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Toyota Scores Repeat Le Mans Pole; Aston Martin Tops GTE-Pro

Toyota scores its fifth Le Mans pole as Kobayashi’s time holds firm against privateer gains…

Photo: Toyota

Toyota claimed its third consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans pole position despite improvements from its non-hybrid LMP1 rivals in Wednesday’s final qualifying session.

Kamui Kobayashi’s time of 3:15.497 set during the second two-hour session earlier in the evening was enough to the plant No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid on pole ahead of its sister car.

Kobayashi, who will share driving duties with Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez in the FIA World Endurance Championship season finale, also took pole in 2017.

Toyota will start from first and second on the grid with Kazuki Nakajima posting a time of 3:15.908 in the No. 8 car that he will share with Sebastien Buemi and Fernando Alonso.

The non-hybrid LMP1 teams closed the gap during Q3 with the pair of SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 AERs each making improvements in the opening minutes.

Egor Orudzhev elevated the Russian squad’s No. 17 car from fifth to third with a 3:16.159 effort, falling 0.662 seconds short of pole and two tenths shy of splitting the Toyotas.

Stoffel Vandoorne’s 3:16.665 lap put SMP’s No. 11 machine in fourth, but the ex-McLaren Formula 1 driver was bumped down to fourth by Gustavo Menezes in the No. 3 Rebellion R13 Gibson later in the session.

Rebellion’s No. 1 car of Andre Lotterer, Neel Jani and Bruno Senna will start sixth after its Q3 run was cut short by an engine failure.

DragonSpeed’s Gibson-powered BR1 qualified seventh, ahead of the ByKolles Racing ENSO CLM P1/01 Gibson.

In LMP2, Tristan Gommendy put the French Graff squad on pole as Oreca-based machinery locked out the top six positions on the class grid.

Gommendy’s 3:25.073 flyer right at the start of the Wednesday night session shot the No. 39 Oreca 07 Gibson to the pole spot after it started the final session in eighth place.

Loic Duval moved up to second in the No. 28 TDS Racing Oreca, three tenths off Gommendy’s pace, while DragonSpeed’s No. 31 Oreca slipped to third.

Signatech Alpine, IDEC Sport and G-Drive Racing completed the Oreca sweep, with United Autosports’ No. 22 Ligier JS P217 Gibson breaking the trend in seventh.

Aston Beats Ford to GTE-Pro Pole

Marco Sorensen gave the second-generation Aston Martin Vantage GTE its first Le Mans pole position and its second in the WEC ahead of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Harry Tincknell.

Tincknell made a first-sector improvement in the final five minutes but couldn’t find the overall lap time to dip under Sorensen’s 3:48.000 in the No. 95 Aston, instead settling on a 3:48.112.

Five manufacturers will occupy the top five spots on the grid, with Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia making a late improvement to go third-quickest.

The No. 63 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R will start ahead of the No. 93 CORE-run Porsche 911 RSR  and the No. 82 MTEK BMW M8 GTE.

Dirk Mueller improved late-on to go sixth-quickest in the No. 68 Ford GT, bumping the No. 92 WEC points-leading Porsche and the No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.

Dempsey-Proton Racing locked out the GTE-Am front row with Matteo Cairoli pacing the class on a 3:51.439 in the German team’s No. 88 car, which won its class last year.

Matt Campbell consolidated Campbell’s benchmark in the No. 77 Dempsey-Proton machine, while fellow Porsche-affiliated driver Thomas Preining leapt to third shortly before the end in the Gulf Racing 911.

The best-placed Ferrari entry was the JMW Motorsport Ferrari in fourth, while the Keating Motorsports Ford GT came through in ninth, two places ahead of the fastest Aston Martin.

The No. 98 Aston brought out the red flags just before the halfway point when Pedro Lamy went off in the dark at Arnage.

RESULTS: Qualifying

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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