Saturday 1 April 2017

FIA WEC 2017 - Monza Prologue Diary: Saturday Morning

With apologies to the inimitable Jock Simpson, I have put down a few 'jottings' this weekend. Here is the first batch of waffle.

It has been a while since I visited Monza. The last time was for a Le Mans Endurance Series race in 2004, the second incarnation of an international Le Mans series after the false start of the original ELMS in 2001. It is always a joy to arrive at the cradle of Italian motorsport although the journey to the circuit is sometimes less joyful due to its unlikely location in a large public park in a busy suburb of Milan and the consequent traffic carnage. Today however is the somewhat low-key 'Prologue' of the 2017 WEC and we breezed into the track at 7:30am through the delightful avenue of trees lining the approach to the tunnel. Low-key perhaps but not without excitement. Yesterday afternoon we arrived in time to catch the unveiling of the new Porsche 919 Hybrid on the start/finish straight, but missed the morning event where Toyota Gazoo Racing revealed the 2017 TS050 Hybrid. Thankfully our intrepid photographer Kristof (AKA 'Dottore' on the CA Forum) who has been here all week covering the ELMS testing, was there to record both events (qv earlier bloggage).

The Prologue has no points at stake and only 'bragging rights' on offer but it is an important first impression of the relative performance of new cars under new regulations. 

Track action started with the morning session promptly on Saturday at 9am. The sky was overcast but it was at least dry. On Friday we had sunshine but the weekend forecast was a bit gloomy. Toyota started as they meant to continue by holding P1 and P2 in the opening minutes. Porsche on the other hand seemed to be steadily running a couple of seconds behind until Nick Tandy in the #1 car seemed to wake up at 9:20 and was briefly fastest before Nakajima in Toyota #8 posted a 1:32.627 to retake P1 and continued to improve with a 1:32.519 the following lap. By 9:30 the class positions had Toyota #8 at the top of the screen followed by Porsche #1 and Toyota #7. In LMP2 it was the #3 Vaillante Rebellion ahead of TDS Racing #28 and G-Drive #26. In the GTE classes, the Ford #67 led the Porsches #92 and #91 in Pro, and at that point the Gulf racing Porsche #86 was considerably quicker than the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari and #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari. 

At 9:40 the sun finally penetrated the clouds and the track started to warm up. By 10:00 there had been an hour of green flag practice with no incidents apart from harmless minor excursions including an early short-cut at Rettifilio (T1) by the #35 Alpine, and a test of the full course yellow (FCY) system. The LMP1 positions after the first hour were Toyota #8 (1:32.308) with the Porsche #1 only 0.234s behind, followed by the #7 Toyota. In P2 it was still the #31 Vaillante Rebellion followed by G-Drive #26 and #28 TDS Racing. In GTE Pro it was #92 Porsche, #67 Ford, #91 Porsche, and in Am #86 Porsche, #54 Ferrari, #77 Porsche.

At about 10:20 it became clear that the apparent slight lack of pace of the #2 Porsche was only temporary and Hartley promoted it to P3 behind Porsche #1 with a lap of 1:33.079. At 10:30 the LMP1, LMP2 and GTE Pro positions were unchanged, but the top three in GTE Am had reversed order with the Dempsey Proton Porsche #77 fastest from #54 Ferrari and #86 Porsche. 

At 10:40 Tandy improved the best time of the Porsche #1 to 1:32.274, putting it at the top of the timing screen. 

By 11:00 we were wondering what had happened to the ByKolles CLM #4, which had yet to be seen on the track. Tony popped down the the ByKolles box and reported that they were confident that the car would participate in the afternoon session. It has to be said however that the CLM was in its component parts and looked like a very large jigsaw puzzle. 

Just before 11:00, Jani improved the time of the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid to 1:32.068, keeping it in P1 ahead of the #8 Toyota and #2 Porsche. Business as usual in LMP2 with the top three still unchanged (#31,#26,#28) and similarly in GTE Pro (#92,#67,#51) and GTE Am (#77,#54,#86). By this time the early overcast sky had almost completely burned-off to be replaced by hazy sunshine and a few innocent looking cumuli. 

At 11:30 we entered the final 30 minutes of the first session. Top two in all classes had remained unchanged although the #2 Porsche slipped to 4th fastest behind the #7 Toyota. In GTE Pro the #66 Ford GT was promoted to third quickest, displacing the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. Sweaty looking photographers returning to the press room testified that it had warmed up a bit out there.

Ten minutes before the chequered flag of the first session, Barker the GTE Am #86 Gulf Racing Porsche put in a time of 1:50.315 raising it from third to fastest in class. The session closed at 12:00 with Porsche #1 fastest (1:32.068) from Toyota #8 , Toyota #7 and Porsche #2. In LMP2 it was still the #31 Vaillante Rebellion quickest with a time of 1:36.094 with sister car #13 now second, displacing the #26 G-Drive to 3rd. Quickest GTE Pro was #92 Porsche from Fords #67 and #66. In the GTE Am class the Gulf Racing Porsche retained its last gasp top time to finish with the best time in class, followed by #77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche and #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari.

Full timing and results can be found HERE

Keen eyed timing enthusiasts will notice that the top five top speeds were set by LMP2 cars.