TOYOTA Racing will start the Le Mans 24 Hours on Saturday from fourth and fifth after qualifying concluded for the third round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
When the chequered flag flew at midnight on Wednesday, the #8 of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Stéphane Sarrazin was fourth thanks to a lap of 3mins 26.654secs from Stéphane in the final minutes of qualifying.
Unlike other WEC races, the grid for Le Mans is decided by each car’s single fastest lap from a total of six hours qualifying, spread over two days and three sessions.
A rain shower just before the day’s first session limited the running for Alex and Anthony during the first hour. Just as track conditions improved enough for slick tyres, another shower interrupted proceedings.
The changing weather disrupted plans to evaluate long-run performance, while a red flag for barrier repair ended the session completely with just over half an hour remaining.
As a result, the final qualifying was extended by 30 minutes to two-and-a-half hours, with Sébastien and Alex taking the first stint on a partly wet track.
The rain stayed away, allowing the track to dry, so Stéphane and Kazuki were both able to switch to slick tyres soon after taking the wheel.
Following a short red flag period, Stéphane became the first of the front runners to improve on Wednesday’s times, moving up to fifth in the process.
As the clock counted down, and after another red flag, he pipped the #7 to fourth by the tiny margin of 0.022secs.
Nicolas and Sébastien both took a short final stint but there were no further improvements on a busy track.
Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Team President: “Finally we could do some dry running to work on our race settings. We are where we expected to be on the grid after we again focused on developing our race pace. The target here at Le Mans is not qualifying; it is the end of the race on Sunday. It has been a good day and I am very happy with the team’s work.”
TS030 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre, Kazuki Nakajima)
Qualifying 2: 1st (3min 40.924secs), 7 laps
Qualifying 3: 5th (3min 28.859secs), 34 laps
Starting grid: 5th
Alex Wurz: “The entire day was challenging for everyone with the weather and other incidents, which showed the unique character of Le Mans. I enjoyed it but unfortunately I didn’t get the dry running. We are fourth and fifth on the grid so now we have to make sure our race set-up is working well. Then it will come down to race strategy. We will use the warm-up to make the final adjustments for the race; the real game now is the 24 hours of racing.”
Nicolas Lapierre: “The car showed more potential than yesterday and I think we have a more competitive package so we are happy with what we achieved. On the #7 we focused on long runs and working for the race, which is more important than qualifying. Anyway fourth and fifth was the best we could achieve. Now we will see where we are with tyre management and fuel consumption. I am quite excited about Saturday and can’t wait for the race.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “Today we continued working for the race. We were evaluating the tyres, putting mileage on them to judge the durability. The conditions were difficult for me because they were changing all the time. It was not pure dry conditions but it improved and we have some good data to prepare for the race. We made some changes from Wednesday and I can feel the difference. There is still room for small improvements but we are pretty much there. Now I look forward to an interesting race.”
TS030 HYBRID #8 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Stéphane Sarrazin)
Qualifying 2: 5th (3min 42.507secs), 12 laps
Qualifying 3: 3rd (3min 26.654secs), 35 laps
Starting grid: 4th
Anthony Davidson: “It was good that Stéphane could improve our lap time at the end. Personally I felt a lot of frustration because my stint in the first session was in the wet, but Stéphane and Sébastien said they found a nicely-balanced car in the dry. Of course, it’s nice to move up the grid compared to yesterday but the best news is that we feel better in the car and that it seems more competitive. It’s a long race so just wait and see what happens.”
Sébastien Buemi: “Finally I have been able to do few laps so I am happy about that after the frustration yesterday. It’s always special to drive at night at Le Mans and to experience this special atmosphere. We improved our qualifying position thanks to Stéphane and we are quite happy with this, but it’s the race that counts. We will see for the race; many things can happen over 24 hours so we need to do our job and be in contention at the end.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “We are fourth on the grid and even after the issue yesterday the car felt really good, so it has been a satisfying day. It was fun to finally have some dry track time at the end and it’s nice to improve our grid position. But the priority has always been the race and we have a really good race balance. All of us feel comfortable with the car and the set-up we have defined for the race. It’s a long race and we’ll give everything we have.”