Toyota Racing traced some of their perceived lack of qualifying pace back to an incident with a GTE Pro Ferrari in the closing minutes of the final practice session.
Nicolas Lapierre made slight contact with the AF Corse Ferrari of Olivier Beretta entering the Hanger Straight causing a puncture on the rear on the TS030 Hybrid. However, team president Yoshiaki Kinoshita revealed the longer term effects of the contact; “at the end of this morning’s we missed the chance to fine-tune the set-up with low fuel and new tyres due to the incident in traffic,” he explained. “This made our life harder for qualifying so I still believe we have more pace in the TS030 Hybrid.”
“We missed some track time because of our puncture this morning and for sure we can still improve the car,” echoed Lapierre. “We shouldn’t forget that we have a new aero package and we need time to fully understand it. We worked in this right direction; now the aero balance is much better and the car is handling well in the high-speed corners. We have a good car for race conditions, certainly more than for a qualifying lap.”
It was Lapierre – who shares the car with Kazuki Nakajima and Alex Wurz – who climbed back aboard the repaired car for qualifying. On a track still drying after a downpour in the hours before Lapierre, like most of his rivals, started the session on Intermediate tyres. Only a single flying lap into the session, with a dry lined already carved out to his satisfaction the Frenchman returned to the pits for the team to fit slick tyres and his decision was immediately rewarded as he moved into provisional pole.
Lapierre improved on his own time, falling below the 1:45 mark as he set his best time of the weekend so far.
However, after both Audis made their own switch from intermediate to slick tyres later in the session Lapierre’s time was bumped down to third, eventually seven tenths slower than Benoit Treluyer, who claimed pole position in the hybrid drive Audi. But despite having to line up behind both Audi’s Kinoshita remained positive.
“The team made the right choice to switch to slick tyres early in the session and Nicolas did a good job to push despite the usual traffic problems and tricky track conditions. It’s disappointing not to be on the front row but the race is what counts so we will be pushing hard tomorrow looking for our first podium finish.”