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