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Toyota put new focus on WEC qualifying after losing out at Sebring - Hartley

Portimao pole winner Brendon Hartley has revealed that Toyota put a new focus on qualifying after losing out to Ferrari in qualifying at the Sebring World Endurance Championship season-opener.

Polesitter #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota GR010 - Hybrid: Brendon Hartley

JEP / Motorsport Images

Hartley explained that the Toyota Gazoo Racing squad had worked hard on getting the most out of its two GR010 HYBRID Le Mans Hypercars in Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session.

“We focussed more on getting the potential out of the car in qualifying than we normally do,” Hartley told Autosport after taking the pole by nearly three tenths from team-mate Kamui Kobayashi.

“We tried to get the car as optimised as much as possible for qualifying.

“I would say we were a bit less focussed on the race compared to normal.

Ferrari pipped us in qualifying at Sebring, and we were somewhat annoyed.”

TGR Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon stressed that the team hadn’t run a pure qualifying set-up on either of its GR010s.

“We still did not do a quali set-up because it is completely counterproductive to be changing the car around and then reverting,” he explained.

“The focus came from the preparation itself, which we have taken a bit more seriously after Sebring.

“Yes we were more focussed in terms of the very specific preparations for qualifying, the warm-up laps, when we get out of the pits and so on.”

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid: Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid: Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Vasselon admitted to surprise that Ferrari had trailed Toyota by a margin of nearly 1.5s in the 15-minute Hypercar session after its 499P LMH took pole on debut at the Sebring 1000 Miles in March with Antonio Fuoco.

He revealed that Toyota had been expecting another close fight for pole after free practice.

“We were very surprised because it is clearly not what the free practice analysis was giving,” he said.

“The anomaly is really Ferrari because the gap to the others is comparable to Sebring, excluding Cadillac who we were expecting to be in trouble here because they have no experience of this circuit.”

James Calado, who took fourth position on the grid three tenths behind team-mate Nicklas Nielsen, explained that there was “a change in the overall balance of the car between final free practice and qualifying”.

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He said this particularly affected the car into the first corner and under heavy braking.

The wide margin could be explained by Toyota and Ferrari making different choices between the two specifications of Michelin tyre available for the Portimao 6 Hours meeting.

Hartley all but confirmed that Toyota had run the high temperature soft tyre, but it remains unclear which spec Ferrari qualified on.

#51 Ferrari AF Corse - Ferrari 499P - Hybrid - Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi

#51 Ferrari AF Corse - Ferrari 499P - Hybrid - Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi

Photo by: Paul Foster

Hartley’s pole was less three tenths quicker than the best Toyota qualifying time from two years ago on the WEC’s first visit to the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve near Portimao despite two major evolutions to its LMH since.

Vasselon explained that Toyota’s analysis showed that the 2.91-mile circuit has been losing grip since it was resurfaced shortly before the previous WEC round in June 2021.

“We were expecting to be a bit faster, but it seems that here the track is becoming progressively slower,” he said.

Track temperatures approximately 10 degrees Celsius higher than in 2021, as well as windy conditions, also probably played a part he said. 

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