WEC: Kobayashi secures pole for Toyota at Le Mans
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 7 Toyota TS050 HYBRID will start the 87th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours from pole position; circuit lap record holder Kamui Kobayashi’s 3m15.497s, which was set in Qualifying 2, standing as the fastest time after the third and final session on Thursday night.
Kobayashi’s time was 0.4s clear of the sister No. 8, which also didn’t improve its time in Q3.
“After two years I’d expect to improve on my best lap here, but I’m still a second off,” said Kobayashi. “It’s still a good result, but 2017 was pretty good, the track conditions were perfect. I tried but it wasn’t enough today. The team worked so well, especially as we needed to change the chassis after Mike’s (Conway) accident.”
Behind though, there was plenty of chopping and changing in the privateer LMP1 order. SMP Racing got the better of Rebellion Racing on this occasion, its No. 17 BR1 AER setting a 3m16.159s courtesy of Egor Orudzhev early in the session. To put that lap into perspective, no factory LMP1 hybrid Audi or Porsche has beaten that time here at Le Mans.
The No. 3 Rebellion could only manage fourth with a 3m16.404s, which was nevertheless an impressive lap, and considerably faster than the LMP1 privateer times set last year in the debut of the current set of cars.
It was a tough session for the Anglo-Swiss team, though. After the No. 3 blew an engine during Q2 earlier in the evening, the No. 1 caused a lengthy red flag when Bruno Senna stopped at Arnage having blown a second one.
It will concern the team ahead of the race this weekend: its pair of R-13s are running a developmental Gibson engine that features an increase in horsepower. Clearly, its reliability is a question mark at this stage…
The No. 11 SMP BR1 will start from fifth, with the second of the Rebellions sixth.
In LMP2, there were changes up and down the order, with the times tumbling at the top.
French ELMS team GRAFF prevailed in the end after Tristan Gommendy set a 3m25.073s in the first hour to put the team’s Michelin-shod ORECA on top, while the Dunlop-equipped No. 28 TDS Racing ORECA moved into second after a 3m25.345s from Loic Duval.
These two improvements pushed the No. 31 DragonSpeed ORECA, which headed into Q3 on provisional pole, down to third, above the Signatech Alpine A470, which shot from eighth to fourth in the closing minutes after a 3m25.874s from Nicolas Lapierre.
The quickest of the other chassis was the No. 32 United Autosports Ligier on this occasion, Filipe Albuquerque setting a 3m26.543s to go seventh, slotting in behind the 2018 pole-sitting IDEC Sport ORECA and G-Drive Racing Aurus, which ended up fifth and sixth respectively.
In GTE Pro it was Aston Martin Racing’s night, the No. 95 Vantage AMR topping the factory-dominated class after a 3m48.000s from Marco Sorensen. This result marks the Vantage AMR’s first pole at Le Mans, in only its second attempt.
Sorensen’s time was 0.1s up on the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford, which will start from second in the class. Making it three marques in the top three was the No. 63 Corvette Racing’s 3m48.830s following a late improvement by Antonio Garcia.
“We had a small issue in Q2 and were like ‘if we’re going to get ready for Q3 it will be tough’, then I had to go out and do one lap at the start of the session with the light fading,” Sorensen said.
“It’s an amazing feeling, I had one lap in clear traffic and I had to make it count. It was a good lap with tows down the straights off a BMW in front.”
The No. 93 Porsche made it four marques in the top four, and surprisingly, the No. 82 BMW made it five makes in the top five! The M8 GTE’s 3m49.108s marked a significant improvement for the outgoing MTEK factory effort, which will stop racing in the WEC after this weekend.
However, while the No. 82 produced in Q3, the sister No. 81 BMW had an off into the barriers on the entry to the Ford Chicanes; Nicky Catsburg pushing a little too hard, making an error, and damaging the front end.
At the very back of GTE Pro was the sole-privateer car in the class, the No. 82 Risi Ferrari, with Pipo Derani explaining that the team has been battling issues with its brand new 488 chassis.
“We have a problem we can’t identify, we’ve had to pull the car apart and put it back together. We still don’t know what’s wrong.” the Brazilain said. The car will line up behind the Am pole-sitter.
And it was Porsche that took the honors in Am; the No. 88 Dempsey Proton, which has starred throughout qualifying, securing pole with a 3m59.439s from Matteo Cairoli.
“My lap wasn’t a clear one, maybe I was overdriving a bit too much. But the car was very good to drive, in the last sector we made the difference. I’m happy about that,” the Italian said.
Cairoli led a 1-2 for last year’s GTE Am winners, the No. 77 which is still in the title hunt second on the grid.
Thomas Preining, who like Carioli is a Porsche Junior, made it a 1-2-3 for the German make with a 3m51.944s in the final session. The fastest Ferrari was the JMW 488 GTE, which will start fourth, and the best of the Aston Martins is the No. 98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage that will take 11th in the class on the grid. The Keating Motorsports Ford GT managed ninth.
Tomorrow is rest day at Le Mans. The race starts on Saturday at 15:00 local time.