Kamui Kobayashi took a huge step towards clinching Toyota pole position for the 24 Hours of Le Mans by smashing the lap record at the Circuit de la Sarthe in the second stage of qualifying on Thursday evening.
Kobayashi entered Q2 as the provisional pole sitter, only to lose P1 to No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid co-driver Mike Conway early in the session when he found an extra tenth of a second before a red flag stoppage.
Qualifying was put on hold for 40 minutes for barrier repairs following an accident for Erik Maris in the No. 33 Eurasia Motorsport Ligier JS P217 Gibson while exiting the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight.
Maris took a mandated trip to the hospital per WEC regulations due to the G-Forces recorded in the crash, but the team reported that he felt fine and the trip was precautionary.
Team Director Mark Goddard said the car will be ready to return to action in time for the warmup on Saturday after sustaining significant front-end damage.
When the session resumed, Kobayashi was sent out early in the No. 7 Toyota and managed to hit the track in perfect conditions, lighting the timesheets purple as he encountered next-to-no traffic.
Aided by tailwinds on the main straight and headwinds through the Porsche Curves, Kobayashi crossed the line to record a time of 3:14.791 – the fastest ever lap at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
The time was over two seconds faster than Neel Jani’s existing pole record of 3:16.887 for Porsche in 2015, and even beat Hans-Joachim Stuck’s average speed record of 251.815 km/h from 1985, dialing in at 251.9 km/h.
Kobayashi’s effort may have sparked celebrations in the Toyota garage, but the Japanese marque’s session was not without its issues as an oil supply issue caused the No. 8 car to slow early on.
Toyota opted to complete a precautionary engine change that took up most of the session, with Sebastien Buemi only returning to the track in the final 10 minutes.
Porsche was able to find more time with both of its Porsche 919 Hybrids in Q2, slotting into second and third with the No. 1 and No. 2 cars respectively. Jani took second, 2.4 seconds off the new top time, while Timo Bernhard was third ahead of the No. 8 and No. 9 Toyotas.
LMP1 was not the only class to produce some astonishing times, as the LMP2 lap record was also re-broken by another 3.7 seconds, with CEFC Manor TRS Racing grabbing provisional pole.
Vitaly Petrov turned in a best lap time of 3:25.549 in the No. 25 Oreca 07 Gibson to finish over a second clear of Oliver Jarvis in the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing entry. Petrov edged the LMP1 privateer ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01 NISMO to sixth place overall.
Jean-Eric Vergne rounded out the top three in LMP2 in the sister No. 24 Manor car.
Aston Martin Racing managed to retain its grip on pole position in GTE-Pro as Jonny Adam beat Nicki Thiim’s time from Wednesday, posting a new fastest lap of 3:51.860 in the No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE.
James Calado got in a late lap for AF Corse before a final red flag in the session caused by Timothe Buret in the No. 23 Panis Barthez Competition Ligier JS P217, going P2 in the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE. Thiim’s benchmark was still good enough for third in class.
Will Stevens led JMW Motorsport to provisional pole in GTE-Am with a time of 3:53.981 in the No. 84 Ferrari 488 GTE, finishing four-tenths of a second clear of Euan Hankey in the No. 90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GTE.
RESULTS: Qualifying 2