Toyota warns of non-hybrid rivals’ strength
Although Fernando Alonso piloted the No.8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid to the top of the time sheet during the Le Mans test day, his time of 3:19.066 was only 0.614 seconds ahead of the second-quickest racer, the non-hybrid Rebellion R13 Gibson, driven by Mathias Beche, which dropped the No.7 TS050 into third with a time of 3:20.008.
The Toyota-splitting pace of the Rebellion was enough to prompt Toyota Gazoo Racing’s technical director Pascal Vasselon to acknowledge that the non-hybrid LMP1 entrants had become “very serious” competitors thanks to the “large progress” made by the privateers since their performance in the World Endurance Championship’s superseason opener at Spa.
“What we’re interested in is the progress. Obviously, our new competitors are not stabilised, I would say, in their performance development,” said Vasselon after the test.
“We saw very large progress for the Rebellion but even more for the SMP cars. They are coming very strongly and for sure we can’t rest… We are already pushing and we will try to find some extra tenths.”
He did however add that the test day was successful, with the two Toyota’s racking up more than 1,700 miles between them, and completing several high-mileage runs on some sets of tyres. This meant that the test was “very good preparation for the race”, even if Alonso’s time was still slower than the benchmark from last year’s test.
This, Vasselon explained, was because Toyota did not undertake qualifying simulations with either of its cars this year, although according to the outfit’s predictions, thanks to the improvements made to the TS050 since 2017’s test day, and the high-grip levels of the test, a 3:17 lap would have been possible. Vasselon was also keen to point out that this year’s racers were also improved in terms of race pace, insisting that they were “significantly faster than last year.”