With the first session of Thursday evening qualifying suspended after just seventeen minutes following Erik Maris’ heavy impact into the barriers, excitement was high when the final session started.
With air temperatures finally dropping, we were in for a treat with lap records being smashed almost at will across the board.
Kamui Kobayashi became the second Japanese driver to earn pole position at Le Mans when he took the #7 TS050 HYBRID to a lap time of 3:14.791secs at 8.14pm during the second qualifying session giving an average speed of 251.9 km/h.
The Japanese driver sliced 2.096s from the previous lap record on the current lay-out while his average speed was faster than for any previous lap in the 94-year history of the event, beating the 251.815 km/h set by Hans-Joachim Stuck in a Porsche in 1985.
Following the session, Kobayashi was quick to thanks the team: “A big thanks to the team for this result. I got in the car with 100% confidence and when you are confident, you are quick. It was an amazing lap and the car was brilliant.
“It was the right moment, just after the red flag with no traffic. I am really proud of this pole position. Still, it is a 24-hour race so the important thing is the race result and that is what we are focusing on.”
The car had been fast during all three sessions and was already holding provisional pole from the Wednesday session. However, not everything went Toyota’s way when the #8 car stopped on track after exiting the second Mulsanne chicane with what appeared to be instantaneous loss of drive. Following a <CTRL-ALT-DELETE> to the car, Sebastien Buemi crawled back to the pits where the team undertook an entire engine swap in record time.
The Porsche team were unable to respond to the speed shown by the Toyota camp with the fastest time/speed combination being set by Neel Jani in the #1 with a lap time of 3:17.259 and an average speed of 248.7 km/h, some 3.2 km/h slower than the fastest TS050.
Once again, the ByKOLLES Enso CLM P1/01 – Nismo in the hands of Oliver Webb set the fastest speed through the trap clocking in at 340.2 km/h – if the car can just be made to corner better it has the potential to be a fearsome competitor. As it is, the Privateer team finished the session at the bottom of the LMP1 table with a 3:24.170, safely faster than the chasing LMP2 pack.
In LMP2 Thomas Laurent set a new qualifying lap record in the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca crossing the line in 3:26.776, however, a 3:25.549 from Vitaly Petrov was next up putting the #25 Manor Motorsport Oreca back on provisional pole.
Ho-Pin Tung then took the #38 back to the top of the sheets however it was short lived; as the session moved into the final 60 minutes the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca of Alex Lynn stole Tung’s crown clocking in a 3:25.352 and claiming the LMP2 Pole Position dropping the #25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing to third.
Despite the action in the prototype classes it was arguably the GTE Pro and Am classes that gave us the closest and most exciting racing of the evening with 1.1 seconds separating the top eight places in the Pro class!
Aston Martin started the sessions holding provisional pole however they were soon dropped to 4th (#97) and 7th (#95). Both cars spent a while in the garage while Corvette and Porsche held sway at the top of the timing sheets. With around 45 minutes of the final session left Richie Stanaway exited the pits and almost immediately leapfrogged six spots and clocked a 3:51.038 to put the #95 Vantage at the top of the sheet.
If the New Zealander had one hand on the pole position it was swiftly whipped away as teammate Darren Turner who knocked a mere 0.2s off Stanaway’s time with a 3:50.837 to claim the Class Pole. As the session eked into the final few minutes it looked like a 1,2 for the Gaydon manufacturer however James Caldo threw in a 3:51.028 in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 to take second and split the British V8s.
In the Am session, super-fast Brazilian Fernando Rees was the man to beat in the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R. Rees set a time of 3:52.843 on his 7th (of 12) lap giving the French team’s car an average speed of 210.7 km/h.
The #98 Aston Martin which had held provisional pole since Wednesday’s session finished in second place some 0.4s behind the Corvette. In a truly sportsmanlike gesture all three of the Aston Martin drivers headed to the Larbre Competition pit as soon as the session had ended to congratulate Rees and the team on their pole.
The #62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 claimed the third class spot with a time of 3:53.312 and the Dempsey Proton Porsche 911 RSR took 4th when Matteo Cairoli set a 3:53.381 time, more than 3 seconds faster than the next fastest 911 (#86 Gulf Racing).
Full results are available here.