While Toyota locked out the front row of the grid in China, the 0.287-second difference between the factory hybrid LMP1s and the non-hybrids was the closest seen this season. Bruno Senna and Andre Lotterer qualified third for Sunday’s six-hour race and almost split the Toyotas when Lotterer went back out and improved on an extra set of tires.

“It gives us so much more motivation,” Senna told Sportscar365.

“If you’re racing for nothing because you know you have no chance of winning, you’re not quite as aggressive. But now everybody is pushing so hard to get everything out of the car, and ourselves too.

Bruno Senna in WEC

“It’s like we have a little carrot hanging in front of our faces so we just push. For them [Toyota] it’s more fun as well because they have more people to race than each other. So hopefully it continues that way.”

Senna admitted it’s “hard to tell” if the narrow qualifying margin will continue into tomorrow’s race, but is optimistic of a more threatening non-hybrid pack.

“Hopefully the gap is smaller than it’s been,” he said. “Last race it was about a second [per lap]. If we can be within half a second or four-tenths off the Toyota on average pace, then maybe we can have a race tomorrow.

“This morning [in Free Practice 3] we didn’t know what people were doing because it doesn’t matter to do a race sim on slick tires, because you’re not going to learn anything for tomorrow. I’m curious to see. I think the track conditions also helped [in qualifying]. It felt very good and Andre did a fantastic job when we put on the second set of new tires.”

Bruno Senna added that the Equivalence of Technology change for Shanghai has drastically reduced the need for non-hybrid drivers to lift and coast in order to keep within their fuel per lap targets. The adjustment, which was issued after Toyota dominated the Six Hours of Fuji, gave the privateers more fuel energy to deploy per lap and more petrol per stint.

“We have to do a tiny bit of lift and coast, but it’s literally straight of the throttle and on the brakes,” explained Senna.

“So you have to do a tiny bit because you’re close on the fuel. But that’s how it should be for us. They have the advantage of having twice the power of us, so at least we can use our fuel which helps.”

He added that the situation in China is much better than at the 6 Hours of Fuji, where Rebellion was faced with multiple compromises.

“At Fuji, they didn’t let us have full power on the laps, so we had to do big lifts and that accounted for a lot, but here everything is more of a level playing field and we’re starting to find the window of the car,” said the 2017 LMP2 champion.

“Also, we lost a lot of power from the altitude [with a naturally-aspirated Gibson engine] but Toyota and SMP didn’t. So we lost more than 30 horsepower from that, which is six-tenths of a second. We were closer than before in Fuji, but these things put us down.

“Here, everything is more of a level playing field and we’re starting to find the window of the car.”