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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.

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. daedalus

    June 15, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    seems strange they they make constant GTE BOP adjustments but don’t touch the LMP2 BOP despite it being obvious that the Oreca is too fast.

    • Steven

      June 15, 2017 at 6:36 pm

      What can be BoP on LMP2? They have a spec engine. Oreca made a chassis that a light years ahead of Dallara, Ligier, and Riley.

      • daedalus

        June 15, 2017 at 7:39 pm

        they can use minimum ride heights, rear wing angle and ballast. No need to touch engine as it is the chassis that is different.

      • Andy Flinn

        June 15, 2017 at 9:40 pm

        Steven, nine of the top ten and 13 of the top 15 LMP2 qualifying positions go to Oreca/spec-Gibsons.

        It reminds mw of the “Nobody’s Perfect” Porsche ad from 1983 which showed Porsche 956s filling the top ten finishing positions at Le Mans – except for a Sauber/BMW in ninth place.

        At this rate, it won’t be long before LMP2 becomes a fully spec Oreca/Gibson affair.

      • David

        June 16, 2017 at 3:01 am

        The fastest Dallara is just 2.4s away from fastest Oreca, keeping in mind that it’s the first race for SMP this year while the Oreca-Teams know their chassis very well and have drivers like Lynn, Petrov, Senna, Vergne.

        I think this is only a Ligier problem.

    • Thomas

      June 15, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      There is no BOP in LMP2

    • John

      June 16, 2017 at 3:54 am

      Oddly enough, P2 is the closest thing to an pure, open competition even though it’s a cost-capped spec class!

      Ligier, Dallara, and Riley all had equal chances, and designed brand new cars for the new class rules. Ironically, Oreca kept their existing tub and have a faster car!

      BoP is a necessary evil to equalize the disparate cars in GT, whether they are road cars converted to race cars like the Vette, Vantage and 488, or homologation specials like the GT and 911RSR.

      To suggest opening the BoP can of worms in P2 is a bad idea to me, even if it ends up being an Orecafest. I’d rather have the purity of competition, rather than the suspicion, plotting, and politics that clouds GT.

      • Andy Flinn

        June 16, 2017 at 12:45 pm

        John, I’d much rather have BoP over a “pure” specfest (Oreca/spec-Gibson).

        The ACO is already halfway (spec-Gibson) there.

        If Ligier, Dallara and Riley/Multimatic cannot compete, they will eventually be gone.

        I don’t see how that’s good for the sport.

    • KW

      June 16, 2017 at 7:20 am

      This is a spec class, no need to call for a BoP as it is restricted anyway.
      Also back in the “old” LMP2 years, the ORECA chassis always had the best downforce and drag compromise especially for Le Mans; this was already the case with the 03R and 05 models. This does not necessarily mean that they have the same advantage on other circuits, see for example the ELMS races before Le Mans this year. Another factor for the ORECA dominance is the fact that the most professional and best-financed full season WEC teams are all running ORECA chassis. So the result is not only due to the chassis itself, but also due to the team and driver performance. You can see this by the fact that the SMP Dallara, also run by a well-funded and experienced team, is the only LMP2 which is almost on ORECA pace, even if they are there only for a one-off before their 2018 LMP1 season.

  2. amlv20

    June 15, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    will be an interesting race,hope Toyota double checks every engine to make sure that oil issue doesn’t creep up during race on every car.think Honda at indy last month.and also Porsche already having cooling issues,isnt that the problems they had last year having to replace water pumps on both cars?hmm….should be fun

  3. Doug P

    June 15, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    Is there going to be any competition at all this year, between makes? Based on all practice, qualifying and previous races.

    GTE Am looks good and so does a 2 horse race in GTE Pro. Otherwise, what a letdown from last year!

