Toyota: Beating Le Mans lap record ‘not impossible’

Kamui Kobayashi en route to Le Mans pole in 2019

Toyota is optimistic Kamui Kobayashi’s 24 Hours of Le Mans lap record could be lowered this weekend ahead of the current-generation LMP1 car’s final outing at La Sarthe.

The slower Le Mans Hypercars will be introduced from 2021, with the 2020 event – which has been delayed to September amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – to feature a new qualifying format.

The new ‘Hyperpole’ format, which will see the top six cars in each class from Thursday’s first qualifying session get the track to themselves, may open the door for Kobayashi’s 2017 record to be broken.

Three years ago, the Japanese driver set a pole-winning 3m14.791s lap.

It hasn’t been touched in the two years since, with countryman Kazuki Nakajima setting a 3m15.377s in 2018, before Kobayashi claimed P1 with a 3m15.497s last year.

The new Equivalence of Technology rules will see the Toyota TS050 Hybrid weigh in 7kg heavier than it was in 2019, and 17kg than in 2017.

However, a traffic-free lap is now all but assured for the top six cars in each class in 2020, and Kobayashi was keen not only to lower his own record, but hold onto it for decades to come.

“Once you get the record, you want to break the record (again),” Kobayashi said ahead of this weekend’s 88th running of the race.

“It’s going to be important this year because we have Hyperpole, so there’s more chance to be alone on the track.

“Once we’ve got a record this year, I guess it’s going to stay longer, because next year we have the hypercar which will be a bit slower than what we have now.

“I want to break the record, and keep it longer. The next 30 or 50 years would be nice.”

According to Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon, how much grip the La Sarthe circuit offers ahead of Friday’s 11:30 (local) Hyperpole session will determine if Kobayashi’s 2017 flyer will be nudged.

“Normally we should be able to run in similar lap times as previous years,” Vasselon said.

“To beat the 2017 pole has already proven twice to be difficult, because we had at that time very exceptional circumstances, especially in track grip. We have never seen again the level of track grip we have seen during that session in ’17.

“But I would say theoretically we have a chance to be in the ballpark, and even beat marginally this lap time. It’s not impossible, let’s say. It will all depend on the level of grip we have on the track, which from year to year is not identical.”

Cars will hit the track for the first of three Free Practice sessions at 18:00 AEST Thursday, with qualifying scheduled for 01:15 AEST Friday.

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