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24H Le Mans

Kobayashi Takes Record-Breaking Pole at Le Mans

Kobayashi’s record lap gives Toyota its third 24H Le Mans pole…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

Toyota Gazoo Racing will start the 85th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans from pole position after Kamui Kobayashi’s lap record from Qualifying 2 went unbeaten in the final session on Thursday night.

Kobayashi’s time of 3:14.791 in the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid obliterated the existing lap record at the Circuit de la Sarthe by over two seconds, as well as beating the previous best average speed set back in 1985 by Hans-Joachim Stuck.

The Japanese driver headed up a front-row lock-out for Toyota as the No. 8 car followed in second, bouncing back from an oil supply issue that resulted in an engine change in Q2.

Sebastien Buemi was unable to get close to Kobayashi’s record time, finishing 2.3 seconds adrift in second place, but still managed to edge out Porsche by one-tenth as the German marque shifted its focus to race setup.

The No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid qualified third as Neel Jani’s time of 3:17.259 from Q2 was not improved upon, while the sister No. 2 car finished fourth-fastest thanks Timo Bernhard’s effort, eight-tenths of a second further back.

The No. 9 Toyota rounded out the LMP1 manufacturers in fifth place, 3.8 seconds off pole.

Porsche hit trouble midway through the session when Brendon Hartley was forced to park the No. 2 up at Indianapolis after a heat temperature warning.

Hartley attempted to return to the pits on electric power, but was unable to make it home, requiring recovery on the tow truck, thus ending his session.

ByKolles completed the LMP1 order in sixth place with the No. 4 ENSO CLM P1/01 NISMO, moving back ahead of the LMP2 runners in the final qualifying session thanks to a lap from Oliver Webb, albeit 9.3 seconds back from the overall fastest time.

While the battle for supremacy in LMP1 was settled before final qualifying had even started, the fight in LMP2 raged on into the night, with Alex Lynn eventually leading G-Drive Racing to class pole.

Lynn’s lap of 3:25.352 in the No. 26 Oreca 07 Gibson marked a new lap record for LMP2, 11.3 seconds up on the 2016 pole time, with the British driver beating Vitaly Petrov in the No. 25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing entry by two-tenths.

Jackie Chan DC Racing took third in class thanks to Ho-Pin Tung, who posted a late effort of 3:25.911 to end qualifying within six-tenths of class pole. Vaillante Rebellion took fourth and fifth in class, with Bruno Senna leading Mathias Beche in the No. 31 and No. 13 Orecas respectively.

The pace advantage of the Oreca chassis was clear by the end of qualifying as the French manufacturer swept the top nine positions in LMP2.

SMP Racing was the leading non-Oreca team in 10th, finishing 2.2 seconds off the pace with the No. 27 Dallara P217. United Autosports led Ligier’s charge, ending qualifying 15th in class, while Keating Motorsports was 24th with the Riley Mk. 30 Gibson.

The next opportunity teams will have to hit the track will come on Saturday morning with a 45-minute warm-up session, before the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans at 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET) with live coverage on FOX Sports 1.

RESULTS: Qualifying

Luke Smith is a British motorsport journalist who has served as NBC Sports’ lead Formula 1 writer since 2013, as well as working on its online sports car coverage.


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