Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Mike Conway was fastest overall in FIA World Endurance Championship practice Friday at the Circuit de Spa-Francochamps in Belgium. Despite the rule changes made to slow the Toyotas, Conway’s quick time of 116.172 seconds (134.862 mph) was two-tenths of a second faster than the best Friday practice lap at Spa last year.
Practice No. 1
In the opening practice session, Toyota GAZOO Racing’s big get for the season showed his might. Fernando Alonso was fastest overall with a lap of 118.392 seconds (132.333 mph) around the 4.352-mile Circuit de Spa-Francochamps.
Alonso’s lap was nearly a quarter of a second faster than Mike Conway in the sister No. 7 Toyota. REBELLION Racing’s Thomas Laurent was the fastest of those in non-Hybrid LMP1s in third, less than half a second off of Alonso. DragonSpeed’s Ben Hanley was fourth fastest in his BR Engineering BR1-Gibson, while Bruno Senna was fifth in the second REBELLION entry.
LMP2 saw former Formula 1 racer Pastor Maldonado top the charts with a lap of 123.494 seconds (126.866 mph), good enough for eighth overall. The lap was nearly two-thirds of a second faster than Signatech Alpine Matmut’s André Negrão. G-Drive Racing’s Jean-Eric Vergne was third fastest, followed by Jackie Chan DC Racing teammate Jazeman Jaafar and Ho-Pin Tung. The fastest non-ORECA 07 was Racing Team Nederland’s Giedo van der Garde in sixth.
In GTE-Pro, the Fords topped the charts. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing WEC’s Andy Priaulx was fastest in class with a lap of 135.014 seconds (116.041 mph) in the No. 67 Ford GT. The lap, good enough for 17th overall, was a quarter of a second faster than teammate Olivier Pla in the No. 66 Ford. Porsche GT Team’s Gianmaria Bruni was third quickest, followed by Michael Christensen. AF Corse’s James Calado was fifth fastest, 1.3 seconds slower than Priaulx.
GTE-Am saw Dempsey Proton Racing’s Matteo Cairoli throw his weight around once again. Cairoli’s lap of 136.601 seconds (114.693 mph) was not only fastest in GTE-Am, but sixth fastest of all GTE entries. He was nearly a full second faster than Gulf Racing UK’s Ben Barker. Matt Campbell was third in the No. 77 Porsche, followed by Jörg Bergmeister for the new Team Project 1. TF Sport’s Charles Eastwood prevented an all-Porsche top five by turning the fifth fastest time in his Aston Martin.
Practice No. 2
In the afternoon session, Conway was fastest with the quickest time of the day (noted above). That time was nearly two-thirds of a second faster than Kazuki Nakajima in the No. 8 Toyota.
Unlike the morning session, the separation back to the non-Hybrids was much greater. DragonSpeed’s Pietro Fittipaldi, driving in place of Renger van der Zande, was the fastest non-Hybrid, but he was more than 2.6 seconds behind in third. Laurent was fourth quickest, followed by Neel Jani, both in REBELLION R13s.
DragonSpeed’s Maldonado once again topped the LMP2 charts in his ORECA 07 with a lap of 122.991 seconds (127.385 mph). That time was a quarter of a second faster than Jackie Chan DC Racing’s No. 37 for Nabil Jeffri. G-Drive Racing’s Roman Rusinov was third quickest, followed by Larbre Competition’s Julien Canal in a Ligier JS P217-Gibson. Negrão was fifth quickest in his Alpine A470-Gibson.
In the WEC, team rosters are supposed to be locked down two weeks before the start of the race weekend. Changes beyond that point are frowned upon. Canal was a last-minute replacement for Fernando Rees. As a result, Larbre Competition was fined 1000 Euros.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing WEC was once again fastest in the second session. This time, Stefan Mücke put the No. 66 Ford GT on top with a lap of 133.733 seconds (117.153 mph). Mücke was more than nine-tenths of a second faster than Bruni in the No. 91 Porsche. Harry Tincknell, who is missing Mid-Ohio this weekend due to his Ford commitments, was third fastest, followed by Kevin Estre in the No. 92 Porsche. Calado was fifth quickest.
Barker was quickest in GTE-Am with a lap of 136.113 seconds (115.104 mph). The time was three-tenths of a second faster than Campbell and nearly a half-second faster than Cairoli. Aston Martin Racing’s Pedro Lamy was fourth quickest, while Spirit of Race’s Giancarlo Fisichella rounded out the top five.
While the first session was quite clean, the second practice had two red flags. One was due to the No. 17 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 stalling on course. The other was due to an off-course excursion for TDS Racing’s Matthieu Vaxivière. Neither of the LMP1 CEFC TRSM Racing Ginettas recorded an official lap during either session. Both cars were taken out for brief reconnaissance laps around the course before being brought back to the pits.
WEC teams have one more practice session prior to qualifying. That is scheduled for 11 a.m. local time (5 a.m. EDT). It should be streamed live on MotorTrend.com and the Motor Trend app.