Toyota claims provisional Le Mans pole

Toyota surged to provisional pole in opening qualifying

Toyota topped Wednesday evening’s first qualifying for the Le Mans 24 Hours, with Kamui Kobayashi putting the #7 TS050 HYBRID on provisional pole in a shortened session.

The session was 20 minutes late to start owing to barrier repairs at the Porsche Curves following a crash in the preceding Road to Le Mans practice session, cutting qualifying back from two hours to 1 hour and 40 minutes.

When the action finally commenced, Neel Jani’s free practice benchmark of 3m20.362s fell on the opening runs, as the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid set a 3m19.710s in the hands of Timo Bernhard.

That stood as the session’s quickest time until Kobayashi logged a 3m18.793s 15 minutes later, enjoying a near traffic-free run in the latter half of his lap.

Kobayashi’s time would not be beaten for the remaining 1h20m of the session, the former Sauber and Caterham F1 driver securing provisional pole in the car he shares with Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin.

Kazuki Nakajima made it a Toyota one-two, his best effort of 3m19.431s leaving him 0.638s behind compatriot Kobayashi.

Bernhard’s early lap was good enough for third in the quicker of the two Porsches, 0.917s off the pace, ahead of Toyota’s third car, the #9 of Nicolas Lapierre.

A further 1.2s back was the second of the Porsches, the #1, with the car’s 3m21.165s best coming courtesy of Jani in the opening laps.

The sole LMP1 privateer, the #4 ByKolles ENSO CLM, was just over 10 seconds off the pace, with Dominik Kraihamer recording a 3m28.887s.

The battle for top spot in the LMP2 class went down to the final 20 minutes, with the two Manor ORECAs of Jean-Eric Vergne and Vitaly Petrov having sat first and second for a large proportion of the session.

Initially, Vergne had the advantage in the #24 entry, but once the crews had cycled through their drivers both were unleashed again.

Petrov was able to improve to a 3m30.502s in the #25 car, while Vergne could not go any quicker, to reverse the positions.

But a few minutes later, Bruno Senna put the #31 Rebellion ORECA fastest, just seconds before Matthieu Vaxiviere went half-a-second quicker to secure provisional pole position in the #28 TDS ORECA.

This left the two Manor cars third and fourth, ahead of the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA of Thomas Laurent that had briefly held top spot in the early running.

The two Signatech ORECAs were sixth and seventh, with Gustavo Menezes and Nelson Panciatici setting the times, ahead of the #13 Rebellion ORECA of Mathias Beche.

The #26 G-Drive ORECA, which set the pace in free practice, was ninth thanks to Roman Rusinov.

The best non-ORECA was the #29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara of Rubens Barrichello, who lapped 4.463s off the pace to take 13th.

That put him two places ahead of the best of the Ligiers, the #32 United Autosports entry driven by Filipe Albuquerque.

The #34 Tockwith Ligier was 24th after briefly stopping on track in the hands of Karun Chandhok before crawling back to the pits. That put it ahead only of the #33 Eurasia Ligier.

The #27 SMP Dallara also hit trouble, catching fire near Mulsanne Corner and not being able to return to the pits.

That car ended up 16th thanks to the pace set by Mikhail Aleshin, who was at the wheel when it hit trouble.

The opening laps determined the order in GTE Pro as Aston Martin overturned Ferrari’s slim advantage from practice.

Marco Sorensen lapped in 3m52.748s and then improved to 3m52.117s in the #95 Vantage he shares with Nicki Thiim and Richie Stanaway, and the time stood until the chequered flag.

Sam Bird, pacesetter in practice, fell short by just over a tenth of a second in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari with his attack in the opening minutes, and team-mates Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina were unable to improve on his 3m52.235s.

But they were comfortably 0.888s of the sister entry piloted by James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Michele Rugolo.

The second works Aston of Serra/Adam/Turner was 0.173s off, but the fastest of the works Porsches – the #92 Christensen/Estre/Werner 911 – was nearly a second further adrift.

It was then demoted in the closing minutes when Andy Priaulx wrangled a 3m54.118s lap out of the #67 Chip Ganassi Ford which put that car fifth in class after a largely anonymous session from the Blue Oval.

Chevrolet, another team at the wrong end of a recent Balance of Performance adjustment, fared less well. Marcel Fassler’s 3m54.876s lap from the beginning of the session stood as the manufacturer’s fastest, and the #64 and #63 were ninth and tenth.

Aston Martin got the better of Porsche once again in GTE Am as Pedro Lamy set an early banker of 3m55.232s in the #98 Vantage, which team-mate Mathias Lauda then improved upon with a 3m55.134s that stood as the class best until the end of the session.

Matteo Cairoli set the #77 Proton Porsche’s 3m55.692s in the opening minutes, which remained good enough for second place ahead of the #90 TF Sport Aston in which Euan Hankey set the fastest lap of 3m55.953s.

VIDEO: Le Mans 24 Hours Qualifying 1 Highlights 

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