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24H Le Mans

Hartley “Put Everything On the Line” for Pole Lap

Hartley “thought it was all over” on penultimate qualifying lap but bounced back to take pole…

Photo: Toyota

Brendon Hartley said that he had to “put everything on the line” for his pole position lap at the 24 Hours of Le Mans driving the No. 8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid.

The two-time Le Mans winner produced a 3:24.408 effort right at the end of Thursday’s session to beat his Toyota teammate Kamui Kobayashi, who was aiming to chalk up his fifth pole at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Hartley’s decisive lap time came after his penultimate effort was compromised by traffic, wasting the period when his Michelin tires were in their optimal window.

The New Zealander later described taking pole as an “emotional” personal achievement based on the pressure that comes with performing in a quickfire 30-minute session.

“Kamui did the lap early on last year and he is Mr. Quali here the last few years,” Hartley said.

“Today felt amazing to take the pole position. The car felt amazing.

“You do have quite a lot of pressure on those sessions. Particularly on the last lap, I had traffic the lap before and it was actually better with the peak of the tire.

“I had to put everything on the line for the last lap.

“I’m so happy it came together. It was a very nice feeling.”

Hartley tried to execute a quick opening lap time to gain the early advantage in the hyperpole session and did so by eclipsing Kobayashi’s opener by nine-tenths.

The Toyota drivers were then pushed behind Nicolas Lapierre, who surged to the top on a 3:24.850 in the No. 36 Alpine A480 Gibson with seven minutes to go.

After pitting both of its cars, Toyota Gazoo Racing sent its drivers back out in a bid to capture its sixth consecutive Le Mans pole.

Hartley initially felt that the first of his two remaining flyers would offer his best chance to deliver, but he dropped to third behind Lapierre and an improving Kobayashi.

At that point, the driver of the No. 8 Toyota “thought it was all over” for his chances.

“That second-to-last lap was a bit heartbreaking because I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it again,” he said.

“We fuelled for that second lap in case of traffic. For a moment I thought the dream was over, but we kept it together.

“The whole crew has been working well all weekend. We’ve made good setup changes and good directions. We had a little problem in FP3 which hopefully has been solved.

“Just a big thank you to everyone. You don’t want to get too caught up in hyperpole, but it’s hard not to at Le Mans when you get to do the fastest lap of the weekend.”

The two Toyota LMHs were virtually inseparable during hyperpole, according to TGR-Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon.

“Both cars are extremely close,” he summarized.

“The main issue which car No. 7 has had is traffic. He has been less lucky with traffic. If you look at the ideal times, they are exactly the same, within two hundredths.

“Brendon has been a bit more lucky with traffic. But really they were at the same pace. The four-tenths are not real. The ideal sectors are the same, so the two cars are exactly aligned.”

Lapierre was upbeat at Alpine’s turnaround for the pole-deciding session.

The ORECA-built LMP1 car received a 7 kW (or 9 hp) power increase in a Balance of Performance update issued before hyperpole.

“The lap was good; we had no more fuel in the car and I had a good slipstream from a United [LMP2] car, so altogether it was great,” Lapierre said.

“It was the maximum we could extract from the car, so we were happy about it.

“We improved a lot compared to last Sunday and also the BoP helped us a little bit. Altogether, we are not that far from the Toyotas, which is great news for the race.”

Vasselon did not wish to speak about the dramatic pace gain from the Alpine after Lapierre improved on his car’s previous best time of the weekend by 4.4 seconds, compared with a 2.7-second equivalent improvement from the No. 8 Toyota.

Vasselon’s only offering at Alpine’s result was: “We have reinvented physics.”

Davey Euwema contributed to this report

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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