Kazuki Nakajima, who shares the #7 with Alex Wurz and Stéphane Sarrazin, became the first Japanese driver to earn the honour.
World Championship leaders TOYOTA Racing and the #7 TS040 HYBRID took pole position for the 82nd Le Mans 24 Hours at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Kazuki Nakajima, who shares the #7 with Alex Wurz and Stéphane Sarrazin, became the first Japanese driver to earn the honour with a lap of 3mins 21.789secs, which also marked TOYOTA’s second pole position at Le Mans.
The #8 car of Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi will start Saturday’s race from third on the grid.
Despite a 25% reduction in fuel consumption, the efficient 1000PS TOYOTA HYBRID System - Racing powertrain helped TOYOTA Racing record a 0.557secs improvement on last year’s pole position time of 3min 22.346secs.
With two wins from the opening two FIA World Endurance Championship races, the TS040 HYBRID is setting the standard for efficiency and performance in the new era of endurance racing and that was indicated again.
Kazuki and Sébastien took the wheel for the start of final qualifying, which had been extended by 30 minutes due to several red flags in the opening two sessions. They immediately set better lap times than in either earlier session.
Fine-tuning continued with all drivers taking turns to evaluate tyres and set-up before a final shoot-out for pole position, with Kazuki and Sébastien returning to the cockpit.
However, a late yellow flag zone denied a big crowd the spectacle but confirmed that TOYOTA Racing will start from first and third.
The team now turns its attentions to preparing for Saturday’s race when it will challenge to win TOYOTA’s first Le Mans 24 Hours at the 16th attempt, with the race beginning at 15.00.
TS040 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Kazuki Nakajima)
Qualifying 1 (Wednesday): 3rd (3min 25.313secs), 12 laps
Qualifying 2 (Thursday): 1st (3min 22.589secs), 20 laps
Qualifying 3 (Thursday): 1st (3min secs), 37 laps
Alex Wurz: “I am mega happy; it is a really good result. Kazuki did really well and he did a banzai lap. It is not only that we are happy for pole position but also the work we did today was very good. I think it makes us all positive ahead of the race. It was really cool team work, every step we did with the set-up and the way we operated was very nicely executed. So I am very proud of our team.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “It is amazing to be on pole again. It was a great job from the team and Kazuki did a brilliant lap. Yesterday we had a good car but today we had a very good car. The set-up was brilliant so big thanks to the team. It is promising for the race because we feel so confident in the car. We can push on every corner, every lap. Like that everything is positive. The race will be very long, we know that we have to be very calm and not attack it like a short sprint.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “Even though it is a 24-hour race it is a very good feeling to be on pole position. I am really happy with the car so many thanks to team; we have prepared a great car for the race. I was struggling with the traffic but I managed to get one lap and it was just enough to get the pole. It’s going to be a tough race but tonight I am happy. We didn’t have to compromise our programme and we managed to put in the lap time for the right moment. Now I think we are well prepared for the race.”
TS040 HYBRID #8 (Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre, Sébastien Buemi)
Qualifying 1 (Wednesday): 4th (3min 25.410secs), 12 laps
Qualifying 2 (Thursday): 5th (3min 23.661secs), 19 laps
Qualifying 3 (Thursday): 3rd (3min 22.523secs), 36 laps
Anthony Davidson: “I am over the moon for the whole team for this lap that Kazuki put together. Congratulations to car #7 and the team. It feels like I didn’t really get to drive much at all in the final round of qualifying. The way it worked out, Séb was on a roll and we saw that the time was right to throw some new tyres his way and I am glad we did because the track was at its best at that point. He just kept running into traffic but finally managed to pop it into third. To start the race from the second row is good enough.”
Nicolas Lapierre: “It is a great result starting first and third considering our competitors also pushed hard for pole position. We had a few attempts at pole but it was not our only target; we had a long run as well. The car balance is looking strong in the day and at night so we are looking forward to this race and I think we are more prepared than ever. Kazuki’s lap was fantastic and I want to say congratulations to him.”
Sébastien Buemi: “First of all I want to congratulate car #7, they did a great job, especially Kazuki. It was a very good lap from him and a fantastic result for the whole team. Of course it is a bit disappointing to be behind, you never like that as a driver but it is great for the team. The race is long so we’ll see what it brings.”