TOYOTA GAZOO Racing holds provisional pole position for the 87th Le Mans 24 Hours, the final round of the 2018-2019 FIA WEC season, following an eventful first day of track action at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Kamui Kobayashi, who holds the record for the fastest-ever lap of Le Mans thanks to his 2017 pole position, ended first qualifying on top in the #7 TS050 HYBRID he shares with Mike Conway and José María López. He set a best lap of 3mins 17.161secs, 0.472secs clear of the #17 SMP Racing. World Championship leaders Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso in the #8 TS050 HYBRID hold provisional fourth before Thursday’s two 120-minute qualifying sessions. The starting grid is decided by the fastest single lap set in any of the three qualifying sessions. Although the Le Mans week officially began on Sunday with scrutineering, the team had to wait until Wednesday afternoon to turn its first laps on the 13.626km Circuit de la Sarthe. The only practice session of the event ran for four hours and began on a wet circuit following heavy afternoon rain. The track dried throughout the first hour, allowing engineers and drivers to evaluate when to make the change from wet to hybrid intermediate tyres and then to slicks.
The TS050 HYBRIDs had completed a combined 220 laps during the 2 June test day when temperatures were much higher, so dry track time was valuable today to adjust set-ups to the cooler conditions which are also expected for the race. However, a red flag cost around 50 minutes during which time a heavy shower struck. Despite changing weather and interruptions, the team prepared itself well for qualifying, with a total of 95 laps during free practice as the #7 set the pace.
When darkness fell for qualifying, the track was dry and both cars immediately headed out to record a first flying lap. Kamui went faster than any car at this stage last year but Kazuki faced traffic and then a full course yellow which prevented him setting a representative qualifying time on new tyres. Focus soon switched to race preparation rather than one-lap performance. As the session reached the final 45 minutes, both TS050 HYBRIDs were involved in separate collisions with other cars. An LMP2 car drove into the path of Mike at the final chicane following a spin, causing damage to the front left of the #7 and requiring a 25-minute repair. Simultaneously, Sébastien and a GT car made contact; a small repair to the floor and a new front end cost a few minutes. Late in the session, Fernando improved the #8 TS050 HYBRID’s lap time and took provisional fourth place while the #7 concluded its set-up and tyre evaluation programme.
|Qualifying 1 results:|
|1st||#7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||3min 17.161secs||25 laps|
|2nd||#17 SMP (Sarrazin/Orudzhev/Sirotkin)||+0.472secs||23 laps|
|3rd||#3 Rebellion (Laurent/Berthon/Menezes)||+2.442secs||19 laps|
|4th||#8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing||+2.471secs||30 laps|
|5th||#10 DragonSpeed (Hedman/Hanley/Van der Zande)||+3.039secs||9 laps|
|6th||#1 Rebellion (Jani/Lotterer/Senna)||+3.136secs||27 laps|