    • Passin theTaurus~

      June 16, 2017 at 8:12 am

      You should have a re-look at the times, maybe. GTpro and AM is going to be a 24hr battle. They’re all close…and remember the times are 1 driver over 1 lap. That doesn’t win Le Mans
      LMP2 same thing.
      And LMP1-H, both teams experienced some reliability issue.
      We’ve been on a streak of EPIC major enduro race finishes. I don’t see that changing here at all

  4. StueyB83

    June 15, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Quite pleased ByKolles is 7th and faster than LMP2.

    That Nissan engine has been making strides for them

  5. lmp2 half-spec series

    June 15, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    weakest le mans entry list in a long tine

    • TF110

      June 15, 2017 at 9:55 pm

      But you’re still commenting on it lol

      It’ll be a lot better next year with the new lmp1’s and BMW in gte.

  6. JG

    June 15, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    Interesting that the top speed reached on the Record lap was only 208 mph. They are obviously running a high downforce setup, as that speed is paltry for having close to 1000 bhp on tap, even if its not all used on the straights. Tire technology has taken leaps and bounds too. If you put the rubber used on Stuck’s 1985 Porsche 962 on the Toyota, it would be around 15 seconds slower.

    Very pleased as well about ByKolles- nice job!

    • Andy Flinn

      June 16, 2017 at 12:03 am

      It is nice to see ByKolles in sixth spot ahead of the LMP2s.

      However, they qualified five and a half seconds slower tha the slowest of the LMP1 hybrids and close to ten seconds slower than the pole-sitting Toyota hybrid.

      I hope the car is reliable. Otherwise, they don’t stand a chance of competing for a podium spot with the hybrids.

      I guess it’s a good thing ByKolles is in a class of their own.

      • StueyB83

        June 16, 2017 at 3:39 am

        What are you expecting from a team on a shoestring budget? Matching a factory effort lap for lap?

        • Passin theTaurus~

          June 16, 2017 at 8:18 am

          Stuey gets it…its not always where you finish, but how you compete. I give Kolles all credit they deserve.

        • Andy Flinn

          June 16, 2017 at 12:50 pm

          Stuey, I’m expecting a stronger LMP1 class and at least one other car that can compete with mighty Porsche And Toyota.

          For now, hybrid technology has put that out of reach.

  7. JG

    June 15, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    Happy for Toyota, and they are in a great position to win, but it should have been the TS010 that got the first LM victory for the team; a much more charismatic car.

  8. Dan

    June 16, 2017 at 12:04 am

    Pierre Kaffer was 3.1 seconds Slower than Calado in the Af Corse Ferrari. Even Malucelli was fastet than him. I do not know why risi picked a driver that Has no experience in that car. Ridiculous

    • David

      June 16, 2017 at 2:42 am

      Do you know if Kaffer had a free lap?
      Is Buemi 3 seconds slower than Kobayashi?

    • KW

      June 16, 2017 at 7:10 am

      Pierre Kaffer is a driver who is normally on pace. I agree with David: before judging him you should know about the circumstances: Traffic? Going for a pole time at all or just for a “reasonable” qualifying lap with used tires and some fuel in? And about “No experience in that car”: Pierre Kaffer drove the 2015 IMSA season for Risi as Fisico’s partner; this was in the predecessor Ferrari 458, not in the 488, but still – he knows the team and he has lots of LMP, GTE and GT3 experience in various cars.

  9. Marco

    June 16, 2017 at 8:06 am

    After all that’s been going on in GT pro these past days ’bout BOP talks, pace concerns, and those sort of things, all 5 brands are within 1 second.

  10. WBrowning

    June 16, 2017 at 10:05 am

    The entire GTE Pro field was within 1.8 seconds, and like mentioned above, that is the fastest lap among each car’s 3 drivers.

    Just did the math, and 1 second per lap comes out to be about a lap and a half over the 24 hours, not simple to make up for, but doable with a lot of luck and a problem free run.

    I still think they over did BoP a little on the Fords, as carrying an extra 20kg over 24 hours is a lot of extra stress and wear on tires. But with some luck, one could still win, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see 5+ cars on the lead lap at the finish.

    Here’s to a good, clean, safe race!

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