Toyota threw down the gauntlet early in the WEC season over the weekend at Monza where the series’ prologue event was held. The annual testing session allows competitors to get a gauge on their counterparts ahead of the first race.The Japanese team finished the weekend 1-2 with the fastest lap coming from reigning LMP2 Champion, Nicolas Lapierre, in the fifth and final test session of the weekend on Sunday. His time of a 1:30.547 in the #8 Toyota was over a half-second quicker than the best managed by #7 Toyota squad.
The test session at Monza marked a return to Toyota for Lapierre, who will be part of the driver lineup for their 3rd car ran at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans only. Lapierre was fired from Toyota in 2014 after a series of incidents. Posting the fastest time of the weekend certainly marks the relationship between Lapierre and Toyota is resuming on a high note.
Toyota Gazoo racing logged more than 2,300 miles between the two cars at Monza without any serious setbacks. One of the cars was spotted stationary on the track during the first practice session on Saturday, but never failed to continue circling the track.
Also of note, Toyota were routinely fastest in the first, high speed, sector of the track. Straight-line speed bodes well for the self-named “sore losers,” potential at Le Mans redemption after their 2016 last lap collapse.
Failing to break into the 1:30’s during the weekend, but finishing right on the heels of Toyota, Porsche’s best lap time was the 1:31.666 posted by Neel Jani before the rain came on the night practice session Saturday.
Overall, the testing session for Porsche can be analyzed as a success for the German marque despite being over a second off the fastest Toyota. Porsche logged many laps with their 919 Hybrids without suffering a serious mechanical failure, albeit being spotted running slowly on track a few times.
TDS Racing lead the LMP2 class at the hands of Matthieu Vaxiviere who ran a 1:36.078 in their Oreca 07. This is an encouraging start for TDS’s WEC campaign after having made the jump over from ELMS for this season.
Also encouraging for another new for 2017 team, the new Porsche 911 RSR lead the GTE’s with a 1:47.379. Michael Christensen had the honor of turning the fastest lap of the weekend in the GTE class.
With teams working on unknown programs and goals, it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusions from the test sessions. One thing is for sure, there will be two teams at the top of the grid scrapping for points, hungry as ever.