The 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship will get underway in just under three weeks at the 6 Hours of Silverstone. In order to help the participants across the four classes - LMP1, LMP2, LMGTE Pro and LMGTE Am - prepare for the upcoming season, the FIA set aside two days in the south of France at the Circuit Paul Ricard. It was also a time for the WEC's big guns in the hybrid LMP1 to reveal the machines with which they would do battle in the 'throw-big-bags-of-money-at-it' sub-class.
THE BIG GUNS
Audi had revealed its latest iteration of the R18 e-tron quattro last year, so it was left to Toyota to unveil their all-new TS050 and for Porsche to show its updated 919 Hybrid with which it swept the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the WEC manufacturers' and drivers' titles last year.
Between Porsche and Toyota, it was the Japanese outfit - that had its 2014 manufacturers' and drivers' titles stripped from it by Porsche - that fielded a noticeably different car and not just because of its paint job.
Toyota's latest WEC challenger has its cue from Porsche's F1-style power unit system of a low-capacity turbo-petrol engine mated to a battery storage system and electric motors that use the recycled heat from the turbos and regenerative braking.
The TS050 has ditched it's normally aspirated 3.7-litre, naturally aspirated V-8 engine for a 2.4-litre, turbocharged V-6 engine and instead of using a supercapacitor-based system to store the energy from regenerative braking, there is a battery-based system.
Along with putting out nearly 1,000bhp, the system also allows Toyota to move up to the 8MJ class of LMP1-Hybrid, which puts it on par with Porsche in its bid to win at Le Mans and also reclaim its lost crowns.
Toyota's efforts to do so has seen them cover around 22,000km in performance and reliability testing in private, even before touching down at Paul Ricard!
Porsche's updates to the 919 Hybrid include the use of three distinct bodyworks with different downforce configurations. A high-downforce body for the start of the season, a low downforce one for Le Mans and a separate configuration for the remainder of the year. Other changes are centred around the change in technical regulations that stipulate less fuel consumption.
Away from the big factory LMP1 squads, the Prologue also saw a new version of the Aston Martin Vantage, sportscar returnees Ford - with their GT - and a new Ferrari 488 join Porsche's reigning champion 911 RSR in the two GTE classes.
Aside from the Vantage, the GT and the 488 have already been involved in competition at the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring in America. The 911 RSR is, by comparison, a seasoned workhorse that has been doing duty since 2014. A new version is coming in 2017, with reportedly radical changes under the bodywork.
PORSCHE ON TOP
The prologue ended with the two Porsche squads setting the fastest two times over the course of the two days with Toyota and Audi's best times almost a second slower.
Signatech Alpine's A460 was the fastest among the LMP2 cars and Ferrari's 488 and Larbre Competition's Chevrolet Corvette were the fastest machines in the GTE Pro and GTE Am classes.