Toyota on pole at Le Mans

Track Action (photo by Melissa Warren)Toyota has laid down a marker for the 82nd Le Mans 24 Hours by clinching pole position in qualifying!

The no 7 TS 040 Hybrid will start at the front of the field joined on the front row by the no 14 Porsche 919 Hybrid. In LM P2, pole went to the no 46 Ligier; in LM GTE Pro and Am, Ferrari scored a double with no 51 and no 81 458 Italias.

The session started at 7:00 p.m. in bright sunshine but the first qualifying was somewhat disrupted. Among the first to take to the track included the no 1 Audi Team Joest Audi rebuilt following the violent accident on Wednesday for Loïc Duval. The French driver was discharged from the Centre Hospitalier du Mans on Thursday, but was not allowed to take the wheel this weekend. He was replaced by Spaniard Marc Gené, a reserve driver of the German marque. Gené, who was driver of ZytekZ11SN Nissan-38, is now replaced by the British driver Oliver Turvey.

The two Porsche LM P1 machines took control right away. Alas, at 19:45, the accident of James Calado (Ferrari no 71) in the Porsche curves brought the first red flag period of 25 minutes. Shortly after, it was the turn of Lucas di Grassi, driving the Audi no 1 who had a spin between Indianapolis and Arnage. The Brazilian brought his car back to the pits but was running so slowly that the young Leo Roussel (Morgan-Nissan no 29) lost control while taking avoiding action at the pit entry. With the Porsche no 79 also in the gravel trap at the Dunlop curve, the Race Director interrupted the session for twelve minutes. Although there were only fifteen minutes before the break at 21:00 hours, Kazuki Nakajima (Toyota no 7) set a time of 3m 22.589, three tenths better than Timo Bernhard (Porsche no 20) with a time of 3m 22.908.

Track Action (photo by Melissa Warren)Track Action (photo by Melissa Warren)Track Action (photo by Melissa Warren)Track Action (photo by Melissa Warren)Track Action (photo by Melissa Warren)In LM P2, the best provisional time was set by the Ligier JS P2-Nissan no 46 with a time of 3m 38.094. In LM GTE Pro, the fastest time was set by the Corvette no 73 (3m 55.038) and in GTE Am, Ferrari 458 Italia no 61 set the best time with a lap in 3m 56.917.

In the second session Toyota confirmed its domination thanks to no 7 in the hands of Nakajima, Sarrazin and Wurz. The TS 040 clinched pole with a lap time of 3m 21.789. In 2013 the quickest Audi got round in 3m 22.349. Porsche went for broke but no 14 driven by Dumas, Jani and Lieb was unable to beat the Japanese car’s time. Toyota-Porsche, Toyota-Porsche have locked out the first two rows of the grid, while Audi, the previous year’s winner, had to make do with the next three places.

And what a comeback for Ligier! The prestigious French make put on a stunning performance 29 years after its last appearance at Le Mans. Thanks to a lap in 3m 37.609, no. 46 driven by Badey, Gommendy and Thiriet set the fastest time in the category in front of the no 38 Zytek Z11SN-Nissan and another Ligier , no 35.

In LM GTE Pro there is a mouth-watering battle in perspective. The no 51 Ferrari of Bruni, Vilander, and Fisichella was quickest, but the AF Corse car is under threat from the very promising no 73 Corvette C7 in the hands of Garcia, Magnussen and Taylor and the no 97 Aston Martin of Mücke, Senna and Turner. As a result of his accident James Calado has been forbidden to drive this weekend by the doctors. He will be replaced in the no 71 Ferrari by Pierre Kaffer. LM GTE Am saw the same Prancing Horse domination thanks to no 81 driven by Bird, Rugolo and Wyatt.

On Friday the public had the opportunity to visit the track and the pits and see the Drivers’ Parade in the Le Mans town centre. Fernando Alonso, double Formula 1 World Champion will start the 82nd Le Mans 24 Hours on Saturday 14th June 2014 at 15h00. Allan McNish will be the Grand Marshal and Doug Fehan will be awarded the Spirit of Le Mans Trophy.  By Melissa Warren

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