Toyota overcomes Wednesday struggles to secure qualifying 1-2

Toyota Gazoo Racing has locked out the front-row in qualifying for this weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hours after a turnaround in form allowed Kazuki Nakajima to move the #8 up to second – 0.411s behind the pole-sitting #7.

The front-row start is in stark contrast to the TS050’s form in Qualifying One on Wednesday night as Nakajima’s early flying lap in Thursday evening’s second session moved the car up to second. Despite his up-turn in pace, Kamui Kobayashi was also quick to improve on the provisional pole time for the #7 – his 3m15.497 was just 0.120s slower than the pole-time at last year’s Le Mans, the start of the Superseason.

Six-tenths behind the Toyota was the #17 SMP Racing BR1. Stoffel Vandoorne had briefly set the fastest lap early in second qualifying – before it was beaten by the hybrid LMP1s – but was good enough to finish a couple of tenths clear of the fourth-placed #3 Rebellion Racing R13. That’s despite that car losing a chunk of time in Qualifying Two having pulled over exiting Mulsanne Corner with smoke and oil pouring out of the back of the car. Fifth went to the second SMP entry, which was the meat in a Rebellion sandwiched as the #1 finished the session sixth – losing the final hour of qualifying for a similar engine issue to the sister car.

DragonSpeed will start seventh, the team not improving on the 3m20.200 set on Wednesday night. ByKolles did improve its time, but its 3m23.109 was almost three seconds off the back of the rest of the LMP1 field.

Tristan Gommendy claimed LMP2 class pole for Graff in the last of three sessions as his 3m25.073 leapt the Oreca 07 ahead of the Loic Duval, who had sat on provisional class pole for a handful of minutes in the TDS Racing car. Despite sitting on top for the first two sessions, the #31 DragonSpeed car of Roberto Gonzalez, Anthony Davidson and Pastor Maldonado couldn’t make a similar upturn in pace to its rivals ahead and will start in third. Signatech Alpine will join DragonSpeed on the second row as the team’s mechanics resolved a mechanical issue that caused the Alpine A470 to lose a significant chunk of track time in the night session. Nicolas Lapierre’s 3m25.874 moved the car up from eighth and relegated IDEC Sport to fifth. G-Drive Racing will start the race in sixth in its Aurus 01, while United Autosports will start seventh in its Ligier. IDEC Sport will join DragonSpeed on the second row – two-tenths ahead of the G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 in fifth.

The back-and-forth battle for GTE Pro honours went the way of Aston Martin Racing as Marco Sorensen’s 3m48.000 in the #95 Vantage beat the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT by 0.112s, despite Harry Tincknell lowering his provisional pole time from last night by more than 1.4s. Corvette Racing secured third with just 20 minutes of qualifying remaining as Antonio Garcia hauled the #63 C7.R ahead of its IMSA rival the #93 CORE Autosport-run Porsche GT Team 911 RSR. Nick Tandy set the fastest lap for that car, 0.201s ahead of the #82 BMW Team MTEK M8 GTE as five manufacturers locked out the top five places. The sister BMW, driven by Nicky Catsburg, caused the first Slow Zone of Qualifying Three as he went off at the Ford Chicane. The #81 missed the remaining 110 minutes of the session as mechanics set about repairing the front-end damage to the car. It will start second-to-last in class, beating only the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.

Dempsey-Proton Racing’s GTE Am entries sandwiched the Risi Ferrari as Matteo Cairoli in the #88 Porsche 911 jumped ahead of Matt Campbell in the sister #77 on Thursday night as the team enjoyed a 1-2. Porsche entries secured a top three in the category as Thomas Preining moved the Gulf Racing example up to third in the dying moments of qualifying. The #78 Proton Competition car – the sister of the Dempsey-Proton entries – missed out on the chance of securing a 1-2-3-4 for the German manufacturer as Francesco Castellacci pipped the team to fourth by 0.011s as he moved the JMW Motorsport Ferrari up from P16.

In worse news for the Proton team, there was official confirmation that the #99 run for Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Pat Long has officially been withdrawn from the race. Krohn was advised by the FIA to take a week off racing following his large shunt on the Mulsanne Straight in Free Practice.