TOYOTA Racing will start the Le Mans 24 Hours - its first race - from an impressive third and fifth on the grid after the final qualifying sessions at the La Sarthe circuit on Thursday night.
On the second evening of action, the team’s TS030 HYBRID cars took to the track in warm and dry conditions for the first of two 120-minute qualifying sessions.
The drivers pushed hard and quickly improved on their lap times from Wednesday’s first qualifying as set-up improvements and evolving track conditions also played their part.
Once again both TS030 HYBRIDs ended the session in the top six, with the #8 of Stéphane Sarrazin, Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi in fourth, while the #7 of Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima was sixth.
Repairs were required on both cars between the sessions to remedy electrical glitches, but the team was ready with plenty of time for the decisive final session.
A red flag interrupted that qualifying close to the halfway mark, setting up a grandstand finish in which Anthony and Kazuki saved their best for last with dramatic late flying laps.
Just after midnight, the grid for Saturday’s 80th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours was concluded, with positions determined by the best times set over all three qualifying sessions.
Anthony put the #8 in third position on the starting grid - just 1.055secs away from pole position - with the other TS030 HYBRID in fifth, courtesy of Kazuki’s fastest lap.
The race, which will be officially started by Takeshi Uchiyamada, Executive Vice President of TOYOTA Motor Corporation, hybrid pioneer and the man responsible for the TOYOTA Prius, begins at 15.00 local time on Saturday.
Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Team President: “I am really proud of the whole team; TOYOTA Motorsport GmbH in Cologne, Motor Sport Division in Higashifuji and the TOYOTA Motor Corporation Hybrid Department. Everyone has worked so hard to get here and at times it has been challenging; but we really pushed to be here and it was certainly worth the effort. Two cars in the top five is a real achievement for this team’s first race, on only our third day on track at Le Mans. Now we can’t wait for the race, when we expect a tough but exciting challenge. Congratulations to Audi for a hard-fought pole position which highlights how difficult they will be to beat in the race.”
TS030 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre, Kazuki Nakajima)
Qualifying 2: 6th (3mins 26.502secs), 21 laps
Qualifying 3: 4th (3mins 25.488secs) 28 laps
Kazuki Nakajima: “It was a fantastic experience for me to have the chance to attack with the new tyres. I was a good feeling and I really enjoyed it, apart from the traffic. But we knew the traffic would be less at the end because the others started to pit. Our strategy was really good; I only had one car to deal with in the last sector and I only lost a little time. It’s great to see Anthony getting into the top three, as well as having both TS030 HYBRIDs in the top six for our very first race. I think we can have a good race tomorrow and hopefully we can finish it with no problems. Big thanks to the team because we got over some difficult times to get here. We had a bit of problem in between the qualifying sessions but we got back on the track and could compete hard with Audi. It was a big, big team effort.”
TS030 HYBRID #8 (Stéphane Sarrazin, Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi)
Qualifying 2: 4th (3mins 26.151secs), 23 laps
Qualifying 3: 2nd (3mins 24.842secs) 28 laps
Anthony Davidson: “After this qualifying session, I feel that we almost got everything possible from the car. I did a good lap and I think we can be happy with what we achieved. I am still very new at the wheel of the TS030 HYBRID and I am going faster and faster; the car is nicely balanced and I feel comfortable with it. I am really looking forward to the race, to see what we can do; I hope we will have a reliable car. I think we surprised some people as we are so close to pole position and I actually still think that we have a stronger race car than a qualifying car. Le Mans is very a tough race but if we have no problems, if all is going well, we can be on the podium.”