#7, TOYOTA GAZOO RACING - JPN, TOYOTA TS050 - HYBRID, Michael CONWAY, Kamui KOBAYASHI, Jose Maria LOPEZ 2020 FIA World Endurance Championship Season 8 Round 7 24h Le Mans, Le Mans, France. Photo © John D Stevens..

We keep having this debate at SportscarGlobal, what is the point of qualifying for a 24-hour race? Some say none, others say its pointless, and largely we have come to conclude that there is a point, but once qualifying is over… Does it really matter beyond the bragging rights?  Probably not. 

What we have been convinced by is its ability to whet the appetite for what is to come, it is the Amuse Bouche to the main event (or course), and in a cunningly French manner the ACO have managed to make it both the Amuse Bouche and the Appetizer but intriguingly there are not enough places at the Appetizer table! Qualifying breaks up the monotony of practice, going round, coming in, giving it a tweak, is it better or worse, like the opticians, sometimes I just can’t tell! So it helps to draw a line. What have you managed to work out lets throw it at the scenery as hard as we can, did it stick yes, good. 

The evolution or in fact revolution of Hyper-pole had many wondering did that need fixing? And of course if it wasn’t broken what do you think you are doing?! But it had the delightful effect of being the Le Mans Appetizer, and that became apparent as the Amuse Bouche (Qualifying) was consumed. Instead of studying the field to see who was “on one”. We knew who needed to be “on one”, those on the cusp of getting a seat at the Appetizer table against those still trying to make that course! It generated at least twice as many things to watch across the four categories. 

#51, AF CORSE – ITA, FERRARI 488 GTE EVO, Alessandro PIER GUIDI, James CALADO, Daniel SERRA 2020 FIA World Endurance Championship Season 8 Round 7 24h Le Mans, Le Mans, France. Photo © John D Stevens..

A couple of examples, up until the last couple of minutes it looked as if the GTE-Pro Appetizer was going to be consumed by Ferrari customer cars rather than the pseudo-Factory cars of Af Corse, however they both came good with their final laps. Similarly in LMP2 the JOTA Sport #38 was sitting pretty until a late arriving, but very rapid M. Alex Brundle rocked up in his United Autosports #32 and heaved the #38 out of the top-six, it was fascinating to watch and extremely enjoyable, though weird on a Friday morning! 

#32, UNITED AUTOSPORTS – GBR, ORECA 07 – GIBSON, William OWEN, Alex BRUNDLE, Job VAN UITERT 2020 FIA World Endurance Championship Season 8 Round 7 24h Le Mans, Le Mans, France. Photo © John D Stevens..

Hence our appeal, the format works, but setting Covid aside, please lets have a Wednesday of Practice, a Thursday of more Practice, followed by an evening of Amuse Bouche (Qualifying) with the customary 9pm pause, followed by the 10pm Appetizer (Hyper-Pole) continuing to emulate that witching hours when the city of Le Mans crowds to the trackside and waits for those ultimate laps. It will make for a fabulous evening with two periods of high entertainment for the gathered crowd and peak evening viewing for the Europeans unfortunate enough to not be present.  

Of course it is immaterial as to the outcome, more important to make the start with a well-prepared and set-up car, rested drivers and team, which brings us to “Friday for the Fans”.

A lot happens in Le Mans on Friday, it is carnival, towns in the vicinity pay homage to brands and memories, folks walk the pitlane and enjoy the unwind from their drive down or travails to get away from work for the pilgrimage to La Sarthe. It culminates with the Drivers Parade, which with a timely conclusion allows the many a decent nights rest in preparation for the race (of course, the few go early and often!) 

So with that in mind here follows the candid SportscarGlobal Qualifying Report overheard in a bar near today’s pseudo Drivers Parade – 

Kamui’s bloody quick in the#7, that could have been a 3:14 but 3:15.267 is quick enough for a swansong pole for the TS050 what a fabulous flying machine! Mind you that #1 Rebellion R13 came close, on privateer money too, nice work by Gus Menezes, impressive 3:15.822 those Gibson boys know what they are doing with the old combustion engine, Get us a pint, Mer=sea!

