Toyota TS030 HYBRID start first Le Mans race from 3rd and 5th
With the final two of three qualifying sessions completed yesterday for the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota Racing TS030 HYBRID will start from 3rd and 5th places for the team’s first ever race. The air is thick with excitement – and moisture at the time of writing on Friday – even after two days and six hours worth of qualifying at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Qualifying report after the break.
The first session of the evening kicked off at 19:00 CET and both our cars left the pits immediately as the session started under warm and dry conditions.
First to take the wheel were Kazuki Nakajima in the #7 car and Stéphane Sarrazin in the #8. Kazuki quickly put in a time of 3:27.800 to go P1 in the session, followed by Stéphane in P3 with a 3:28.234. Within 30 minutes after the session started, Kazuki crossed the start/finish line with an improved time of 3:26.505, up 0.6 sec from the night before.
Nicolas Lapierre took over from Kazuki in #7 with just over one hour remaining in the session. His quickest time also meant an improvement for the car overall by 0.003 sec. At the same time Anthony Davidson stepped into the car and also improved the times with a lap of 3:28.233 as the track started to become faster into the night.
With 30 minutes to go in the session, Nicolas had a little off-track excursion in the #7 car which he brought back to the pits immediately so the team can make sure it didn’t sustain too much damage. Anthony on the other hand flew through the track to post the session’s fastest time for the #8 car with a 3:26.151 lap. Unfortunately the team had to cut track time short after a small electrical glitch developed on the #8 car forcing it back to the pits for quick repairs before the final session.
The cars finished the session with improved times but stays P4 and P6, albeit with the cars swapped around since Wednesday’s first qualifying.
Yesterday, I wrote about the vastness of the Le Mans event. The 13.6 km Circuit de la Sarthe is made up of both closed public roads (open to normal traffic during the year) and specialist race track surfaces. Working between the paddocks and our hospitality unit, the one hour break between the two sessions just vanished for me. We hardly had a chance to top up on some food before the green light for the final thrilling finish to qualifying.
The air temperature around the track remained warm and dry as the session began. The team worked lightning fast through the break and got both cars ready to run with plenty of time to spare. Nicolas and Anthony took to the track in their cars to start off the session. The two cars paced themselves through the first hour.
At half-way during the session, the track announcer rang loud with the track being red flagged following an accident with the Pescarolo Team. The clock kept ticking until the track was open again 10 minutes later. During an interview with Radio Le Mans, Stéphane said the team was confident and can improve lap times before the session comes to a close. The hospitality unit was starting to get tense with excitement for the closing stage of the session.
Despite navigating through increasingly heavier traffic on track as cars went out to do an all out final stint, our drivers Kazuki and Anthony started to light up the timing boards with personal best and purple sector times.
Anthony in the #8 car quickly shaved off 1.2 sec from the previous session best with a time of 3:25.855, moving the car up to P3 overall. He was the first to break through the under-80 sec sector 2 time in all three sessions. A last ditch attempt saw a small increase putting the #8 car within 0.8 sec to the P2 Audi. Kazuki’s fastest lap put the #7 car in P5 on the starting grid for the race.
Speaking after the qualifying thriller, Kazuki commented: “It was a fantastic experience for me to have the chance to attack with the new tyres. I was a good feeling and I really enjoyed it, apart from the traffic. Big thanks to the team because we got over some difficult times to get here.”
Echoing my interview with him, Anthony commented: “After this qualifying session, I feel that we almost got everything possible from the car. I did a good lap and I think we can be happy with what we achieved. I am still very new at the wheel of the TS030 HYBRID and I am going faster and faster; the car is nicely balanced and I feel comfortable with it. Le Mans is very a tough race but if we have no problems, if all is going well, we can be on the podium.”
The race starts on Saturday at 15:00 CET. The honour of waving the start flag at this 80th edition of 24 Hours of Le Mans falls to Toyota Motor Corporation’s new Vice Chairman, Takeshi Uchiyamada – known by most as the father of the Toyota Prius.
As always, follow us for live race coverage and exclusive content. The 80th 24 Hours of Le Mans starts at 15:00 CET on Saturday, June 16. You can find a list of our live channels here.