Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon says there’s “no easy explanation” why Rebellion Racing wasn’t quicker in qualifying for the 4 Hours of Shanghai, stating the LMP1 non-hybrid should have been upwards of three seconds faster than it was.
The Swiss squad claimed its first-ever overall pole in FIA World Endurance Championship competition, with Bruno Senna and Gustavo Menezes combining for a 1:45.892 average in their Rebellion R13 Gibson.
The car’s quickest lap, a 1:45.788 set by Senna, was 2.919 seconds slower than Andre Lotterer’s 1:42.869 qualifying time from last year in the same car, which had put him second on the grid.
Vasselon argues that despite the success handicap, which has translated to a 0.9-second per lap slowdown for the ORECA-built prototype, Rebellion should have been considerably quicker, especially considering off-season tire development for LMP1 non-hybrids.
“From our side it was exactly as we expected because we were anticipating roughly a four-second loss, which we got,” Vasselon said.
“We are quite good at predicting our pain.
“Last year we were in 42.6 This time 46.5, so roughly where we expected to be.
“The surprise is that the Rebellion is so slow. We should not have really been challenging the Rebellion and the Ginetta.
“The Ginetta, we have no reference, but with the Rebellion, it’s very strange.
“Last year they had challenged us with very quick lap times. We did 42.6 and they did 42.8. Since last year they got 37 kg ballast, which is normally 0.9 seconds, very well defined.
“They should have been in the high 43 or low 44. We have no explanation how they can be 46.
“The gap to LMP2 is just amazing. Last year they were 5.6 seconds faster than the best P2. This year they are only 2.3 seconds faster. It’s just unbelievable.
“I cannot understand how the Rebellion can be so slow.”
When asked if he believes Rebellion may be sandbagging, Vasselon refused to make any allegations, stressing that he’s just crunching the numbers.
“I’m not suggesting anything,” he said. “I just compile the figures and the figures are just unbelievable.
“Where are these 2.5 seconds? It’s not easy to lose 2.5 seconds. What we see from our side is that everything is very predictable.
“We got within a half-second of the lap time we predicted, so we are exactly where we predicted to be, compared to the LMP2s. LMP2s have been marginally faster than last year, so the track is not super slow.
“Our gap to LMP2 is one that you can anticipate with success handicap.
“The gap of the Rebellion, absolutely not. And not by half-a-second, it’s by 2-2.5 seconds.
“I have no explanation. It’s quite remarkable.”
When asked by Sportscar365 on Saturday morning, Rebellion team manager Bart Hayden said he was also mystified at his car’s lack of pace and was unable to explain why they haven’t been quicker on single-lap pace.
He attributed some of their loss to their tires not activating, the same issue that has hit the Toyotas due to the success handicaps imposed.
Pole-sitter Menezes shared the same feelings as Hayden, noting the gains they’ve even made since the start of the weekend.
“It’s been shocking,” Menezes said. “We’ve been struggling, the whole LMP1 class in general, with grip all weekend.
“You can clearly see with the pace compared to last year, but I was very surprised when I went on track for quali and the car was well over three seconds faster [than in Free Practice].”
Vasselon: Shanghai to be “Low Point” for Toyota
Vasselon said they expect tomorrow’s race to be the low-point of the season for the Toyota TS050 Hybrid due to the way the success handicap impacts their car.
“We are at the maximum possible success handicap and because Shanghai is a track that is especially sensitive to the powertrain handicap we have,” he explained.
“We do our handicap by powertrain, which has different sensitivities from track to track. So it should be the most difficult race for us in terms of pace and collective pace to LMP2.
“We are really in trouble to pass LMP2s. Even with the GTs sometimes, they come back at some places where our drivers are not used to be challenged.
“We are preparing a different race than usual, being specially cautious with the traffic, which normally we don’t even consider, which now is very problematic.
“We will do our race and we target to make no mistakes and then we will see what happens.
“It’s not in our hands because pace-wise we have no chance. So we can just do our own race, be as consistent as possible and then let’s see what happens to the others.”