#1, REBELLION RACING – CHE, REBELLION R13 – GIBSON, Bruno SENNA, Norman NATO, Gustavo MENEZES 2020 FIA World Endurance Championship Season 8 Round 7 24h Le Mans, Le Mans, France. Photo © John D Stevens..

Second Toyota’s not far behind in third, yeah Kaz, weren’t it? He’s quick in the eight, 3:16.649. 

How about LMP2 ? Only that Paul di Resta, in the #22 United Autosports Oreca, he did Formula One you know, yeah still got it over one lap but does he have ‘ndurance?! Seen him on the telly too, sixth overall starting position, that’ll be nice for the young lad Hanson, oh yeah, but all that pressure on young shoulders.. can he take it.. Sure I hear he’s as cool as a cucumber! Di Resta beat that JEV #26 G-Drive by just three-tenths on a 8.5 mile lap, its going to be close in LMP2 I tell you.

#26, G-DRIVE RACING – RUS, AURUS 01 – GIBSON, Roman RUSINOV, Jean-Eric VERGNE, Mikkel JENSEN 2020 FIA World Endurance Championship Season 8 Round 7 24h Le Mans, Le Mans, France. Photo © John D Stevens..

How about the GTs? Well, on the QT, the -Pros are playing games, heard that Oliver Gavin on Radio Le Mans, yeah Corvette lad, saying the Pros are holding back in sector two, a second slower on last year, and you are not telling me that the -Pros are only just quicker that the -Ams look at the times.. Everyone’s sandbagging, avoiding a late BoP like what happened to those Astons last year, ruined their race, ruined it! Yeah, deserve better this year..   

Qualifying Results after HyperPole –

Image Credit: ACO / Alkamel Systems

Driver Quotes – 
KAMUI KOBAYASHI – NO7 TOYOTA GAZOO RACING TOYOTA TS050 HYBRID – LMP1

“To be honest I am a little bit disappointed because on my second attempt it looked like I could’ve broken my (lap) record.  The car seems to be very good, we are more confident with the traffic situation and we are focusing on the performance of the car.  Unfortunately, I had the lap deleted, which is a shame but that is how it is.  The team did a great job and I was pretty confident with the car.  This hyperpole is a great opportunity as a driver to drive at the 24 Hours of Le Mans without traffic and that’s a fantastic feeling for me.”

PAUL DI RESTA – NO22 UNITED AUTOSPORTS ORECA 07-GIBSON – LMP2

“It has been a very good year so far.  It’s the first time we’ve come to this track with the Oreca chassis which was the biggest thing we had to get our heads around with this shortened race programme.  We knew if we put everything together, we understood we could reach the pole position.  To get the job done, to get into the top six and to eventually some clear laps in Hyperpole with two sets of tyres.  It is quite an incredible track, one of the best tracks in the world that I have driven.  There are 22 cars on the LMP2 grid, with a lot of good drivers, so tomorrow is a long day ahead of us.”

#91, PORSCHE GT TEAM – DEU, PORSCHE 911 RSR – 19, Gianmaria BRUNI, Richard LIETZ, Frederic MAKOWIECKI 2020 FIA World Endurance Championship Season 8 Round 7 24h Le Mans, Le Mans, France. Photo © John D Stevens..
GIANMARIA BRUNI – NO91 PORSCHE GT TEAM PORSCHE 911 RSR-19 – LMGTE PRO

“The session was actually very nice because it is the first time driving on this fantastic circuit with not so many cars.  I could concentrate on the performance of the car and doing a nice lap.  It was all question marks as we came here with a new car, we’ve changed so much in the last 24 hours on the car and it’s been very up and down in terms of the set up.  We’ve going in the right direction now. It was a hard job for the mechanics and all of the Porsche team back in Weissach;  it’s really been a team effort.”

#61, LUZICH RACING – CHE, FERRARI 488 GTE EVO, Francesco PIOVANETTI, Oswaldo NEGRI, Come LEDOGAR 2020 FIA World Endurance Championship Season 8 Round 7 24h Le Mans, Le Mans, France. Photo © John D Stevens..