This year’s race marks 30 years since TOYOTA’s first official participation in the Le Mans 24 Hours and the two TS040 HYBRIDs will start seventh and eighth when they make it 42 starts for TOYOTA in those three decades.
As it did in Wednesday’s first qualifying, the team put its full focus on race preparation, which meant the four hours of qualifying this evening were used to improve car set-up and tyre choice prior to the weekend’s main event.
The starting grid at Le Mans is decided by the fastest single lap set in any of the three qualifying sessions, but with only one free practice this week, the six hours of qualifying also represents a valuable opportunity to work on race performance.
The lead TS040 HYBRID on Saturday’s grid is the #2 of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway in seventh. The fastest lap came on Wednesday evening, with Stéphane recording a best time 6.656secs off pole position.
The #1 of reigning World Champions Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi, alongside last year’s Le Mans pole position man Kazuki Nakajima, starts eighth. Kazuki also set his car’s fastest lap on Wednesday, 0.224secs behind the sister car.
Despite fears of bad weather, second qualifying began in hot and humid conditions, providing a good opportunity for dry running following the rain which interrupted Wednesday’s practice and the official test day last month.
But the session came to an early end due to the second red flag of the evening after an accident for a GT car. That meant the third and final qualifying was extended, beginning 30 minutes earlier than scheduled.
With the sun setting and the track dry, conditions looked promising but lap times throughout the LMP1 field soon suggested there would be little chance for drivers to improve their best qualifying times.
Despite a long red flag period, both TS040 HYBRIDs completed their programmes as the chequered flag flew in darkness to complete two busy days. The next track action comes on Saturday morning, with warm-up before the race starts at 15.00.
Toshio Sato, Team President: “First of all I would like to express our congratulations to Porsche on an impressive pole position. They were very fast in qualifying and we could not match their pace. Our team has worked professionally to optimize our cars for the race so we tried several set-up changes and looked in detail at the tyre characteristics. We will see the results of this work in the race. I expect the gap to be smaller than in qualifying. The team has pushed very hard to be ready for Le Mans and we will use the short time remaining to complete the final preparations and make sure our cars are in the best condition for the weekend. I think it will be a close and exciting race.”
TS040 HYBRID #1 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)
Qualifying 1 (Wednesday): 8th (3min 23.767secs), 25 laps
Qualifying 2 (Thursday): 7th (3min 25.233secs), 20 laps
Qualifying 3 (Thursday): 8th (3min 24.562secs), 30 laps
Anthony Davidson: “I think if we really focused on qualifying we could have been quite a bit closer, but that wasn’t the target. We have concentrated all through the week on getting a nice balance and I think we have achieved that for the race. I think from the team and drivers side we have done everything we planned to do. I feel good going into the race; now we just have to wait and see how it all unfolds.”
Sébastien Buemi: “We didn’t look for qualifying times; we just focused on race stints and I think we have a good car for the race. We need to go through all the final preparations to get the cars ready and we will have a good car. Clearly we lack a bit of pace but I think in the race we will be closer to the opposition. My feeling in the car is pretty good and I am looking forward now to Saturday. Congratulations to Porsche who did a great job to get pole position.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “Today was a little bit tricky for me. When I was in the car the track surface was not very good and I had a strange feeling due to some dust and dirt on the track. So I am really happy to hear that in the end Anthony was pleased with the car; that’s a good sign for the race. Now it is just about putting everything together, avoiding mistakes and reliability issues; we’ll just keep pushing and let’s see what it brings us.”
TS040 HYBRID #2 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway)
Qualifying 1 (Wednesday): 7th (3min 23.543secs), 23 laps
Qualifying 2 (Thursday): 8th (3min 26.380secs), 15 laps
Qualifying 3 (Thursday): 7th (3min 23.738secs), 29 laps
Alex Wurz: “Well done to the Porsche #18 guys who did a great job to get pole. We used the final two qualifying sessions to get through all the preparation work we had planned. That is all done and we now have to look through the data, study items like the tyres and aerodynamic configurations to set-up our car and get the maximum possible performance. We must choose wisely for the race.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “I think we have prepared the car well for the race. We didn’t try to fight for the pole; that was not possible for us this week. So we put all our energy into getting a strong car for the race. The others are really fast but I remember from last year that a fast car is not everything here. I am looking forward to see what the situation is after a few hours of the race.”
Mike Conway: “It was good to get some more night running today. I got a good rhythm I feel better at night than I did yesterday. I am happy now and feel ready for the race. We have done a lot of preparation work. There are still a few little things to adjust to fine-tune the set-up, but at the end of the session we had the best we’ve had all day so I am happy with that.”