2017 24 Hours of Le Mans: Kobayashi Claims Lap Record with stunning Pole Position

by Alice Holloway

It had been predicted that it would be Toyota Gazoo Racing and Kamui Kobayashi that would break the lap record around the Circuit de la Sarthe, that had been set by Neel Jani in 2015, in qualifying, but no one expected Kobayashi to set as fast of a lap time as he did. The breathtaking lap led Toyota to a one-two for the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans as Sebastien Buemi lined up the #8 Toyota alongside the #7 on the front row. Last year’s pole sitter and Le Mans winner Neel Jani placed the #1 Porsche third, heading a Porsche three-four for the start of the race.

Toyota #7 never lost its position in provisional pole throughout the qualifying sessions. Mike Conway started the evening by going a few tenths faster than the fast lap time Kobayashi had set Wednesday evening to extend their advantage over the sister car.

After nearly an hour delay as barrier repairs took place after the #33 Eurasia Motorsports LMP2 had a big crash at the Forza Motorsport Chicane (Mulsanne Chicane One), Kobayashi was sent out by Toyota to try and break the new lap record. The car was on low fuel and new tyres and Kobayashi had one lap to get it done. It was a spectacular lap that saw him go just over a second faster than the previous lap record with a 3:14.791. Kobayashi took pole position for the #7 Toyota with a staggering 2.4 seconds advantage on the rest of the field.

“I think the lap was brilliant, no mistakes no traffic, so an amazing lap.” Kobayashi said in the Poleman Press Conference. “I have to give my appreciation to the team, we had great form, I had one hundred per cent confidence with the car. I think when you are confident you can do a mega lap.

“I expected to be 3:15, 3:16 maybe, something like that. So when I crossed the line 14 I think, woah. I made it. The first time I was happy, ever, in my life.”

The rest of the Toyota team were just as shocked when Kobayashi crossed the line with a 3m 14s lap time.“We could see already the first sector he was half a second up and we were like, ok, this is gonna be a big one,” Conway said. “But Kamui has been flying around this track all week so yeah we had full confidence that he was going to produce the goods… It just worked out perfect.” 

It was not a completely easy session for the Toyota team as the #8 suffered an oil supply issue in the first two-hour session that saw the team having to make a late engine change. They lost around an hour and a half of running before Buemi came out at the beginning of the second session to take second place from Jani by a tenth of a second. The #9 Toyota was unable to be on par with the pace of the other two entrants and could only get fifth fastest, a clear ten seconds off the fantastic lap from Kobayashi.

Porsche made some early improvements in the second qualifying session, but after that their focus appeared to shift to their race setup and pace. The #2 Porsche was hit with an overheating engine issue with around an hour of track time to go, meaning that Brendon Hartley was forced to pull up at the side of the track at Indianapolis. The Kiwi driver tried to get the car fired back up so he could return it to the pits but he did not manage this before the chequered flag.

ByKolles Racing ended Qualifying Two behind the fastest LMP2 car, a few tenths off the pace of the class pole sitter. Oliver Webb went out on a mission in Qualifying Three to make sure the #4 was back above the LMP2s. He did this competitively, setting a 3:24.170 which was nearly a second fastest than the quickest LMP2 car.

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