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Toyota's Nakajima claims provisional pole & F1 drivers shine at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Shahid Salman
ANALYST
News
126   //    14 Jun 2018, 12:46 IST

AUTO-FRA-24H-ENDURANCE-PRACTICE
24H Le Mans - No.8 Toyota - Nakajima, Alonso, Buemi

On Wednesday’s first qualifying session for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, former F1 driver Kazuki Nakajima laid the benchmark time by setting the fastest lap to claim provisional pole position for the world’s greatest race held at the Circuit De La Sarthe.

The Japanese driver, in the No.8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid which he shares with Fernando Alonso and Sébastien Buemi, lapped the fastest time of 3:17:270 in the first ten minutes of the two-hour session and the time was not beaten throughout the evening.

It was a Toyota Gazoo Racing 1-2 at the end of Qualifying and also a Japanese 1-2 as Kamui Kobayashi was a close second with a lap time of 3:17.337 in the No.7 Toyota.

Toyota is the only major manufacturer entered in the premier LMP1 category after champions Porsche pulled out of the Le Mans this year. The Toyota team have only themselves to compete for victory but can't afford to take anything for granted after losing out in 2017 due to reliability issues.

The Japanese manufacturer are seeking their first win at the 20th attempt in Le Mans. The second Japanese marque after Mazda to triumph in the endurance classic.

SMP Racing was the closest challengers through Stephane Sarrazin’s 3:19.483 in the No.17 BR Engineering BR1-AER, while the No.1 Rebellion R13 Gibson driven by another former F1 driver Bruno Senna ended up in 4th place with a time of 3:19.662.

Jenson Button, the 2009 F1 World champion in the No. 11 SMP Racing BR1 that was seventh fastest.

In LMP2, Paul-Loup Chatin set the fastest lap in the IDEC Sports Oreca 07 Gibson, and Loïc Duval was second, just 0.284s behind the top time.

Jean-Eric Vergne was 3rd for G-Drive Racing and Pastor Maldonado was 4th for DragonSpeed.

Kobayashi took pole last year in a record 3:14.791 and the track has been shortened by 3m since then for safety reasons.

Weather reports suggest a possible rain for Thursday where two more qualifying sessions are scheduled thereby the chances are high for Nakajima to retain the pole position.

While Nakajima set the fastest, Le Mans rookie Fernando Alonso completed a mandatory five laps in night conditions in the Toyota that gave the trio a win in the opening race of the season at 6 Hours of Spa in Belgium.

Alonso, who has also won the F1 Monaco Grand Prix as well as Formula One World titles, is aiming to complete the ‘Triple Crown of Motorsport’ and needs to win Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.

He competed at Indy500 last year, leading before an engine failure.

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Shahid Salman
ANALYST
Motorsport journalist with the experience behind the wheels | Winner Raid the Himalaya, Dakshin Dare and National Rallies | Formula1 Fanatic
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