Toyota lock out the front row at Le Mans

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Credit - TOYOTA GAZOO Racing

Toyota Gazoo Racing have dominated qualifying ahead of this years edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Kamui Kobayashi in the second qualifying session, set an incredible lap of 3:14.781 therefore smashing the previous record set by Neel Jani during qualifying in the 2015 Porsche 919 Hybrid which was 3:16.887. 

You have to also consider that Kobayashi set this time, in a period that the ACO has been actively trying to reduce the speed of the LMP1 prototype lap times at Le Mans. It seems the rulemakers therefore have somewhat lost the battle over the engineers when it comes to managing the pace of these cars.

It should also be noted that the overall lap record at Le Mans, prior to the chicanes being added on the Mulsanne straight was a 3.13.9, set by Pedro Rodriguez in 1971. 

This means that Conway, Kobayashi and Sarrazin start on pole, ahead of Davidson, Buemi and Nakajima at a 3:17.128 with Porsche’s Neel Jani, Nick Tandy and Andre Lotterer starting third with a 3:17.259. 

Neither Porsche or Toyota had a flawless day though in terms of reliability. The #8 Toyota having a precautionary engine change during Qualifying II after slowing on track and Porsche also having issues in Qualifying III, which resulted in Brendon Hartley stopping the car out on track for precautionary reasons. It is therefore rather interesting for the race as to which one of the two LMP1 manufacturers will have the upper edge when it comes to reliability during the 24 Hours. I’m sure Toyota don’t want to remember what happened last year but I’m also sure it is a fear for them. 

Meanwhile the new, faster LMP2 prototypes for 2017, saw the G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 of Romain Rusinov, Pierre Thiriet and Alex Lynn. They took class pole at a 3:25.170, which is faster than the pole position lap of the Audi R18 LMP1 pole sitting lap from 2011. The last non hybrid car to qualify on pole at Le Mans to date. 

In the GTE Pro class, it was the Venerable, Prodrive Aston Martin V8 Vantage which claimed pole position, driven by Darren Turner, Johnny Adam and Daniel Serra at a 3:50.837 ahead of AF Corse and the sister Aston Martin Racing GTE PRO entrant.

In the GTE Am class, pole is held by the Larbre Corvette team of Fernando Rees, Romain Brandela and Christian Philippon at 3:52.843

 

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This is Toyota’s best chance on the ever elusive LeMans victory. Half of the cars in LMP1 class are their own. Will they do a Mazda maneuver: win the big prize then quit?

Tom Firth
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Tom Firth

Yes, possibly and your guess is as good as mine ;-)

Flip a coin. It has more accuracy on whether Toyota or Porsche will pull out. Lots of speculation that either Toyota or Porsche will, but the ACO just released 2020 regulations so the organisers clearly expect the current LMP1 cars to run through to the end of 2019 and I can’t see only one OEM staying so hopefully both do, as they’ve previously said they would and stay and the rumours aren’t true.

jakobusvdl
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jakobusvdl

Thanks for the post Tom, and for putting those times in context. How did Kobayashi find 2.5 sec on the other Toyota and the first Porsche? That’s quite a margin.
Thanks to the process of channel surfing I found SKY sports here have a LeMans pop up channel (I didn’t see it advertised anywhere), so we’ll get to see the great race.
It might be because there are a few kiwis in top cars, including Scott Dixon going for the second leg of the Triple Crown (watch out Alonso, does a class win count?)

Tom Firth
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Tom Firth

Mega lap by Kobayashi. Everything just aligned so well for Kobayashi and came together for that one magical lap. It was more the anomoly than the rule lap. A bit of a draft on the Mulsanne straight, not compromised at all by traffic, unlike the others and just absolutely on the limit. It was spectacular but I doubt we’ll see it repeated anytime soon. There is also the WEC/Le Mans pay stream/app available everywhere. I’ve heard a few people having some technical difficulties but it has worked fine for me so not sure on that. Yep, Dixon, Bamber, Hartley and… Read more »

Tom Firth
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Tom Firth

Just a quick note on coverage for anyone reading this from the UK. ITV4 are covering the final hours of the race from 930 on Sunday morning through to the finish live on Free to air. There’s a bit on Quest too, which is on Freeview too. The full race in the UK is on Eurosport 1 or through the WEC app/website (PPV)

Tom Firth
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Tom Firth

If anyone has any questions on the race, you are welcome to post them here. I’ll try and answer what I can throughout the race.

jakobusvdl
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jakobusvdl

Good morning Tom, I’m not long up, so haven’t seen the first 9 hours of the race. What have I missed? Where’s the other LMP1 Porsche?
How has the BoP been working for the GTE classes?

Tom Firth
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Tom Firth

Sorry I rubbishly missed this. Right so the P1 class has been crazy unreliable, Porsche had an issue with their sister car early on, its dropped down, is slowly climbing and can maybe now get a podium but with this safety car, that becomes even more challenging, probably even ending the chance. Toyota self destructed during the night. One car had a clutch failure and the other ones tire went through the first corner and threw it across the gravel trap, dragging it back it got worse until they could go no further. The final Toyota is still in the… Read more »

jakobusvdl
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jakobusvdl

Thanks for the response Tom, great summary. I watched in horror as things fell apart for Toyota, and have been catching bits of the race through the day (day here, night there).
It is more interesting now it is daylight, I’m loving seeing all the different classes and cars intermingle around the circuit.
Last 6 hours! Let’s see how it all pans out

Tom Firth
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Tom Firth

Last five hours now.

Yes the look on Hugues De Chaunac’s face sums up Toyota’s race entirely. I don’t know what they will do now. Hopefully come back but this is the fifth time in Toyota’s history at Le Mans that a dominant car in a strong place has failed.

Got a good race going on in GTE Pro which is very nice. I’ve followed all the way live. Sleep later. Race watching now :D

jakobusvdl
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jakobusvdl

Thats commitment Tom, the full 24 hours! Good luck.
As you say, hopefully they keep coming back, they can’t keep having such bad luck. Will the new privateer LMP1 class next year be able to compete with the factory teams for victory?
The GTE Pro battle is great, how can they be so close after 18 hours? And still pushing so hard.
I’ll be able to get back to it later, its family time now :-)

Tom Firth
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Tom Firth

Unlikely they’ll be able to compete for overall victory. Well not without a meltdown from the factory teams like in this years edition.

The reason they are so close is the wonders of BOP :-)

jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl

This race is so full of drama, flat out for 24 hours allows lots of opportunity for things to develop and resolve themselves.
The BOP concept is a bit of anathema, it is certainly creating interesting GT racing, and creating close racing between dissimilar cars. So a great team and driver series but not so good for manufacturers / engineers.

Tom Firth
Guest
Tom Firth

Well.. another card dealt by the endurance racing gods, and now a P2 car may actually win at Le Mans… let that sink in.