24 Hours of Le Mans qualifying: Kobayashi leads the way as Toyota claims top two spots

Toyota Gazoo Racing claimed the top two qualifying sports for Saturday’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Toyota driver Kamui Kobayashi claimed his second career pole position for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

The Japanese driver reprised his record-breaking 2017 pole with a 3 minutes. 15.497 seconds lap set at the start of second qualifying for this weekend’s World Endurance Championship finale on Thursday evening. That gave him a margin of four tenths over the second of the Toyota TS050 Hybrids in which Kazuki Nakajima posted a 3:15.908. 

The No. 7 Toyota that Kobayashi shares with Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez had taken provisional pole in the opening qualifying period on Wednesday before being involved in an incident later in the session. The car was quickly repaired after Conway tagged a stationery LMP2 car in the Ford Chicane, but further inspection revealed a crack in the monocoque, meaning the TS050 had to be rebuilt around a new tub for Thursday.

Kobayashi said: “It was a great job by the team; they fixed the car five minutes before the start of the session.

“If it had been 10 minutes later, I wouldn’t have been able to do it because of traffic.”

Kobayashi admitted to disappointment that he was unable to get near his record 3:14.791 lap from 2017.

“The car is definitely quicker after two years of development, but the track conditions and the wind direction were not so good,” he explained. 

Toyota blocked out the Le Mans front row for the third year in a row after the top LMP1 privateers failed to mount a concerted challenge. The SMP Racing team was nearly a second and a half behind the Toyotas at the end of session two, but Egor Orudzhev managed to get within seven tenths at the start of the third period.

Aston Martin and Ford were separated by a tenth of a second at the head of the GTE Pro order. Harry Tincknell went quickest at the start of Q3 with a 3:48.112 aboard his Ganassi Ford GT, before Marco Sorensen wet quicker with a 3:48.000 to snatch pole in the best of the Aston Martin Vantage GTEs. 

Sorensen said: “Everything came together: I had a clear lap and a small tow from a BMW down the four straights.”

Corvette Racing took third position with a 3:48.830s from Antonio Garcia. That was less than a tenth up on Nick Tandy in the best of the four factory Porsche 911 RSRs entered in GTE Pro.

Qualifying honors in the GTE Am class went for the second year in a row to the Dempsey Proton Porsche 911 RSR driven by Matteo Cairoli.

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