The 2023 FIA WEC officially came to a close Sunday in Bahrain after five hours of track time in the post-season Rookie Test.
Ferrari F1 reserve driver Robert Shwartzman emerged quickest by the end of the day with a 1m48.559s in the No. 51 Ferrari 499P.
He was 0.066s quicker than Will Stevens in the HERTZ Team JOTA Porsche 963, his time set in the morning session as a reference time for Norman Nato, who reeled off a 1m49.130s in the same car during the afternoon session. That was good enough to put him third quickest overall.
“It was very nice; I really enjoyed it,” Shwartzman told the media after his run. “It’s my first time in a Hypercar and I am glad I’m with Ferrari. I tried the old tires, semi-old and new. With all of them I felt strong, with a good feeling in the car. I am happy with the 30 laps. In this short stint I got along with the car; we are good friends now!
“They wanted to show me the different stages of grip in four runs. It gave me a taste and it felt good and manageable from my side.
“I was thinking when I was driving on the new tire run, it felt similar to F2. The Hypercar feels between Formula 1 and GT; it just doesn’t have as much downforce and it’s heavy.”
Will we see him with a full-time WEC drive in the future? Is a seat in the mooted third Ferrari 499P for next year a possibility?
While non-committal concerning his 2024 plans beyond his Ferrari F1 reserve role, a Hypercar drive is on his list.
“Yes, [I could see myself racing in Hypercar],” he said. “I really hope after this test there will be an opportunity to race the hypercar and get a feel for endurance racing. For the moment [there is nothing scheduled], but I am always open to it.”
Lilou Wadoux was fifth fastest in her second consecutive Bahrain Rookie Test appearance. Last year she sampled the title-winning Toyota, this time she tried out the 499P. Her best time was a 1m49.488s.
“Today I fulfilled a dream, that of driving the 499P that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most important endurance race in the world, at the end of my first year as a Prancing Horse driver,” said Wadoux.
“Last year in Bahrain I tried a Hypercar for the first time. However, this occasion was very special — I had fun putting myself to the test with this car. I savored every single lap.”
Amongst the remaining rookies in Hypercar, seventh fastest was ELMS LMP2 regular Rene Binder with a 1m49.704s in the No. 99 Proton Competition Porsche. Nico Varrone completed a 1m50.048s in the No. 2 Cadillac to go eighth quickest.
Julien Andlauer lapped the circuit in 1m50.308s in the Proton Porsche. This run came after a recent test at Portimao in one of Proton’s LMP2 cars.
Malthe Jakobsen was a rookie last year with Peugeot. He joined the team again, now as the official development driver, and managed a 1m50.568s — a time quicker than the team’s fastest lap in yesterday’s race.
Thomas Preining set a 1m50.603s in the No. 5 Porsche Penske 963, whilst Ben Barnicoat was the fastest of a trio of drivers trying out the No. 7 GR010 HYBRID. His 1m50.740s was set without the benefit of a reference time from one of the TGR factory drivers. It topped the efforts of Josh Pierson (1m51.085s) and Barnicoat’s IMSA GTD Pro teammate Jack Hawksworth (1m51.316s).
2023 ELMS Champion Kyffin Simpson was next up with a 1m51.380s in the Cadillac V-Series.R. The IndyCar Series-bound teenager told RACER he was impressed with the car.
“It was a lot of fun, honestly,” he said. “I thought it was a really cool car to drive and a new experience for me. This is a very high-tech car, which was a lot of learning. It was a great experience and I’m thankful to GM and Chip Ganassi Racing for giving me this opportunity.
“This drives a lot more like a GT car [compared to LMP2], and I found that really interesting. In the corners they struggle a little bit just because they are so heavy, and maybe they don’t have quite enough downforce for how heavy and big they are, but they have a lot of power so it gets up to speed quickly.
“Today went well. I think the team is quite happy with it. I think Nico and I were able to notice some things that the drivers who drive this all the time just kind of get accustomed to.
“Hopefully they can take that information and improve the car for next year.”
Dutchman Job Van Uitert was the final taker amongst the non-full-season Hypercar drivers. He lapped the No. 4 Vanwall Vandervell in 1m51.680s, running significantly faster than the car managed in the race yesterday after hitting early trouble.
Just five LMP2 cars took part in the test, the times headed by F2 driver Clement Novalak, who set a 1m54.285s in the morning aboard the No. 31 Inter Europol Competition ORECA. Charles Weerts ended up second and third fastest, driving both cars, with Valentino Rossi close behind.
Rossi’s appearance, of course, attracted plenty of attention. The MotoGP legend appears to be all but confirmed for an FIA WEC LMGT3 drive with WRT next season.
Saturday, the Italian, who is here in Bahrain to test an ORECA, spoke to WEC TV during the race and confirmed that he is working on a program.
“I raced with this team for two years and it’s a very good team,” Rossi said. “I am very happy. I came here to see the race because maybe next year I will race in the WEC; we will see.
“Tomorrow I will try the LMP2 car for the first time, as I asked Vincent (Vosse) to try the car. Tomorrow would be a good option. I was very curious to drive the car.
“[To be in WEC next year] is the target. We will try.”
Interestingly, he was wearing overalls featuring BMW, WEC and Goodyear patches Sunday, and completed 67 laps in one of WRT’s 2023 WEC ORECAs, which was sporting a new number: 46.
Rossi’s best time was a 1m55.118s in the Afternoon Session putting him third in class. It was 0.8s off Team WRT teammate Charles Weerts, who drove both WRT ORECAs and posted the second-fastest time in P2.
In the No. 9 PREMA ORECA, Harry Tincknell set reference times for both Mikkel Pedersen (1m57.260s) and PJ Hyett (1m57.570s), the AO Racing driver set to form part of a two-car Asian Le Mans Series effort with the ex-PREMA cars next month.
Four GTE cars took part in the test. The times were topped by Lorenzo Patrese in the No. 83 Richard Mille AF Corse 488, with a 1m58.261s. Second quickest of the rookies in the No. 54 AF Corse car was Nicola Marinangeli with a 2m00.091s.
Corvette Racing fielded nominated rookie Antoin Doquin, who managed a 2m01.035s. The late addition to the roster, Timur Boguslavskiy, who appears to be set a 2m01.450s.
Finally, the No. 21 AF Corse 488 GTE EVO was driven throughout the day by WEC returnee Christoph Ulrich. The Swiss driver posted a 2m01.498s in the morning session, finishing the day with the bittersweet double of a final red flag in GTE history for a minor off at Turn 10, before becoming the final driver in GTE Am to complete a competitive lap.
The No. 21 was the final car to pit, ending the final official session ever for the class.