After six consecutive pole positions at La Sarthe, the team began the Hyperpole contest hoping to set a new outright record but a very rapid rival, as well as an ill-timed red flag and a track limits violation, ended those hopes.
Last year’s winners Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa will start from third in their #8 GR010 HYBRID after Brendon’s lap of 3min 24.451secs. That was 1.469secs behind the #50 Ferrari, which led a dominant front-row lock-out for the Italian manufacturer.
Kamui Kobayashi, who had the chance to equal Jacky Ickx’s record of five Le Mans pole positions, was fifth in the #7 GR010 HYBRID he shares with Mike Conway and José María López, 1.951secs behind.
Despite a disappointing Hyperpole result, the team remains determined to challenge for a sixth successive Le Mans victory to maintain its unbeaten start to the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship season, having worked extensively on set-up and strategy during the practice sessions.
The 30-minute Hyperpole contest, in which the top eight cars from each class compete for pole position, took place on a warm evening at La Sarthe.
From the first timed laps, it was clear that Ferrari were the cars to beat, having also set the pace in Wednesday’s qualifying. Kamui and Brendon improved on their opening laps but were short of the front-row pace.
The GR010 HYBRIDs pitted for new tyres and, with 10 minutes remaining, left the pit lane for their final flying laps. Both drivers set personal best times in the first sector, but their hopes of challenging for pole position were dashed when an another Hypercar stopped, causing a red flag before their laps could be completed.
Competition resumed after an 11-minute delay and the GR010 HYBRIDs started their last lap with just seconds remaining. Despite tyres which were no longer at their best, a valiant attempt saw both cars go faster. Kamui was initially classified third and Brendon fourth, but the #7 lost that lap due to a track limits violation.
Brendon therefore set the third-fastest lap in the #8, with the #7 dropping to fifth, meaning the team will start off the front row at Le Mans for the first time since 2016.
Away from the battle for grid position, a programme of race set-up work resumed on Thursday with two practice sessions either side of Hyperpole. Third practice, which ran for three trouble-free hours in the afternoon, saw the #7 set third quickest time thanks to Kamui’s lap. Brendon’s best time in the #8 was enough for fourth.
Practice concluded as the sun set over the 13.626km Circuit de la Sarthe. A one-hour fourth practice gave the team a final opportunity to validate settings prior to the race, although lap times reflected a cautious approach from most teams in the final laps of practice before race weekend. José’s best lap put the #7 in sixth while a quiet session for the #8 saw Sébastien set one of its few timed laps, ending up 14th.
The team’s focus now switches to getting ready for the race. Friday is critical for the team and both cars will be rebuilt while race set-ups and strategies will be finalised. The GR010 HYBRIDs will run again on Saturday in a 15-minute midday warm-up prior to the start of the 91st running of the Le Mans 24 Hours at 4pm CEST
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “We gave everything today, but we didn’t have a realistic chance of pole position. Congratulations to Ferrari. They set a very fast lap time and we could not match it. I pushed as hard as I could because pole position at Le Mans is something very special. I pushed a bit too hard and it didn’t go well because I lost my lap for track limits, although if you are not on pole, then being third or fifth doesn’t matter much because it is a long race. It can all be a different story in the race. It will not be easy and we don’t have the fastest car, as we saw today over one lap, but to win over 24 hours you need everything; team spirit, the right strategy, no mistakes. We will do out best and see where we are on Sunday afternoon.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “I am pretty happy to secure third in the end. The front row was not possible because Ferrari were too quick; congratulations to them for their pole. On my first run the car didn’t feel great and our lap times were a long way off. On my next run I had an amazing lap until the red flag, which was a bit frustrating, then I just kept it clean for my last run. It wasn’t the best lap but it was enough for third. I gave it my best shot, and pole would have been nice but starting in third is all we need. Everyone knows the race is a different matter, so we have to keep that in mind. We have been the reference this year in terms of execution and team work, so we have to show that again. We need to pull together, use all our experience and put our full focus on taking top spot on Sunday. I am ready for the fight.”