After being forced into an engine change after free practice Toyota Racing chiefs ended their first competitive run of the Toyota TS030 Hybrid satisfied with their performance, ending the first qualifying session fourth and sixth fastest.
With Anthony Davidson at the wheel the team's #8 petrol-hybrid suffered an engine failure just five laps into the free practice session, but the car was back in action for the two qualifying session, the Briton returning to the cockpit to set the fastest time, good enough for sixth fastest overall.
“I had a lot of traffic tonight,” said Davidson. “I know drivers often say that after a qualifying session but this time it really hurt my quickest lap. Anyway, overall this session was good and I have a positive feeling. We have improved the car since the test day; we have more grip and it is more consistent so that is a good sign. We have to optimise some points but it is getting better and better. Le Mans by night is still exciting so I am looking forward to final qualifying where I am sure we can improve our lap times.”
The sister TS030, shared by Nicolas Lapierre, Alex Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima, enjoyed a relatively trouble free day. After completing a program of mechanical and aerodynamic set-up evaluations in the practice session Lapierre put the car fourth fastest on the provisional grid, also setting the best speed through the speed traps ahead of the Audi fleet.
“We decided to push a bit when there was still some light on the track,” said the Frenchman. “We did quite a good lap, although I had a bit of traffic in the last sector and I made a little mistake on the last corner. I think it was a good first shot. We can still work on the set-up and it's positive we had both cars running throughout qualifying so we got a lot of data. Tomorrow we have plenty of time to think about what changes we can make to improve the lap times for the remainder of qualifying. We need to keep working and focus on that.”
Despite the problems, all six Toyota drivers completed the necessary night laps to qualifying themselves for the race, with Sebastien Buemi in the #8 and Nakajima getting their first laps around the Circuit de la Sarthe under the cover of darkness.
“It was the first time for me to try a night session and actually it was quite tricky with a lot of traffic and a dirty track,” Nakalima explained. “It was also difficult to switch on the tyres. But I think it has been a good start in general and Nico did a good lap time. Now we can work on improvements for tomorrow. The team at TMG has worked so hard to get two cars ready for this week so I hope we can give something back during this weekend.”
Team president, Yoshiaki Kinoshita, summed up the session; “In terms of performance, we appear to be on a reasonable level and this meets our expectations following the test day. Unfortunately we lost the practice session for the #8 car due to an engine failure, which is the first time we have suffered this problem. The engines have regularly completed more than a Le Mans distance without trouble on the dynos and the track, so this looks like a one-off problem. Finally at the end of qualifying, a minor hybrid system error prevented Alex finishing his stint, which is frustrating. Therefore we still have work to do tomorrow when we aim to improve in terms of pace and reliability.”
Four hours of qualifying remain ahead of the Toyota teams in Thursday night before attention can really turn to the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans itself.