Kobayashi secures pole for Toyota Racing at 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours

  Toyota Racing firm up their bid for the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours title as they secured pole position in the final qualifying on Thursday with the fastest-ever lap. Once again, it was Kamui Kobayashi in the TS050 Hybrid car no.7 who captured pole with a lap time of 3:14.791 and an average speed of 251.9 km/h. Kobayashi shares car no.7 with Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin.

The pole time set by car no.7 was was 2.096s quicker than the previous lap record on the current lay-out while the average speed was faster than for any previous lap (251.815 km/h) in the 94-year history of the event. “I got in the car with 100% confidence and when you are confident, you are quick. It was an amazing lap and the car was brilliant. It was the right moment, just after the red flag with no traffic. I am really proud of this pole position. Still, it is a 24-hour race so the important thing is the race result and that is what we are focusing on,” Kobayashi said.

It wasn’t Toyota Racing’s first pole at these Le Mans as the team had started on pole twice before; in 1999 with Martin Brundle and in 2014 with Kazuki Nakajima. To cap a 1-2 on the grid, the Toyota TS050 Hybrid car no.8 of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Nakajima locked on second place; with Nakajima setting the quickest lap in the third session of the final qualifying. It wasn’t all daisy for car no.8 as the day started with Buemi having to take a precautionary engine change due to an oil leak. Buemi and company missed the second session as a result. But in the third session, Nakajima came out with a bang to beat the Porsche 919 Hybrids to the second best qualifying position, only 2.3s behind the faster TS050 Hybrid. “It was a good day, with much better track conditions. We didn’t quite get it right on the qualifying attempt but still we finished second and are part of a brilliant result for the team. We are happy with the balance in race trim so we have a strong basis to take into the race,” Nakajima commented.

Third TS050 Hybrid car no.9 Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto and José María López will start the race from fifth after Lapierre set the fastest lap early in third qualifying.

RIvals Porsche Motorsport secured row number two with car no.1 in third and car no.2 in second. With a lap time of 3:17.259, Neel Jani claimed the third fastest lap overall. Timo Bernhard qualified the Porsche LMP sister car to start fourth on the grid with a lap of 3:18.067. Both Porsche drivers achieved their respective best lap times in the second qualifying session, held in the early evening hours. The third and final qualifying session lasted until midnight on Thursday.

Jani shares the car number 1 Porsche Le Mans prototype with André Lotterer and Nick Tandy. Bernhard’s team-mates in the car number 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid are the two New Zealanders Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley. Having a tally of 18 overall Le Mans wins, Porsche is the record holder and after the most recent victories in 2015 and 2016, is in the role of title defender.

There is no track action today which gives the teams time to prepare the cars properly for the race. The drivers, meantime, have to partake in the traditional parade through the city center.

The action restarts on Saturday morning with a 45-minute warm-up as the final preparation before the race, scheduled for 3pm CET.

2017 Le Mans 24 Hours qualifying

1st #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 3min 14.791secs
2nd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +2.337secs
3rd #1 Porsche (Jani/Lotterer/Tandy) +2.468secs
4th #2 Porsche (Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley) +3.276secs
5th #9 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +3.834secs
6th #4 Bykolles (Webb/Kraihamer/Bonanomi)+9.379secs