Toyota Gazoo Racing will start the 88th Le Mans 24 Hours from the front after earning a fourth consecutive pole position at the Circuit de la Sarthe as it chases a hat-trick of victories for the TS050 Hybrid in the legendary French race.
Kamui Kobayashi in the No7 car he shares with Mike Conway and José María López set a fastest lap of 3mins 15.267secs to earn his third pole position at Le Mans. The nearest challenger, Rebellion No1, was 0.555secs adrift.
Kazuki Nakajima earned third place in the No8 TS050 Hybrid he drives alongside Sébastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley following a tight battle at the front, setting a lap time just 1.382secs away from pole on the 8.4mile circuit.
Pole position was decided by the new hyperpole format for the first time this year; the top six cars from each class, as determined by Thursday’s qualifying session, fought for top spot in a 30-minute session. With fewer cars on track, traffic was less of a challenge, theoretically giving drivers a better chance to set clean flying laps.
With temperatures of 23°C on a sunny late morning, the two TS050 Hybrids hit the track and took on the significant task of challenging Kamui’s fastest-ever Le Mans lap of 3mins 14.791secs, set in 2017. Kamui got close and looked on course to beat it before having to abandon his final fast lap due to a track limits violation.
Nevertheless, with an average speed of 251.2km/h (156mph) his lap was an impressive achievement and added to the pole positions he earned in Le Mans in 2017 and 2019. It ensures the 1,000hp, four-wheel-drive TS050 Hybrid will start its final Le Mans 24 Hours from the front, before a new hypercar-based category replaces the current LMP1 machines from next year.
A point for pole position also contributes to the World Championship battle. The No7 crew now holds a 13-point lead over the No8 drivers, while Toyota Gazoo Racing leads Rebellion Racing by 43 points with two races remaining and a maximum of 89 points available.
The 59-car grid will start the 88th Le Mans 24 Hours, the penultimate round of the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season, at 13.30pm UK time on Saturday.
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 Hybrid No7): “I am really happy to be on pole position again. The team did a great job to prepare our car for this. In hyperpole we had two chances to set a quick lap so we played it a bit safe with the first one. On the second one I pushed to the maximum but unfortunately I had to abandon the lap. It had been a quick lap up until then; I was trying to break my record and it was close. I think there was a chance to go faster so it’s a pity it was deleted. Race speed looked good in practice so now we have to do the 24 hours. We have worked really hard to get to this point so we will do our best for the race.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 Hybrid No8): “Congratulations to car No7; Kamui’s lap was fast and maybe he could have been even faster at the end. It was a difficult hyperpole for us. Since third practice we have been struggling a bit with the car so it was not an easy session. The car actually felt pretty good and I tried to put everything together for a quick lap but I didn’t quite manage to get on the front row. But qualifying is only qualifying and we know that the race result after 24 hours is what counts. We try to prepare ourselves in the best way and give our maximum in the race.”
1st #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 3min 15.267secs 7 laps
2nd #1 Rebellion (Senna/Nato/Menezes) +0.555secs 3 laps
3rd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +1.382secs 9 laps
4th #3 Rebellion (Dumas/Berthon/Deletraz) +3.063secs 6 laps
5th #4 Bykolles (Dillmann/Spengler/Webb) +7.776secs 8 laps
6th #22 United Autosports (Hanson/Albuquerque/di Resta) +9.261secs 6 laps