Toyota Hybrid Racing are celebrating grabbing pole position for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The #7 TS040 Hybrid of Kazuki Nakajima, Stephane Sarrazin and Alex Wurz navigated a disrupted qualifying procedure to set the fastest single lap time of the seven LMP1-H entries, with the #8 car starting directly behind the polesitter in third. The pole is the brand’s first at Le Mans since 1999 when the TS020 or Toyota GT-One secured the top starting spot.
The new TS040 Hybrid blasted the pole time set in 2013 by the race winning #2 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro, shaving over half a second off the time. Having already claimed the provisional pole thanks to a fast time in the disrupted second qualifying session, the #8 car was forced to defend an evening charge from Porsche Motorsport and sent Nakajima out for a fast lap. A 3:21.789 ensured that a Toyota would lead from the front at 15:00 on Saturday.
In fact both cars improved their pace in the third and final session of qualifying.
While the final qualifying session ran stoppage free, unlike the earlier two chances to set pole, it was by no means unimpeded. Several yellow flag zones and the debut of the ‘Slow Zone’ restricted speed areas at Le Mans ensured that not all running was clear. In fact the shootout for the top spot expected at the end of the session didn’t happen after an incident forced a slow zone from Arnage to the Porsche Curves.
The Toyota Hybrid Racing team also used the session to work on additional setup options and evaluate tyres.
Pole setter Kazuki Nakajima is delighted to have secured pole for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He said, “Even though it is a 24-hour race it is a very good feeling to be on pole position. I am really happy with the car so many thanks to team; we have prepared a great car for the race. I was struggling with the traffic but I managed to get one lap and it was just enough to get the pole. It’s going to be a tough race but tonight I am happy. We didn’t have to compromise our programme and we managed to put in the lap time for the right moment. Now I think we are well prepared for the race.”
Stephane Sarrazin, who has held pole before in a Peugeot LMP1 added, “It is amazing to be on pole again. It was a great job from the team and Kazuki did a brilliant lap. Yesterday we had a good car but today we had a very good car. The set-up was brilliant so big thanks to the team. It is promising for the race because we feel so confident in the car. We can push on every corner, every lap. Like that everything is positive. The race will be very long, we know that we have to be very calm and not attack it like a short sprint.”
The #8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid managed to improve from fifth in the second qualifying session to third thanks to a fast lap by Sebastien Buemi. Again the lap time came early in the session and shaved over a second off the car’s previous best. Buemi shares his car with former Peugeot and Super Aguri F1 driver Anthony Davidson and established LMP racer Nicolas Lapierre.
Buemi commented, “First of all I want to congratulate car #7, they did a great job, especially Kazuki. It was a very good lap from him and a fantastic result for the whole team. Of course it is a bit disappointing to be behind, you never like that as a driver but it is great for the team. The race is long so we’ll see what it brings.”
While he didn’t get much time in the car during the final session, which was extended by half an hour to make up for the loss of running earlier in the week, Davidson was delighted with the result; “I am over the moon for the whole team for this lap that Kazuki put together,” he enthused. “Congratulations to car #7 and the team. It feels like I didn’t really get to drive much at all in the final round of qualifying. The way it worked out, Séb was on a roll and we saw that the time was right to throw some new tyres his way and I am glad we did because the track was at its best at that point. He just kept running into traffic but finally managed to pop it into third. To start the race from the second row is good enough.”
Second and fourth places went to the two Porsche Motorsport 919 Hybrid LMP1-H cars while defending champions Audi Sport Team Joest were forced to make do with fifth to seventh for their three car effort.