Friday 18 September 2015

Porsche on top after Thursday practice

Porsche set the fastest laptimes in both practice sessions on Thursday, though it took a late charge by Timo Bernhard in the #17 car to get the first spot in the night session.

In the afternoon session it was Romain Dumas who set the fastest time in a blistering 1.42.231, the fastest lap ever done by an LMP1 car at COTA.  Mark Webber put his Porsche 919 on second place, ahead of the #8 Audi.  Both Toyota's came in 4th and 5th, ahead of the #7 Audi who had alternator issues early in the session and only managed to complete a few laps.  KCMG continued to dominate the LMP2 class in their Oreca 05 ahead of both Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier-Nissans who put in a strong performance at their home track.

The Ferrari #51 hit trouble again in GTE Pro when it stopped on track early in the session, apparently with the same issues they had at te Nürburgring a few weeks ago.  The #71 Ferrari took the honours instead, ahead of the #92 Porsche.  Patrick Long put in a strong performance in the #77 Dempsey Proton 911 RSR, mingling in between the pro cars, and well ahead of the #50 Larbre Corvette and the #83 Ferrari F458 Italia.

Lucas Di Grassi seemed to have the upper hand in the evening session, ahead of both Porsche 919's, untill both Porsches hammered it down at the end of the session.  Mark Webber ultimately got 0.242 seconds faster than Di Grassi, with the #18 Porsche getting the third fastest time.  In the privateer category the #12 Rebeillon R-One outpaced the #8 ByKolles.  After Nicolas Lapierre had an off in the KCMG Oreca, the #27 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan was fastest in LMP2, ahead of KCMG and the blue #36 Signatech Alpine.

Laptimes in GTE were very close with the top 6 cars within 1 second.  Patrick Pilet was fastest in the Porsche #92, ahead of James Calado in the #71 Ferrari and the #91 sister car.  Victor Shaytar was fastest in the Am-category, half a second faster than the #83 Ferrari and the #96 Aston Martin.

At the pre-event press conference this afternoon, Scott Sharp confirmed that the Patron ESM team will continue its efforts in WEC next season.  "WEC fits perfectly in the Tequila Patron strategy which is leaning towards their worldwide expansion.  2015 has been a challenging year for the team, not at least after having to chance of chassis 3 times early in the season.  It's a year full of learning the new championship, new tracks, new competition ... and it's hard to put it all together so quickly.  It's to be back at COTA, our home race on a track we know very well, giving the team a lot more comfort.  The morning session gave us the best result of the season, so we're looking forward to the rest of the weekend".

Mike Conway spoke about the tough year Toyota has had so far and the development of the car for next season. "Contrary to last year, when we had a very fast car, dominating almost every race and giving us a shot at several victories, it's tough to struggle to hold the pace this year.  It's a big gap with the frontrunners, one that we never expected.  We've got to ride it out and focus ourselves on 2016 and the development of the new car.  After a disappointing start of the season, we were quite early thinking about 2016 and the challenges to find extra seconds and adapt to a new hybrid system.  We'll be pushing the 2015 car right untill the end, with a bit of luck we might even be able to score one or more podium finishes in the races to come."

The final free practice is scheduled at 10.30 am (local time) today, qualifying in the afternoon.

Kristof Vermeulen