Le Mans lap record predicted to fall in 2017

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Le Mans lap record predicted to fall in 2017
By: Gary Watkins
Jun 14, 2017, 9:10 AM

Leading drivers predict that the qualifying record for the Le Mans 24 Hours will fall this year. 

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Stéphane Sarrazin
Kamui Kobayashi, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Toyota Gazoo Racing
#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Stéphane Sarrazin
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Stéphane Sarrazin
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Stéphane Sarrazin
#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Stéphane Sarrazin
#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Stéphane Sarrazin

Toyota is expecting times below Porsche driver Neel Jani's 2015 pole position lap of 3m16.887s during qualifying for the FIA World Endurance Championship blue riband race.

The predictions come after Kamui Kobayashi topped the times in last weekend's official pre-race test at Le Mans with a 3m18.132s in the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid.

Times typically fall during race week as the 13.629km Le Mans track, which includes large sections of public road, increases in grip as rubber is laid down.

Kobayashi, who drives his Toyota with Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin, encountered traffic on the way to his best lap.

"I wasn't happy with my lap, so I think it [Jani's time] can be beaten," he told Motorsport.com. "We'll give it a try."

Sebastien Buemi, who shares the #8 Toyota with Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima, agreed Kobayashi, saying: "If the track and conditions are good, the record can be beaten. I think we could see a 3m15s."

Jani agreed that his 2015 benchmark is likely to fall this year, but doubts the Porsche 919 Hybrid has the pace to do so.

"We had no qualifying simulation [during the test], unlike Toyota," he told Motorsport.com. "But we still think Toyota's laptime was very quick and will be difficult to beat.

"I think the Toyota is very likely to set a new track record. For us, it will be a bit difficult. In terms of speed, Toyota has the edge over us."

Toyota Motorsport GmbH technical director Pascal Vasselon said that it was "logical" that the qualifying record on the current circuit configuration would fall next week. 

"If you look at the trends it should be beaten, but we are not going to be focussing on qualifying next week," he explained. 

Increased speed at Le Mans have come despite new aerodynamic rules for this year designed to rob LMP1 cars of downforce and keep a cap on falling laps times. 

Designers have clawed back much of the aerodynamic loss, while resurfacing work at Le Mans, part of the latest wave of circuit improvements, could also be a factor in quicker lap times. 

New asphalt has been laid on the 2.59-mile Le Mans Bugatti circuit, which affects the Raccordement chicane, the Dunlop Chicane and the first part of the Esses on the full Circuit de la Sarthe.

Jani's 2015 pole time equates to a 249.20km/h average, which is slower than the 251.82km/h lap that Hans Stuck recorded on the way to pole for Porsche in 1985 - albeit on a circuit layout that had yet to include the Dunlop Chicane or the two chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight. 

The fastest ever lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe in terms of time is the 3m13.6s set by Jackie Oliver in a Porsche 917LH in 1971, when the circuit was approximately 150 metres shorter than in 1985.

Additional reporting by Guillaume Nedelec

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