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WEC analysis: The data putting Porsche on the front foot for Qatar opener

Porsche appears to be in the best position heading into the start of the 2024 World Endurance Championship season in Qatar, based on the pace it showed in long runs in the Prologue.

#6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963: Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor

Photo by: Shameem Fahath

The WEC hosted its annual two-day pre-season test at the Losail International Circuit on Monday and Tuesday, providing some hints about the competitive picture for the Qatar 1812Km race.

The circumstances weren’t exactly usual, with the Prologue having to be delayed by two days due to the late arrival of sea freight amid the geopolitical issues in the Red Sea.

Moreover, the schedule was altered multiple times, with all teams effectively getting three sessions of running across two days. Each team had to decide whether their cars were ready for the first test on Monday afternoon or if they preferred to put in some mileage later on Tuesday.

Although Jota and Isotta Fraschini didn’t take part in the final session, having already hit the ground running on Monday, it still provided the most representative picture as all WEC teams used the opportunity to gather as much data as possible about the track conditions in Qatar.

The fourth session was affected by a single red flag, which means the impact on long runs was also quite minimal. The usual caveats of testing apply, with information regarding tyre usage and fuel loads not being made public.

Long-run pace analysis from Session 4

Car

Team

Average time

Stint length

Representative laps

#6

Porsche

1m42.267s

15

10

#2

Cadillac

1m42.431s

29

21

#5

Porsche

1m42.593s

17

8

#93

Peugeot

1m43.193s

32

19

#35

Alpine

1m43.267s

22

17

#50

Ferrari

1m43.276s

24

18

#15

BMW

1m43.369s

27

19

#20

BMW

1m43.385s

21

17

#94

Peugeot

1m43.408s

32

24

#8

Toyota

1m43.524s

20

15

#63

Lamborghini

1m43.546s

22

15

#51

Ferrari

1m43.570s

31

21

#36

Alpine

1m43.645s

23

15

#7

Toyota

1m43.778s

15

9

Porsche

Porsche appeared to have an edge, with Laurens Vanthoor averaging 1m42.267s across 10 representative laps over the course of a 15-lap stint. The sample size is much smaller than Cadillac’s, but the fact that Vanthoor set the fastest lap of the car at the end of that stint also suggests that there was still a lot of life left in those tyres when he headed back into the pits.

The sister #5 factory Penske car that topped the session was three tenths slower on average with Michael Christensen at the wheel, but still well and truly clear of everyone else.

Cadillac

LMDh cars weren’t always competitive against LMH machinery last year, but Cadillac’s pace in the Prologue raised hopes about a more equitable battle in 2024.

#2 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R: Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn, Sebastien Bourdais

#2 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R: Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn, Sebastien Bourdais

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Earl Bamber put in a 29-lap stint right at the beginning of the fourth session, one of the longest of any driver on Tuesday afternoon. Excluding any laps that were lost to traffic, plus those spent heading out or entering the pits, that worked out to a sample size of 21 laps.

Breaking inside the 1m41s bracket on six different occasions, Bamber set an average time of 1m42.431s, which should put Cadillac second in the pecking order ahead of Qatar.

However, it should be noted that Cadillac is sticking to a single car this year, which could negatively impact its chances for the race.

Toyota

Toyota didn’t only lag behind its rivals on one-lap pace. Its race simulation also suggested a major deficit to Porsche and Cadillac, with Brendon Hartley only averaging 1m43.524s over 15 representative laps on Tuesday.

That has prompted suggestions from rivals that Toyota hid its true speed in the Prologue and that the Japanese manufacturer would return to the front when the race weekend properly gets underway.

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Nyck de Vries

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Nyck de Vries

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

A faster stint by Mike Conway in the #7 car was interrupted by a red flag, so there is no doubt that there remains some more pace to be unleashed. However, that's not to say Toyota's struggles in Prologue aren't real, with both drivers and the team management pointing to some serious issues with how the car is behaving around the track.

While the newly-laid surface in Qatar is generally easy on the tyre, Toyota has been suffering from a lot of graining following a Balance of Performance change that has negatively impacted the GR010 Hybrid.

The track layout also doesn’t exactly suit the Toyota package, which previously was consistent on all types of circuits.

Alpine

Alpine looked solid if not stellar while sharing the track with other cars for the first time in the two-day Prologue, as the French manufacturer returned to the top class with an ORECA-based LMDh car after a year in LMP2.

Both A424s completed reasonably long stints, with Charles Milesi in the #35 car averaging a time of 1m43.267 over 17 representative laps. The car's reliability remains a question mark, given the Qatar race will run for 10 hours, but the pace the Signatech-run squad showed in the Prologue is certainly encouraging.

BMW

Alpine’s pace means BMW may not end up being the best of the new manufacturers in Qatar this year, despite having already got one year of running under its belt in IMSA.

Both cars were nearly identical in race simulations, with Dries Vanthoor just marginally faster in the #15 M Hybrid V8 after 17 competitive laps. However, Robin Frijns set the fastest lap of the #20 car on his final tour, which means BMW could yet be quicker come the start of the Qatar round.

Ferrari

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

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

Photo by: Shameem Fahath

Ferrari was surprisingly off the pace in Prologue, having also received a small cut in performance for Qatar. 

Both Nicklas Nielsen and Antonio Fuoco completed long runs in the #50 Ferrari 499P, with the latter’s average time a shade quicker at 1m43.276s. That was over a 24-lap stint, out of which 16 laps have been counted for the purpose of providing an accurate representation of the team’s speed.

While that may be a second slower than what Porsche managed, Fuoco completed a total of six laps below the 1m43 mark, which is a positive sign for the Italian marque.

Lamborghini

Lamborghini will run a single car on its WEC debut, which means it will have a limited amount of data to work on. Former Formula 1 Daniil Kvyat completed a race simulation of 22 laps, out of which 15 were not seriously affected by traffic or lap deletions. His average time was 1m43.546s, putting Lamborghini on a par with Toyota but behind other newcomers BMW and Alpine.

Peugeot

The Losail layout appears to suit the Peugeot, further proving the inconsistency of the current 9X8 concept that is being shelved in favour of a new design from Imola.

While Peugeot’s performance tailed off towards the end of last season, the French manufacturer was able to compete near the front on merit at Le Mans and Monza and was rightly rewarded with a podium in the Italian race.

Mikkel Jensen and Loic Duval weren’t quite quick enough to join Cadillac and Porsche in the 1m42s bracket when it came to average laptimes. The former’s 32-lap stint only yielded an average time of 1m43.192s from 19 representative laps. 

However, both Jensen and Duval were able to dip into the 1m41s over the course of their race sims. Duval, in fact, set two times below the 1m42 mark, with his fastest time during that stint a 1m41.939s.

#93 Peugeot Totalenergies Peugeot 9X8: Mikkel Jensen, Nico Muller, Jean-Eric Vergne

#93 Peugeot Totalenergies Peugeot 9X8: Mikkel Jensen, Nico Muller, Jean-Eric Vergne

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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