At the pre-event test day earlier this month, SMP driver Stoffel Vandoorne hit speeds of 350km/h on the first part of the Mulsanne straight in his AER-powered BR Engineering BR1, setting a new top speed record in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
While Toyota is expected to maintain a significant advantage over SMP and fellow privateer squad Rebellion over a race distance, the Cologne-based team is wary of the threat of the non-hybrids on pure one-lap pace.
Toyota team boss Rob Leupen thinks one of the privateers might be leading the way on the first lap of the race, with the second sector in particular favouring the turbocharged SMP car.
“Yes, definitely”, Leupen said ahead of Wednesday’s on-track action when asked if he could foresee the SMP machines passing the Toyotas. “We will not do 351[km/h].
"When we see the speed trap, we are lifting there. They have all the advantages to do this. We are restricted by the amount of fuel we have and the energy we have for one lap, they definitely don’t have this."
#11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1: Mikhail Aleshin, Vitaly Petrov, Stoffel Vandoorne
JEP / LAT Images
Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon likewise conceded that SMP “could be" leading into Mulsanne come race day.
“They have a massive top speed, so for sure sector two and the beginning of sector three will be a bit tough for us," he added.
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez, Brendon Hartley, Sébastien Buemi, #30 Duqueine Engineering Oreca 07 Gibson: Nicolas Jamin, Pierre Ragues, Romain Dumas