The final qualifying session for the 82nd Le Mans 24-hour race has ended, and after three sessions it was Toyota’s Kaz Nakajima who was quickest around the Circuit de la Sarthe, lapping the 8.5-mile course in 3:21.789 at an average speed of 151.05 mph—six-tenths of a second quicker than the 3:22.346 which earned Audi the pole in 2013, when the cars could use a third more fuel per lap.
Qualifying was cut short when Karun Chandhok in the #48 Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03R-Nissan crashed and the track could not be cleaned up and the barriers repaired by the end of the session. This raises the question of whether some of the top cars might have been saving up for a final fast run—Porsche in particular had run quicker in some sectors of the track the day before, and might have had time in hand. Of course, so might have Nakajima in the Toyota.
“Even though it is a 24-hour race it is a very good feeling to be on pole position,” Nakajima in a press release. “I am really happy with the car so many thanks to team; we have prepared a great car for the race.
“I was struggling with the traffic but I managed to get one lap and it was just enough to get the pole. It’s going to be a tough race but tonight I am happy. We didn’t have to compromise our program and we managed to put in the lap time for the right moment. Now I think we are well prepared for the race.”
Winning pole is purely a psychological victory for Nakajima and co-drivers Alex Wurz and Stephane Sarrazin in the #7 Toyota TS 040-Hybrid. To win the race the drivers will need to complete nearly 350 laps; the pit crew will need to perform two dozen perfect pit stops.
On top off that the engineers will need to adjust the car to accommodate the constantly changing track conditions, and the weather—anything from extreme heat to numbing cold to driving rain to pea-soup fog, or possibly all of these in a single race.
Even if the drivers and crew do everything perfectly, they will need a large measure of luck, both that the car will hold up, and that they will not get caught up in a contretemps caused by another car. Still, there is a certain pride in knowing your car and driver was the quickest, and morale certainly plays a factor in a twice-around-the-clock endurance event.
Neel Jani put the #14 Porsche 919-Hybrid into the second slot on the grid with a lap of 3:22.146 at 150.8 mph. (presse.porsche.de)
Porsche earned itself a solid morale boost by spoiling a Toyota sweep. Neel Jani put the #14 Porsche 919-Hybrid into the second slot on the grid with a lap of 3:22.146 at 150.8 mph, only .357 seconds slower over the 8.5-mile lap. This is strong validation for Porsche, as the car had only run in two races before Le Mans—to come out second quick in its third race must be a huge confidence boost.
Sebastien Buemi in the #8 Toyota was third quickest at 3:22.523, .734 seconds off the pace of his teammate’s car. Marco Bonanomi will fill out the second row in the #3 Audi R18e-tron quattro; at 3:23.364 and 149.94 mph this car is more than a second off Nakajima’s pace.
The #3 Audi R18 e-tron quattro #3 of Marco Bonanomi, Oliver Jarvis, and Filipe Albuquerque qualified fourth, the quickest of all the Audis. (audi-motorsport.info)
Audi earned a moral victory of its own. After the #1 Audi driven by 2013 winner Loic Duval crashed and was all but obliterated in practice Wednesday, Audi managed to build up a spare monocoque and get the #1 back onto the grid in time to qualify. Marc Gene will replace Duval, who is mostly uninjured but sore and not in 24-hour race shape.
The #46 Thiriet/TDS Ligier JS P2-Nissan of Ludovic Badey took the LMP2 pole with a lap of 3:37.609, beating the #38 Jota Sport Zytek Z11SN-Nissan of Simon Dolan and the #35 Oak Racing Morgan Nissan driven by Olivier Pla.
AF Corse Ferraris were fastest in both GTE classes, and in fact the GTE-Am polesitter was quicker than the second-placed GTE-Pro Corvette.
Gianni Bruno put the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 on the GTE-Pro pole with a lap of 3:53.700, putting him 27th in the 55-car field.
28th on the grid and quickest in GTE-Am was Sam Bird in the #81 AF Corse car at 3:54.665, beating out Jordan Taylor who turned in a very respectable lap of 3:54.777 in the #73 Corvette racing C7.R to sit second in GTE-Pro.
Darren Turner in the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage finished off the top there in GTE-Pro, and Astons filled the second and third slot s in GTE-Am as well, with Paul Dalla Lana in the #98 and David Heinemeier-Hansson in the #95 Aston Martin Racing Vantages.
The 82nd Le Mans 24 will be broadcast in its entirety on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 starting at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, June 14.
Here is the entire schedule:
Saturday, June 14 – 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Fox Sports 1)
Saturday, June 14 – 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Fox Sports 2)
Saturday, June 14 – 6:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. (Fox Sports 2)
Sunday, June 15 – 2 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. (Fox Sports 1)
Sunday, June 15 – 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (Fox Sports 2)
Entire race streamed LIVE on FOX Sports GO
Timing and scoring can be found at the official Le Mans 24 site.
Radio Le Mans, hands down the best sports car broadcast team on the planet, will be covering practice, qualifying, and the race.