Toyota’s Kobayashi secures 2017 Le Mans pole with record lap

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Kamui Kobayashi driving the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid during qualifying for the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans has smashed the lap record and in the process secured pole position for this weekend’s race.

The ex-Formula One driver's time during the second qualifying session on Thursday was 3:14.791, or 2.096 seconds quicker than the previous lap record on the current Circuit de la Sarthe layout.

His blistering lap, aided by a lack of traffic due to a preceding red flag period, also featured an average speed that was faster than for any previous lap in the 94-year history of the French classic, beating the 156.47 mph set by Hans-Joachim Stuck in a Porsche in 1985.

Kobayashi will be gunning for the overall win together with fellow Toyota Gazoo Racing drivers Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin.

No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans

No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans

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It will be an all-Toyota front row, with the 2017 World Endurance Championship-leading No. 8 TS050 Hybrid of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima starting from second. It was this driver trio that came painfully close to winning last year. In the lead, they’re car broke down just minutes before crossing the finish line and thus allowed Porsche to secure the win.

Starting at third and fourth on the grid will be the No. 1 and No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrids, respectively. In the No. 1 car will be Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy and in the No. 2 car will be Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber. The No. 9 Toyota TS050 Hybrid driven by Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto and José María López will start at fifth.

Further down, times tumbled in LMP2 and Oreca was once again the chassis to beat.  Alex Lynn in the No.26 G-Drive Racing entry stopped the clocks at 3:25.352, an astonishing 11.25 seconds faster than the last fastest qualifying time for the class. He’ll be driving this weekend with Roman Rusinov and Pierre Thiriet.

No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans

No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans

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And in the GTE Pro class for production-based cars, Aston Martin, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Ford and Porsche all played their part in a thrilling qualifying session which ended with just 1.7 seconds separating the 12 cars competing.

Darren Turner put the No.97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE which he will share with Jonny Adam and Daniel Serra on pole. His time was 3:50.837, which was also the fastest qualifying time for the class. Chevrolet, Ferrari, Ford, and Porsche followed in quick succession behind them, the times signaling a great race ahead.

The best-placed Ford GT, last year’s winner in the GTE Pro class, was fifth. Four GTs will race this year, just like in the previous year, though the cars have been struggling with Balance of Performance changes.

The race starts on Saturday at 3 p.m. local time.

 
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