Toyota Gazoo Racing will start this weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hours from pole position after Kamui Kobayashi smashed the circuit’s lap record during Thursday night’s qualifying session.
The Japanese driver posted a time of 3min 14.791 sec, slicing more than two seconds off the previous best time for the track in its current configuration. Driving the No7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid he shares with Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin , he achieved an average speed of 156.471mph – faster than any other car in the 94-year history of the race.
“I got in the car with 100 per cent confidence and when you are confident, you are quick,” said Kobayashi, who is only the second Japanese driver to set pole position at Le Mans following Kazuki Nakajima’s performance for the team in 2014. “It was an amazing lap and the car was brilliant. Still, it is a 24-hour race so the important thing is the race result and that is what we are focusing on.”
It will be an all-Toyota front row for Saturday’s race start, with the No8 car of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima lining up in second, thanks to a time set by Nakajima during the last of the three qualifying sessions.
The day began with frustration for the No8 machine with Buemi encountering problems on his first lap. The team made a precautionary engine change to address an oil supply issue, which kept the car out of second qualifying.
The rival Porsche team claimed third and fourth places on the grid, with the third Toyota, the No9 car of Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto and José María López will start from fifth after Lapierre posted its quickest time early in the final qualifying session.
There is no track action for the teams today, giving them time for final race preparations. There will be a 45-minute warm-up on Saturday morning ahead of the race, the third round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship, getting under way at 3pm local time.
Combined qualifying results – LMP1 class
1 No7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Kobayashi/Conway/Sarrazin 3min 14.791sec
2 No8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Buemi/Davidson/Nakajima +2.337sec
3 No1 Porsche Jani/Lotterer/Tandy +2.488sec
4 No2 Porsche Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley +3.276sec
5 No9 Toyota Gazoo Racing Lapierre/Kunimoto/López +3.834sec
6 No4 ByKolles Webb/Kraihamer.Bonanomi +9.379sec