May 3rd 1998 Toyota GT-Ones fly through pre-qualifying task at Le Mans Toyota Motorsport completed the first challenge in its 1998 Le Mans 24 Hour campaign when all three, new GT-One race cars qualified for the June 6/7 race. Japanese driver Ukyo Katayama completed the morning pre-qualifying session successfully to gain one slot for the team. Meanwhile Martin Brundle was second fastest in the afternoon session, lapping the 13 kilometre track just 1/100th of second behind the fastest time. Completing the GT-One qualifying line-up Thierry Boutsen was just two places back as all three GT-Ones made the race with ease. The morning session started on a wet track, with Brundle briefly driving the Esso Ultron car before passing it on to Katayama. The Japanese then completed the task of qualifying the number 27 machine in dry conditions. "The car was fine and we could have gone quicker, but there was very bad traffic on the circuit. It was a little frustrating also, because I had at least three laps spoiled by slower cars. Overall, of course, I am happy and looking forward to the race" explained the ex-F1 man. Brundle recorded the quickest Toyota time during the afternoon session, set in cool and overcast conditions at the classic Le Mans track in northwest France. "Before we came here we'd done a few days of shakedown testing so we knew that the car could run quickly straight away. It was nice to be fastest for a long time but we were just pipped at the end. There's a lot to do for the race but we know that the car is quick," said the Briton. Team-mate Emanuel Collard also drove the Zent-supported machine during the afternoon session, completing a race stint simulation. "It was very easy to drive, and very consistent. That's important for the race" he said. Apart from a short delay replacing the starter motor, the third GT-One of Boutsen also ran strongly. The Belgian, another former winner of the world's greatest endurance race, set the third fastest qualifying time in his group. "I tried a few things with the car but generally the balance was very strong. The car has a very good feel to it and we did everything that was needed in order to pre-qualify." Team-mate Eric Helary also drove the 3.6 litre-engined car at the end of the day. "With only five GT1 cars qualifying from the morning session, and seven from the afternoon, it the was one of the most nerve-wracking days I have ever experienced" admitted Ove Andersson, President of Toyota Motorsport. "Ukyo drove under a lot of pressure, but he did a very professional job to secure the position. Both Martin and Thierry also performed superbly. Our aim was not to come here and be faster than everybody else, but to know that we have good pace is encouraging. We've passed the first test but there is a lot more to learn during the week of the race."
Added: 08/05/1998 12:19
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