TOYOTA GAZOO Racing set the fastest lap times when track action began prior to the 88th Le Mans 24 Hours, as its challenge for a hat-trick of victories in the legendary French race began strongly.

On a busy practice day, qualifying decided the participants for Friday’s hyperpole contest, in which the leading cars fight for the top six grid positions in each class. Both TS050 HYBRIDs will participate against the other LMP1 contenders, and will challenge for a fourth consecutive TOYOTA pole position at Le Mans.

FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) leaders Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the #7 TS050 HYBRID, set the pace with a lap of 3mins 17.089secs. Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, winners of the last two Le Mans 24 Hours, partner Brendon Hartley this year in the #8 TS050 HYBRID and they were second quickest, only 0.247secs adrift around the 13.626km circuit.

As with many aspects of life this year, the Le Mans schedule features many changes brought on by the current circumstances. With the traditional pre-event test day not taking place, today was the first time for the cars to drive on the Circuit de la Sarthe since last year’s race in June.

With no previous experience of the latest low-downforce-specification TS050 HYBRID at Le Mans, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing made full use of the extensive practice sessions to prepare for the weekend’s race.

Sébastien had the honour of recording the first timed lap for a TS050 HYBRID at Le Mans this year, at the beginning of the opening three-hour practice. The team used that time to analyse the aerodynamic characteristics of the low-downforce package, fine-tuning the set-up for the best compromise between high speed on the long Mulsanne Straight and appropriate downforce around the sweeping Porsche curves.

With little time between sessions, the pressure was on drivers and team members to avoid any mistakes or mechanical issues which could limit running later in the day. Thanks to their hard work, a busy first session was completed without drama, with Kazuki setting the quickest lap in the #8, 3mins 21.656secs, and Kamui recording the best time for the #7, 0.334secs behind in second.

After a 60-minute break, a second three-hour practice began and the team made further progress on set-up development, analysing tyre performance and comparing mechanical and hybrid settings. The session was interrupted by red flags following accidents for LMP2 cars, and it again finished with the #8 on top, Sébastien having set the best time. The quickest effort from the #7, set by Mike, was second, 0.892secs behind.

A combined total of 127 laps during the two practice sessions, covering 1,730km, accelerated the team’s preparations for qualifying, which took place on a hot evening, with air temperatures of 29°C.

Kamui, who set the fastest-ever Le Mans laps in 2017, and Kazuki, a two-time pole position winner at La Sarthe, took qualifying duties at the beginning of the session. Kazuki set the fastest first two sectors in the #8 car but Kamui’s sector three time earned him the fastest lap.

All drivers had a chance to experience the qualifying session, but those early flying laps on new tyres and with low fuel were not beaten, leaving the #7 in first place with the #8 just behind. The #1 Rebellion rounded out the top three, 4.509secs slower.

Further race preparations will take place later on Thursday with a four-hour practice, while the grid-deciding hyperpole session takes place on Friday at 11.30am local time.

Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “It felt really good to be back on track; it’s been a while since we’ve been here. Straight away I felt at home and we took over from where we left off last year in terms of our feeling with the car. We did a lot of aerodynamic tests to make sure we are in the right window and we tried to improve the car balance. It felt pretty good but of course it can get better; we tried to maximise our learning and get ready for Saturday. Good job from Kamui in qualifying to take first place, but the race is our only focus.”

Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “We expected track conditions to be quite bad but they were all right, just evolving lap by lap. On long runs we are not fully satisfied with the set-up so we will look at the data and try to find some solutions but we are going in the right direction. The car feels good, we just need small adjustments because 24 hours is long so we have to feel comfortable and consistent. My qualifying lap wasn’t particularly quick; it was enough to be P1 but 2017 was the mega lap.”

José María López (TS050 HYBRID #8): “I am very happy to be back and it felt great to drive my first laps here in more than a year. It’s been hard work today with not much time to think but the team has done a great job and the cars have been quick. Kamui and Mike did a great job as usual. We are still chasing the balance so we will try to improve. Hyperpole is more important than qualifying, and the race is the real target but it was nice to see the #7 fastest in qualifying.”

Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “Things have gone quite smoothly today; we had no real issue on what has been a very important day in terms of preparation. Happily the track conditions were much better than expected which helps in terms of set-up comparison. With so little track time this year, every lap counts more than ever so we have tried to maximise our time and effort. Kazuki did a good lap and it’s nice to see the two TS050 HYBRIDs in first and second in qualifying, but this was only a warm-up for the hyperpole.”

Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “We have been busy today, with a lot of driving time and hardly any time in between sessions. Before qualifying we went through everything we had in the plan and tried different set-ups. There is still a lot of work to do, so we will study and compare everything to see which set-up is the most efficient. It’s gone well so far, with some good aero tests in the morning then set-up in the afternoon, and qualifying was preparation for hyperpole. It has been smooth but we have a lot to do.”

Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It is awesome to be back on track again, particularly here at Le Mans. Last year I got my first taste of the TS050 HYBRID in practice at Le Mans and you can feel that this car was made to drive here. Today it has been great to get more laps. It’s been a real pleasure to drive the car again and to start our preparations so now I am just looking forward to the race. We’ve got plenty to do to be ready but we’re all motivated and working hard.”

Qualifying Results
1st #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing    3mins 17.089secs  
2nd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing


3rd #1 Rebellion (Senna/Nato/ Menezes) +4.509secs  
4th #4 Bykolles (Dillmann/Spengler/Webb) +7.379secs  
5th #3 Rebellion (Dumas/Berthon/Deletraz) +7.543secs  
6th #29 Team Nederland (van Eerd/van der Garde/de Vries) +9.559secs  


Free Practice 2 Results
1st #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 3min 19.719secs 33 laps
2nd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing


32 laps
3rd #3 Rebellion (Dumas/Berthon/Deletraz) +3.456secs 29 laps
4th #29 Team Nederland (van Eerd/van der Garde/de Vries) +7.466secs 23 laps
5th #4 Bykolles (Dillmann/Spengler/Webb) +7.585secs 24 laps
6th #37 Jackie Chan (Tung/Aubry/Stevens) +8.292secs 25 laps


Free Practice 1 Results
1st #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 3min 21.656secs 32 laps
2nd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing


30 laps
3rd #1 Rebellion (Senna/Nato/ Menezes) +1.499secs 33 laps
4th #3 Rebellion (Dumas/Berthon/Deletraz) +3.560secs 33 laps
5th #4 Bykolles (Dillmann/Spengler/Webb) +6.786secs 34 laps
6th #33 High Class (Yamashita/Patterson/Fjordbach) +8.217secs 31 laps