Kamui Kobayashi put Toyota’s number seven car on pole position for the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Thursday with the Japanese driver hoping to finally shrug off his jinx in the endurance race.
Kobayashi has taken four poles in five years at the Sarthe circuit in northwest France, with Toyota’s number eight car taking the other in 2018, but has yet to win the biggest prize in sportscar racing.
The number eight Toyota, with Kobayashi’s compatriot Kazuki Nakajima, has won for the past three years and will start the 89th edition of the race from second on the grid on Saturday afternoon.
Thursday’s half-hour hyperpole shootout was ultimately a battle between the two factory Toyota GR010 hybrid hypercars, with Kobayashi fastest in t3:23.900 seconds and New Zealander Brendon Hartley 0.295s slower.
“We were not really confident because it’s so easy to mistake when you push so hard,” said Kobayashi, the outright track record holder who shares the car with Britain’s Mike Conway and Argentina’s Jose-Maria Lopez. “I think the car’s really good, the team did a great effort.”
The Japanese driver added: “To get the first Hypercar pole position is great. We came here with our new GR010 HYBRID for the first time and we have been constantly making adjustments to improve it. The team did a fantastic job to prepare a car which can achieve that lap time.
“I could have gone even quicker but I had a track limits penalty which was a pity. To be fastest on one lap isn’t enough; we have focused on preparing our car to be successful in the race.
“We’ve had a few pole positions here on our car over the last years and not won the race so we know this is no guarantee. The 24 hours are long and we always need a bit of luck,” added Kobayashi.
Alpine took third place with Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre in the number 36 car and the number 708 Glickenhaus Racing entry with compatriot Olivier Pla at the wheel was fourth.
The hyperpole qualifying format was first introduced last year and features the six quickest teams in each class, or five in the case of the top hypercar category. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)
After a 15 minute warm-up at 11.30 local time on Saturday, the race will be flagged off at 16:00.
The Friday schedule is as follows:
09:00 – 09:45 | Porsche Sprint Challenge France | Free Practice 2
10:30 – 11:15 | Endurance Racing Legends | Race 1
12:00 – 12:45 | Porsche Sprint Challenge France | Qualifying
15:00 – 15:30 | Fun Cup | Start Procedure
15:30 – 20:30 | Fun Cup | Race
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