Toyota fastest in first qualifying for the Le Mans 24 Hours

  The 2017 Le Mans 24-Hour. the third round of the WEC (World Endurance Championship) has kicked started on Wednesday with the first qualifying session. The first qualifiers saw Toyota Racing picked up pole position, courtesy of its Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi. Toyota Racing aims for its very first Le Mans title, against rival Porsche Motorsport, this weekend. The first qualifiers was shortened by 20 minutes.

Kobayashi delivered the provisional pole position time in the no.7 TS050 Hybrid, which he shares with Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin. His pole time was 3:18.793, which was 0.940 faster than last year’s pole position time. “Even though my lap was fastest, I had traffic so that was a bit frustrating. But it’s good to be on provisional pole. In the afternoon I got more confident with the car and we made progress. It is a 24-hour race so qualifying isn’t the priority; let’s see how we can improve the car for long runs because we need to be prepared for a long race,” Kobayashi said.

The Toyota TS050 Hybrid car no.8 of 2014 WEC Champions Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima was second fastest, with 2014 pole position winner Nakajima having set the best time. “It’s been a surprising day really because the track conditions were nothing like they were at the test. We were very comfortable with the car in the test but initially the balance wasn’t there. We had to work to rectify it and we have done a pretty good job. There is still one more day to prepare so we’ll be working hard,” Davidson commented.

Porsche crews of Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley in car no.2 set the third fastest time, with Hartley setting a time of 3:19.170.

Fourth fastest was the third Toyota TS050 Hybrid car no.9 of Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto and José María López. Lapierre set the best time for that car while rookies Kunimoto and Lopez, in their first night session at Le Mans, built on impressive test performances earlier this month. Behind the no.9 car, the Porsche 919 Hybrid car no. 1 of Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy was fifth quickest.

Ahead of a 24-hour race, one-lap performance was not the main priority, with most of Wednesday’s track time dedicated to optimizing the TS050 Hybrids for race conditions at the Circuit de la Sarthe, which is part public roads, part permanent circuit.

That began with four hours of practice. Significant work was already carried out during the official test day on 4 June, so practice allowed further optimization of aerodynamic and mechanical set-ups in hot, sunny conditions.

First qualifying took place after sunset but temperatures were still 27°C at the start. The session was delayed by 20 minutes to allow barrier repairs following an accident in a support race practice, meaning it ran for only one hour 40 minutes.

Grid positions for Le Mans are decided by the fastest single lap from any of the three two-hour qualifying sessions. Therefore, the starting grid will be confirmed at midnight on Thursday, when the chequered flag flies at the end of final qualifying.