Toyota Gazoo Racing has stolen the front row of the grid in qualifying for this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the second round of the 2018-19 World Endurance Championship.
Kazuki Nakajima took a second Le Mans pole position of his driving career and a fourth for Toyota with a lap time of 3min 15.377sec, right at the start of the third qualifying session at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid he shares with Sébastien Buemi and Fernando Alonso is now at the head of the field of 60 cars set to start the race. Alongside will be the #7 car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, who achieved the second spot after a best lap from Kobayashi during the first qualifying run.
Nakajima said: “I was pushing hard and it was a clean lap and a good lap time, so I’m happy. The track conditions were good, much better than yesterday when I didn’t feel as comfortable. I think we have a really good balance for the race so I am pleased with what we have done so far. Qualifying is only maybe one per cent of the whole weekend, but this pole position is nice for the team. We all know that the race is very long and it’s going to be tough.”
This result has earned the team an extra World Championship point, Toyotas focus has been on a consistent and reliable performance during the race, in their endeavour to win at their 20th attempt. Fastest lap from any of the three two-hour qualifying sessions decides the Grid positions, however, there wasn’t an opportunity to improve on Wednesday’s times during the second qualifying. Two red flag stoppages ensured little action and saw the session halted 24 minutes early due to an accident.
Third qualifying saw both Toyotas taking straight to the track fighting for pole position. Kazuki had a clean lap that improved the provisional pole position time setting a new track record for the updated 8.5-mile circuit layout, in use for the first time this year. With 60 cars travelling on the circuit, traffic was a factor in qualifying not falling well for Kobayashi, who was unable to improve on his previous time. The session enabled both Toyota to focus on race preparations and experiencing a wet track when light rain began to fall provided important data for the team. The ensuing weather meant the fight for grid positions was over for all teams then, well before midnight.