Nakajima Puts Toyota on Provisional Pole

Tanya Simon
June 18, 2018

Toyota Gazoo Racing's No.8 TS050 HYBRID is on provisional pole position for the 86 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours after a 3m17.270s benchmark lap from Kazuki Nakajima on the Circuit de la Sarthe in the first of the three qualifying sessions.

The laps set by the two Toyotas went unchallenged for the remainder of the session by the privateer runners. Gianmaria Bruni's stunning 3m47.504s time set on his first qualifying lap on Wednesday remained at the top of the timesheet throughout the three qualifying sessions. Also of note was that with 10 minutes remaining in the session, the stewards deleted laps 4-5-6-8-9-12-13 from the No. 8, for "exceeding the fuel limit per lap", though it didn't affect the best time from the auto.

"We know it's only the preparation for the big race - [there's a] long 24 hours in front of us, but so far it has been a smooth preparation without any problem on the vehicle". Behind them, but four seconds shy of the leading Toyota, is the first non-hybrid LMP1 auto - the Rebellion Racing machine with Andre Lotterer, Neel Jani and Bruno Senna (3m 19.449s).

Elsewhere, 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button will start in seventh for SMP Racing alongside Russian duo Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin.

Attempts by the #7 auto to close the gap to their team mates were thwarted by traffic and then by more intermittent drizzle, which started an hour in and grew steadily stronger as the night wore on. The eighth vehicle to start at Le Mans 24 in the LMP1 class will be the sole entry from ByKolles Enso CLM, followed by Ginetta's No. 6 racer with Oliver Turvey, Alex Brundle and Oliver Rowland behind the wheel.

The #31 DragonSpeed Oreca was second-fastest in LMP2.

Paul-Loup Chatin secured the LMP2 class pole for the IDEC Sport ORECA Gibson 07 with a time of 3:24.842. That bested ex-Audi man Loic Duval's No. 28 TDS Racing ORECA, which managed 3m25.240s.

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Nakajima's time was two seconds faster than Kamui Kobayashi's fastest in the #7 auto, which was recorded on the opening lap of Wednesday's session.

Another big name in LMP2 is Pastor Maldonado, who's embarking on his first season of racing this year since his time in F1 ended in 2015.

Completing the top 10 were the best of the Corvette C7.Rs, the #63 vehicle of Antonio Garcia, and the second AF Corse Ferrari, whose best time was set by Sam Bird. From there, the vehicle was pushed behind the tire barriers and didn't run again, making for a short but sweet run for the Italian. In the GTE classes, it looks to be a fight between Porsche and Ford for the top spot, with Ferrari potentially able to get involved but BMW and Aston Martin looking to be off the pace.

With its 17 factory-backed cars, this class should be producing the most enthralling action, but continues to frustrate observers.

That meant few improvements were made in the second half.

Leading the GTE Pro charge was Porsche yet again with a 1-2 result.

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