LE MANS, France — Mix together corporate reputations, the world’s greatest endurance race and the most technologically advanced cars in the world and one gets the tremendous qualifying shootout that took place Thursday night at the famed Sarthe Circuit.
After the Porsche 919 Hybrid topped the charts on Wednesday, the pole for the 82nd 24 Hours of Le Mans went to the No. 7 Toyota TS-040 Hybrid driven by Kazuki Nakajima.
Qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans is done in three two-hour sessions split over two days. Wednesday Porsche with a new 919 Hybrid prototype quietly grabbed the early headlines with the fastest time of the day (3:23.157) amid a series of red flag because of on track incidents.
The first session Thursday was also marred by two red flags for multiple car incidents, none serious. That meant the last 15 minutes of the early session were a shoot out amongst Porsche and Toyota with their TS-040 Hybrid model while the defending champions from Audi were still trying to come to grips with the newly refined R-18 Hybrid. The second session ended with the No. 7 Toyota driven by Kazuki Nakajima .119 seconds faster than the Porsches of Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard.
Nakajima will share the No. 7 Toyota with Alexander Wurz and Stephane Sarrazin.
Five red flags during the first two sessions prompted organizers to add 30 minutes to the third and final session.
That session began as the previous had ended with Nakajima and Dumas swapping times until the Toyota man settled it with a lap of 3:21.789, which was 1.44 seconds below last year’s pole lap time.