Astonishing Koyabashi lap takes pole for Toyota

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A new post-Mul­sanne-Chi­cane lap record for Japan­ese dri­ver Kamui Kobayashi secured pole for the #7 Toy­ota Gazoo Rac­ing ahead of this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 3:14.791 lap came in the first of two qual­i­fy­ing ses­sions in the swel­ter­ing heat of Thurs­day evening. The lap was so quick, in fact, that it broke the all-time record for the fastest aver­age speed around the Cir­cuit de la Sarthe – a record pre­vi­ous­ly held by Hans-Joachim Stück, which he set in a Porsche 962C at a pre-Mul­sanne-Chi­cane cir­cuit in 1985.

The first qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion had only been green for around a quar­ter of an hour before the #33 Eura­sia Motor­sport car careered into the bar­ri­ers at the first Mul­sanne Chi­cane, result­ing in a 50-minute red flag peri­od for bar­ri­er repairs. Kobayashi’s record-break­ing lap came just as the track turned green again, and end­ed up being 2.3 sec­onds quick­er than any oth­er dri­ver in the field.

Porsche weren’t able to match the Toy­ota pace, and suf­fered some trou­bles of their own in the sec­ond qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion with the #2 car of Bren­don Hart­ley, Earl Bam­ber and Timo Bern­hard stop­ping out on track with an unknown issue. The quick­est Porsche lap was record­ed by the #1 car, with André Lotterer’s 3:17.259 also quick­er than Neel Jani’s pre­vi­ous post-Mul­sanne-Chi­cane lap record set back in qual­i­fy­ing in 2015.

LMP2 pole went to the #26 G-Dri­ve Rac­ing machine of Roman Rusi­nov, Pierre Thiri­et and Alex Lynn, who just pipped the #25 CEFC Manor TRS Rac­ing car of Robert Gon­za­lez, Simon Trum­mer and Vitaly Petrov by two tenths of a sec­ond. The #38 Jack­ie Chan DC Rac­ing machine of Ho-Ping Tung, Oliv­er Jarvis and Thomas Lau­rent was just four tenths fur­ther back in third.

GTE Pro deliv­ered a top­sy turvy bat­tle for pole, with Anto­nio Gar­cia in the #63 Corvette Rac­ing C7.R set­ting the pace ear­ly on in the sec­ond ses­sion as tem­per­a­tures cooled. How­ev­er, the #63 machine only end­ed up sixth in class, as the GTE Pro com­peti­tors slow­ly improved their times as Q3 pro­gressed. Pole ulti­mate­ly went to #97 Aston Mar­tin Rac­ing – some­what sur­pris­ing­ly con­sid­er­ing it’s the old­er car in the GTE Pro field – of Dar­ren Turn­er, John­ny Adam and Daniel Ser­ra, with the #51 AF Corse Fer­rari 488 just two tenths behind in sec­ond.

Fer­nan­do Rees took a spec­tac­u­lar pole posi­tion for the #50 Lar­bre Com­pe­ti­tion Corvette C7.R after a fran­tic bat­tle with the #98 Aston Mar­tin Rac­ing car of Paul Dal­la Lana, Matthias Lau­da and Pedro Lamy. The #62 Scud­e­ria Cor­sa Fer­rari of Coop­er Mac­neil, Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell round­ed out the top three.

Images © WEC-Mag­a­zin / Wal­ter Schruff