Satisfying first qualifying for TOYOTA Racing
TOYOTA Racing drove into the night at Le Mans for the first time in the opening qualifying for the Le Mans 24 Hours, securing provisional top-six starting positions for Saturday's race.
Wednesday's 120-minute qualifying session, which is followed by two more on Thursday, saw the TS030 HYBRIDs participate in their first competitive action after an intense period of testing and development.
When the chequered flag fell at midnight, the #7 TS030 HYBRID of Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima was fourth. Nicolas set its best time of the session 3mins 27.191secs.
The #8 TS030 HYBRID of Stéphane Sarrazin, Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi ended the session in sixth, although traffic severely disrupted its fastest lap. Anthony set its fastest time of 3mins 28.295secs.
All of the team's six drivers completed the minimum five laps of night driving required in order to be allowed to participate in the race.
Earlier in the evening the #8 car lost most of the practice session after an engine failure left Anthony stranded on the track after only five laps and 34 minutes. The engine was changed in time for qualifying.
The #7 car completed a trouble-free session of aerodynamic and mechanical set-up evaluations.
The final starting grid for the 80th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours will be decided at the end of two remaining qualifying sessions on Thursday (19.00-21.00 and 22.00-00.00).
Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Team President: "First of all it's great to be back in competition this is what we have been dreaming about for many months and finally the big event is here. In terms of performance, we appear to be on a reasonable level and this meets our expectations following the test day. Unfortunately we lost the practice session for the #8 car due to an engine failure, which is the first time we have suffered this problem. The engines have regularly completed more than a Le Mans distance without trouble on the dynos and the track, so this looks like a one-off problem. Finally at the end of qualifying, a minor hybrid system error prevented Alex finishing his stint, which is frustrating. Therefore we still have work to do tomorrow when we aim to improve in terms of pace and reliability."
Car #7 (Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre, Kazuki Nakajima)
Free practice: 5th (3mins 28.421secs), 53 laps
Qualifying 1: 4th (3mins 27.191secs) 25 laps
Alex Wurz: "It's just the first day so it's difficult to draw too many conclusions. Free practice went reasonably well for us and qualifying too. I had to end the session a few minutes early, before I finished my long run, due to a systems glitch but that is not a major issue. Generally we are on target for where we expect to be. There is still a bit of a gap to the fastest cars but for our first time in Le Mans we can be really happy so far."
Nicolas Lapierre: "We decided to push a bit when there was still some light on the track. We did quite a good lap, although I had a bit of traffic in the last sector and I made a little mistake on the last corner. I think it was a good first shot. We can still work on the set-up and it's positive we had both cars running throughout qualifying so we got a lot of data. Tomorrow we have plenty of time to think about what changes we can make to improve the lap times for the remainder of qualifying. We need to keep working and focus on that."
Kazuki Nakajima: "It was the first time for me to try a night session and actually it was quite tricky with a lot of traffic and a dirty track. It was also difficult to switch on the tyres. But I think it has been a good start in general and Nico did a good lap time. Now we can work on improvements for tomorrow. The team at TMG has worked so hard to get two cars ready for this week so I hope we can give something back during this weekend."
Car #8 (Stéphane Sarrazin, Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi)
Free practice: 6th (3mins 30.162secs), 5 laps
Qualifying 1: 6th (3mins 28.295secs), 26 laps
Stéphane Sarrazin: "I had a good feeling today. This session was important to me because these were my first laps here since Le Mans last year. Due to the issue in practice, I had to start with a night run so I tried to find my rhythm gradually and take it step by step. I was able to set good lap times quickly so I am satisfied. The handling of the car feels good and that means I can push. We still have some details to improve, including the balance but the car is already efficient and I think we can go faster."
Anthony Davidson: "I had a lot of traffic tonight. I know drivers often say that after a qualifying session but this time it really hurt my quickest lap. Anyway, overall this session was good and I have a positive feeling. We have improved the car since the test day we have more grip and it is more consistent so that is a good sign. We have to optimise some points but it is getting better and better. Le Mans by night is still exciting so I am looking forward to final qualifying where I am sure we can improve our lap times."
Sébastien Buemi: "I didn't do so many laps but my first impressions are good. I made a good start and everything has gone well. I simply need to drive more tomorrow so I can get more laps on this circuit and increase my experience. It was nice to discover Le Mans at night the atmosphere is really great. I was pleased to see the track is better lit than some others which helps a driver. Now we look forward to final qualifying I think we are heading in the right direction."
Copyright-free photos will be available via the media section of www.toyotahybridracing.com, where registered users can also download the TOYOTA Racing media kit for the Le Mans 24 Hours.
About TOYOTA Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship:
TOYOTA first competed in the FIA World Endurance Championship in 1983, marking the start of a long period of participation in endurance racing which included several editions of the Le Mans 24 Hours. TOYOTA cars have raced in 13 Le Mans 24 Hours races, with a total of 36 vehicles taking part. TOYOTA has finished on the podium three times, all second places. Including those results, it has finished in the top six a total of nine times. In qualifying, TOYOTA has four front-row starts to its name, including one pole position. For 2012, TOYOTA will return to endurance racing and the FIA World Endurance Championship as a full-time entrant with a hybrid LMP1 car, the TS030 HYBRID. The chassis has been designed and built by TOYOTA Motorsport GmbH (TMG), where the race team is based. TMG is the former home of TOYOTA's World Rally and Formula 1 works teams, and was responsible for design and operation of TOYOTA's TS020 (GT-One) Le Mans car in 1998-99. TMG now combines works motorsport participation with a new direction as a high-performance engineering services provider to third party companies, as well as the TOYOTA family. For more information, please visit www.toyotahybridracing.com and register for personal access to the media section. Follow the team on Twitter (@Toyota_Hybrid) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/toyotamotorsport).