Aston Martin take Pro Pole While Toyota Dominate Le Mans qualifying

by Alice Holloway
Toyota #7 takes pole ahead of the sister #8, making it a clean sweep of one-twos for Toyota Gazoo Racing in the WEC Super Season

Qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans has come to an end after three sessions and six hours. Toyota Gazoo Racing secured a clean sweep on on-track one-twos in the Super Season ahead of the blue-riband event. Other class honours went to #39 Graff, #95 Aston Martin Racing and the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing.

Toyota have locked out the front row at all eight rounds of the Super Season, prior to post-qualifying sessions penalties. An impressive accomplishment, but slightly less surprising when it is considered that they also took the top two step of the podium (before post-race penalties) at every round of the season up until the 2019 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

It was a race to the pit exit for the Toyota duo to try and lock in the fastest lap, but neither improved on their earlier times which means the #7 will start ahead of the #8. It is Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima‘s Drivers’ championship to lose as they currently hold a 36-point lead on the sister car.

Egor Orudzhev claimed the best-of-the-rest position in the #17 SMP Racing, as the recovering #3 Rebellion Racing split the Russian cars for fourth in class. Gustavos Menezes, who was involved in the incident at Ford Chicane with the #7 Toyota yesterday, set a 3:16.404, putting the Swiss car two tenths up on the #11 SMP.

After an engine failure for Bruno Senna in the #1 Rebellion, that brought out a 15-minute red flag as he came to a stop between Indianapolis and Arnage, the car was unable to return to the track. The 3:16.810 was not enough to keep the trio of Andre Lotterer, Neel Jani and Senna ahead of their rival cars, leaving them sixth in class.

The last two places in class saw the #10 DragonSpeed, on its last race in the FIA World Endurance Championship remain ahead of the #4 Bykolles Team Racing, which earlier today confirmed it would not be returning to the WEC grid as a full season entry after Le Mans.

Graff stole pole from DragonSpeed in the final qualifying session
Credit: Race Photography

In the session where it counted most, Pastor Maldonado and the #31 DragonSpeed were knocked from pole position in class. Improvements from both Tristan Gommendy and Loic Duval saw the American team drop to third by half a second.

The 3:25.345 set by Duval in the TDS Racing momentarily saw him hold pole position. The additional championship point was taken from him, however, by Gommendy who went 0.272 seconds faster on his second flying lap. Improvements were seen up and down the grid, with Jean-Eric Vergne managing to use the optimum track and air temperature at the start of the final session to his advantage, bringing the #26 G-Drive Racing up from eleventh to sixth on the LMP2 grid.

Aston Martin Racing took Pole in Pro
Credit: Race Photography

Five different manufacturers fill the top five spots of LM GTE Pro, with a surprise entry of the #82 BMW Team MTEK claiming fifth in class. The sister BMW unfortunately was an early victim of the final qualifying session, as Nick Catsburg went off at the Ford Chicane, coming into contact hard with the barrier. The car finished the session bottom of the class, aside from the Risi Competizione which was a tenth off the pace.

Marco Sorensen took class victory in the #95 Aston Martin, setting a rapid 3:48.000 to claim GTE Pro pole. Harry Tincknell and Nick Tandy pushed hard to try and demote the Danish driver, but falling short by 0.112 and 0.907 seconds respectively they had to settle for second and fourth in class.

A late improvement from Antonio Garcia put the Corvette Racing into the mix. He took third in class with a 3:48.830, beating Tandy’s time by less than a tenth of a second.

In terms of the World Endurance GT Drivers’ Championship, the leading #92 will start Saturday’s race fifth in class. The #91 Porsche GT Team, who need everything to go wrong for the sister car in order to take the championship from Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, start a lot further down the class in 11th.

Dempsey-Proton retained their one-two in the Am class, with the #88 making a great comeback from their incident yesterday to take pole from the sister car. The #88 failed to finish the race last year, so starting on pole puts them in the best place to claim the class honours that the sister #77 took last year.

Gulf Racing made it a Porsche lock out in the top three as Thomas Preining set a 3:51.944 in the final moment of this evening’s session. He was three tenths off the Dempsey-Proton duo, who were split by just 0.2 seconds.

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