The team is unbeaten in qualifying at La Sarthe since 2017, sharing the record for consecutive poles with Porsche. Both GR010 HYBRIDs qualified for Thursday’s Hyperpole contest, when the fastest eight cars from each class will fight for pole position, to keep hopes of a new record firmly alive.
Kamui Kobayashi, who can equal Jacky Ickx’s mark of five Le Mans pole positions, comfortably reached Hyperpole, setting the third fastest time in the #7 GR010 HYBRID he shares with Mike Conway and José María López. His lap of 3mins 25.485secs was just 0.272secs behind the pace-setting #50 Ferrari.
Last year’s winners Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa will also be in the hunt for pole position on Thursday in their #8 GR010 HYBRID. Brendon, who took pole last year, was at the wheel for qualifying and set the fourth quickest time.
Official action at Le Mans began earlier in the afternoon with three hours of first practice. Having missed Sunday’s test due to other racing commitments, Sébastien was immediately out on track. He completed 17 laps, more than any of his team-mates in the session, as he reacquainted himself with the Circuit de la Sarthe.
On Sunday, six hours of testing kicked off the team’s race preparation programme, which continued through first practice when different mechanical and aerodynamic set-ups were checked alongside the three Michelin tyre compounds available for Le Mans.
A 35-minute red flag and other incidents within the 62-car field limited the opportunities for quick lap times. Kamui took advantage of a clear track after the red flag ended to become the first driver this year to lap under 3mins 28secs. Soon after, Brendon went quicker by setting the best lap of the session, 3min 27.742secs, 0.133secs faster than the second-placed #7 as qualifying preparation concluded.
Qualifying began on a warm evening and Kamui wasted no time in setting the pace in his #7 GR010 HYBRID. Two quickfire red flags interrupted the session soon after and left Brendon with a challenge to qualify for Hyperpole.
His first timed lap initially put him in sixth but improvements from others pushed the #8 down to 11th. Brendon’s next attempts were frustrated by yellow flags and traffic but he stayed calm to secure the #8 car’s presence in Hyperpole. José and Sébastien used the remainder of the session for set-up work.
Second practice took place with darkness falling at La Sarthe. All drivers are required to complete five laps of night running to be eligible for the race and the six TOYOTA GAZOO Racing drivers completed this formality in a clean session without interruptions. The lead GR010 HYBRID was the #7 in fifth thanks to Kamui’s best lap late in the session, while the #8 was 11th thanks to an early effort from Sébastien.
Action resumes on Thursday afternoon with a three-hour practice session from 3pm CEST, before the grid-deciding Hyperpole contest at 8pm. A final one-hour practice at 10pm represents the last track action before race day.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “It has been a busy first day of practice and the cars have both run without problems, which is positive. As well as improving the balance for the race, our target today was to get both cars into Hyperpole so we can fight for pole position. It was not easy, but we made it through. To be honest it looks like it will be tough for us to get pole position; I am not sure we are quick enough right now. We are making progress step by step through the practice sessions, so will keep working hard and fighting to improve.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “It’s great to get started and have the first practice sessions in the bank. We did a lot of running, particularly in the evening session which had fewer incidents compared to the afternoon. We’ve been running through our programme, trying to make positive use of the time to get our car ready for the race. We’re not where we want to be yet, but we’ll keep plugging away, getting better bit by bit. Kamui did a nice lap in qualifying which keeps us in the game for pole but our priority is to have strong race pace.”
José María López (Driver, car #7): “We did a lot of laps and tried a few different things on the car, so hopefully the data will help us to find more performance. Kamui and Brendon did a good job to give us two cars in Hyperpole, which was the only target in qualifying. We are in a close fight. As expected, Ferrari looks very quick and the other Hypercars are competitive too. We made progress with the car balance in practice but there’s still room for improvement and that’s the priority for Thursday.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “It has been a typically busy first day of practice. I am pleased to finally be here and to drive at Le Mans again. We are quite happy to make it into Hyperpole; that was the target. It was a hectic session and Brendon salvaged it quite well in the end to put that lap together. I am a bit relieved because it was very tight. Now we focus on Hyperpole and getting our car in a good set-up window for the race. There’s a lot of practice time still to go and we will be working hard.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “It was pretty tight in qualifying. I backed off on my first lap because I started too close to a Peugeot. I should have completed that lap and to have a decent time in the bank because afterwards I had a sequence of yellow flags just in front of me. I had to back off each time and I was lucky to get one clean lap on the board, so it’s a relief to get through to Hyperpole. We have not been the quickest and we are not yet at 100% with our car balance. We are still trying to figure out some compromises on set-up but we are pushing to find more performance for Hyperpole and the race.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8): “It has been a good day; it feels like race week has really started. But as always at Le Mans the traffic and other incidents make it difficult to get many clean laps, which was the case for me in practice. Apart from that, we are making good steps with car set-up and I am satisfied with our progress so far. We still need to work to fine-tune the balance but that’s normal at this stage. Qualifying was exciting to watch and very close, but Brendon did well to put a lap together so now we look forward to Hyperpole.”