said Sinault. “But 31 is impossible to reach for us. So far the target is 29 and we will see.
“It is related to the track – it’s a global package. Also the weather influences the fuel consumption with our engine.”
Vasselon reckons that the grandfathered Alpine LMP1 has a greater chance of getting closer to the Toyota LMHs than it did compared to last weekend, despite racing on the same track.
“I would say the parameters are the same as the same race; it’s still there,” he said.
“They should be able. We have been surprised at the tire degradation, and they might be surprised as well.
“I’m sure they have been working on it. They should be able to challenge us.”
Conway, Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre will take the start of the race for the three Hypercar teams.