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Sebring FP 1: Toyota on top, competition close

Text: Rick Kiewiet

Images: FIA WEC

The official WEC Prologue is behind us, and the first race of 2023 is at our doorstep. FP1 of the first round, the 1000 miles of Sebring, is just behind us with some surprising results.

It won't come as a surprise that Toyota topped the charts after FP1. Ryo Hirakawa put out a 1:47.649 in the #8. this was already 1.568s faster than last years qualifying time. More interesting was that James Calado, in the brand new #51 Ferrari 499P, was less than 3 tenths of a second behind, 0.286s to be precise. His 1:47.935 was already 1.365s faster than any Ferrari in any session of the Prologue. Another tenth behind, at 0.390s of the lead, the other Ferrari in the hands of Miguel Molina, the #50 claimed p3.

Earl Bamber in the blue #2 Cadillac V-Series.R managed to squeeze his car in just ahead of the #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, José Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi. The Cadillac was the only non-Toyota that topped one of the Prologue sessions, and show strong pace yet again.

Behind the #7 Toyota's came both the Porsche 963's: Laurens Vanthoor in the #6 was 0.298s faster than Fred Makowiecki in the #5, and 1.096 seconds of the lead. Both Peugeot 9X8s followed, Duval (#94) a tenth faster than Jean-Éric Vergne (#93).

The non-hybrids of Vanwall and Glickenhaus struggled a bit for pace, Olivier Pla was 10th in the #708 Glickenhaus, while Esteban Guerreri was 11th in the #4 Vanwall.

In LMP2 the field was even closer together: the top 10 was well within a second. Fastest of the session was Mirko Bortolotti in the #63 Prema, followed by Robin Frijns in the #31 WRT. The gap between the two was 0.243s. Andrea Caldarelli (#9 Prema), Pietro Fittipaldi (#28 JOTA), Robert Kubica (#41 WRT) and Oliver Jarvis (#23 United Autosports) were mere thousands of a second behind. The gap between the leader and Jarvis in 6th was only 0.385s.

Last year's overall winners, André Negrão and Mathieu Vaxivière, now both in one of the Alpine LMP2s (the #35 and #36 respectively), noted the 8th and 9th time in class, just behind Phil Hanson in the #22 United Autosports car.

In the LMGTE Am class the gaps were even tighter: the top 10 was within half a second. The Iron Dames (Bovy/Gatting/Frey) topped the charts in their new Iron Lynx Porsche 911 RSR - 19, two hundreds of a second faster than the #54 AF Corse Ferrari (Flohr/Castelacci/Rigon). The only Corvette C8.R of Ben Keating, Nino Varrone and Nick Catsburg was third.

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