For the first time during the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship, Toyota Gazoo Racing have finished a session fastest in their new Le Mans Hypercar.
The Toyota team have been getting increasingly faster throughout the week, showing good pace against the LMP1 Alpine Elf Matmut entry in the second practice and fighting it for the fastest lap this morning. Falling short by three thousandths of a second them, Kamui Kobayashi corrected the status quo by setting a 2:02.518, three tenths faster than Kazuki Nakajima in the sister #8 car. This is the first time that Toyota have had both cars at the top of the timing board as well as faster than all of the LMP2 cars.
The two Toyotas are also the first and only cars to break into the 2m02s lap time so far this weekend, giving them over a second advantage on the rest fo the field at the end of the final practice session.
Keeping the LMP2 cars up the front, however, was Filipe Alberquerque, who sat third in the final order with the United Autosports #22. His 2:03.761 kept United Autosports at the top of the LMP2 timing board, two tenths up on the G-Drive Racing duo. Roberto Merhi led the G-Drives on the timing screen with a 2:03.931, beating out Nyck de Vries in the sister #26 machine by just over a tenth.
Alpine found themselves battling with the LMP2s again this session, with the LMH advantage now seeming securely in Toyota’s hands. The 2:04.110 set by Nicolas Lapierre was more that 1.5s off the pace of the Japanese team, and with no notable issue for the French outlet the team have a lot to work out ahead of qualifying later on this evening if they are to beat the sole-running Hypercar team.
It was back to advantage Porsche in GTE Pro, as Kevin Estre was back at the top of the times setting a benchmark of 2:11.936. This is the first time that a GTE car has dipped beneath the 2m12s lap times all week, and remained at the only one to do so by the end of the session. The time, set at the start of FP3, was unbeatable by any of the other GTE challengers, with the closest car being the sister #91 Porsche GT Team, which sat seven tenths behind the blistering 2m11s lap.
AF Corse filled the next two spots on the GTE board, with Miguel Molina getting the #52 ahead of the #51 with his 2:13.202. After the final practice session, it does look like the advantage will be with Porsche for qualifying, but over a six-hour race there is still no telling who will come out on top. The only car seemingly written off for class victory at the moment is the Corvette Racing entry. The car seems to be struggling a lot, finishing this afternoon’s session two seconds off the pace, half a second slower than they were this morning.
However, if Corvette seems to have slowed, so does the Am field as only one Am car managed to finish in the four-tenth gap between the Corvette Racing entry in fifth and fourth-placed James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 Ferrari. Fastest in Am class was, once again, Matteo Cairoli behind the wheel of the #56 Team Project 1 with a 2:13.515. To keep up the Porsche dominance, Matt Campbell took second in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing, just four tenths of a second off Cairoli. Rounding off the top three was the #83 AF Corse.
Qualifying begins 17:20 BST / 18:20 CEST this evening, with the GTE cars leading the LMs out on track. Porsche go into the qualifying session favourites in both GTE classes, but the LM fields could really get mixed up. It’s certainly going to be a session you don’t want to miss.