Friday 14 April 2017

FIA WEC 2017 - 6 Hours of Silverstone: Friday free practice report

Winter testing and the prologue are behind us and this weekend the serious business of racing begins.  

Our intrepid advance-guard arrived on Thursday in balmy weather and jolly sunshine, but Friday morning was far from balmy, if not to say chilly when we arrived at the track, and light rain was forecast for FP2 (although ultimately it never turned up). Yesterday afternoon we were treated to the launch of the Ginetta LMP1 project.  The prospect of one or more new LMP1 private teams is a promising one and a welcome development. Enthusiasm aside though, from all appearances the project appears to be still early in its gestation. There is a physical scale model but we understand that the aero' testing done so far has been in a digital wind tunnel (computational fluid dynamics). The future is bright for them if they can attract customer teams soon, but the clock is ticking and thus far there are no confirmed buyers for the ten cars they plan to make, and with a price tag of £1.34 million for a rolling chassis you'll need deep pockets, but comparing that with a factory LMP1-H programme it's chump change. We wish them success and we look forward to hearing that some real physical hardware is under test soon. 

Enough of the future, what about the present. There are 27 entries for the 6 hours of Silverstone WEC on Sunday and a healthy 35 for the 4 hours of Silverstone ELMS race on Saturday. With FIA F3 and World Series Formula V8 also here this weekend, there will be lots of track action to keep us entertained. The ELMS action is being covered separately here on the blog by Kristof who has already been busy posting pictures from FP1 yesterday (qv elsewhere this blog). The curtain was lifted on the 2017 WEC at 11:45 on Friday morning with an hour and a half of Free Practice 1.

With Porsche opting for low down-force aero' configuration and Toyota favouring high down-force, their relative pace here at Silverstone was the subject of much pre-race speculation. If anything could be read into what we saw at the prologue in Monza two weeks ago it is that the two factory LMP1 teams appear closely matched and that such choices might make the difference. FP1 started on time at 11:45 and Buemi in #8 Toyota was quick to set the benchmark of the session with a lap of 1:40.104. Thereafter there was not much in the way of purple on the timing screen and there were reports of the odd spot of rain around the track. Drivers explored the outer limits of the circuit and there was a flurry of track limits warnings followed by black and white driving standards flags as the race director made sure that taking liberties with the white lines that define the circuit edges would not be tolerated.

After an hour of fairly uneventful practice, Stefan Mucke in Ford #66 stopped on the inside of The Loop at 12:45 which brought about a full course yellow for four minutes until 12:49 when the Ford GT got moving again and headed back to the pit lane. The track remained green until the chequered flag at 13:15 with no further improvements despite the track drying and the odd bit of blue sky visible here and there.

In LMP2 it was the Vaillante Rebellion #13 quickest with a lap or 1:45.913 and in GTE Pro Aston Martin #95 with a time of 1:59.110. In GTE Am, with an early lap by Lamy, the Aston Martin #98 was quickest with a time of 1:59.342 which was also the second fastest GTE time of the session ahead of the majority of the GTE Pro grid.

The green flag for FP2 was at 16:45 promptly with Nakajima in the #8 Toyota first out of pit exit. Nakajima put in a quick early flying lap of 1:38.210 just before Nicolas Lapierre in #36 spun at Luffield and continued, only to go off at the same turn the following lap but this time beaching the car in the gravel. The full course yellow came out at 16:52 for a few minutes to recover the Signatech Alpine A470 which finally continued back to the pit lane and was swiftly pushed into its pit garage.

Meanwhile the lone privateer LMP1 entry, the ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01 Nismo #4 in the hands of James Rossiter was beginning to put in some respectable times having been down in the lower orders of LMP2 times in the morning session but still about four seconds a lap off the LMP1-H pace.

With 45 minutes remaining in the session, in LMP2 the #26 G-Drive in the hands of Alex Lynn recorded a time of 1:44.874 putting it to the top of the class order and quicker than the aforementioned #4 which stood at 1:45.512 at the time. In GTE Pro, the factory Porsche #92 discovered some pace in the hands of Kevin Estre with a time of 1:57.957 from the Aston Martin #97 and #95. In GTE Am the Gulf Porsche #86 was quickest.

At 17:30 the #24 Manor was reported by the stewards for speeding in the pitlane. Meanwhile there was yet another crop of track limits warnings, including the #86 Porsche which won itself a black and white flag for Michael Wainwright. Despite early problems, the #36 Alpine rejoined in the hands of Lapierre and posted the second fastest LMP2 time thus far in the session 1:45.006.

At the top of the timing screen with 30 minutes remaining were the two Toyotas #8 and #7. Porsche however seemed to be doing longer stints and a steadier pace. Both the Porsche 919 hybrids did 30 contiguous laps (55 minutes) in the session. Meanwhile, Lotterer in the 1# Porsche was awarded a black and white driving standards flag for track limits abuse at Club corner.

The sun broke through finally at 17:48 for the closing minutes of FP2.

Menezes got into in the 'event prone' #36 Alpine had a small scary moment at 17:50 and brought the car back to pit lane for a bit of tinkering then went back out again. With 20 minutes to go the positions on the timing screen had crystallised with Toyota #8 quickest from #7 Toyota and #2 Porsche.

The G-Drive #26 topped the LMP2 order from #36 Alpine and #13 Vaillante Rebellion. The factory Porsche #92 was still in charge of GTE Pro followed by Aston Martins #97 and #95. Porsche also quickest in GTE Am in the form of the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR (991) from Spirit of Race Ferrari #'54 and Dempsey-Proton Porsche #77.

At the chequered flag the top times were unchanged, but you can't really read much into free practice times with some teams going for quick laps and others putting their focus on race preparation. We have one more (slightly shorter) free practice session on Saturday from 9:40 until 10:40 followed by GTE qualifying at 13:00 and LMP qualifying at 13:30.

Full timing data and classification can be found HERE