WEC Countdown Begins As Audi, Toyota And Porsche Test At Paul Ricard (PHOTOS)

The gloves are nearly off in the FIA World Endurance Championship as the teams size each other up for the first time af the official 'Prologue' test day at the Paul Ricard circuit in France.

The week has seen a flurry of activity amongst the leading teams with Toyota unveiling its TS040 Hybrid, Porsche testing the 919 Hybrid for three days at the French circuit ahead of the prologue and World Champions Audi giving the inhabitants of Le Mans a treat when multiple 24 Hours winner Tom Kristensen drove the R18 e-tron quattro through the city streets and onto the famous circuit.

(left to right) Porsche, Audi and Toyota's new WEC cars for 2014 seen for the first time together at Paul Ricard circuit

But now the serious business has begun as the pre-season counts down to the 2014 opener at Silverstone on 20 April. With a number of rule changes in the championship and Porsche returning to sportscar racing for the first time in 16 years, the scrutiny is greater than ever.

After their three-day exclusive test at the circuit, Porsche Team principal Andreas Seidl admitted there was still work to do with reliability and there were other undisclosed technical problems which created delays in getting the cars onto the track.

"This test was a very challenging one for the entire crew. For the first time we were running two cars at the same time, which was demanding," he said.

"The other target was to simulate a race weekend in order to prepare for the two six-hours races that are coming up. This was a very important experience for us. The test taught us that we have to improve in terms of reliability. The next two days of testing here in Paul Ricard, during the Prologue, will be used to fine tune both the car’s set up, as well as the race specific processes."

Porsche started the official test session strongly

And after the first session at Paul Ricard on Friday, Porsche were on the pace as the ended the morning just one tenth behind Audi at the top of the timesheets.

Audi's Marcel Fassler was fastest during the four-hour session with a time of 1m42.788s with Neel Jani's #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid just 0.124s behind.

The #20919 Hybrid, in which former Formula 1 driver Mark Webber had topped the times earlier it he day, finished third fastest on 1m43.260s. The fastest Toyota was the #7 of Alexander Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima