TOYOTA GAZOO Racing set another milestone in the Hypercar era during qualifying for the 89th Le Mans 24 Hours, the fourth round of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). Kamui Kobayashi, in the #7 GR010 HYBRID he shares with Mike Conway and José María López, set the fastest lap time yet for a Hypercar at the Circuit de la Sarthe. His time of 3min 26.279secs earned top spot in qualifying. The #8 of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley was third quickest with the #36 Alpine splitting the two GR010 HYBRIDs in second.
“We had a pretty smooth day. The GR010 HYBRID has felt really nice to drive again. It really feels like the car was made for here and it feels at home. It has been quite different from test day with much colder track temperatures and a different wind direction. So we tried different tyre compounds to learn about the right crossover point for when the race goes into the night. Deciding the tyres and what set-up to use was a big part of the test programme and it all went well.”
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will fight for a fifth consecutive Le Mans pole position in Thursday’s Hyperpole session, when the fastest six qualifiers from each class do battle in a 30-minute session, starting at 9pm CEST.
Kamui and Brendon were given the task of setting flying laps at the very beginning of qualifying, using new tyres and with a low fuel load. Kamui had a clean lap and immediately took top spot. Brendon, despite traffic, moved into second, 1.392secs away.
With flying laps in the bank, the focus switched to preparation and tyre analysis. Each car is limited to only six sets of tyres for all free practice and qualifying sessions, 11 hours running time in total, so the remainder of the session was completed on old rubber.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s Hypercar rivals attempted to overcome the GR010 HYBRID lap times over the remaining minutes. A combination of full course yellow and slow zones limited the opportunities for clean laps but the #36 Alpine took second late on.
Away from qualifying, Wednesday featured five hours of practice which gave engineers and drivers an important opportunity to validate set-up changes made following Sunday’s official test day.
With plenty of work to do, a red flag one minute into the three-hour first practice session was an unwelcome start. Two relatively clean hours of running followed, but an accident between an LMP2 and GT car caused a 23-minute red flag in the final hour, which was then disrupted by a full course yellow period.
Both cars compared aerodynamic and mechanical set-up options, and assessed different compounds of Michelin tyre. José set the quickest time of the session late on, 3mins 29.309secs, while Kazuki recorded the best time for the #8, third overall but just 0.087secs adrift.
Sébastien, who missed the test day due to other racing commitments, completed his first laps in the GR010 at La Sarthe during first practice before going fastest of all in the night time session.
That further two hours of free practice, which followed qualifying, gave the GR010 HYBRID Hypercars their first opportunity to run at night at Le Mans. All drivers, no matter their experience, must complete five laps in darkness to be eligible to race and that obligation was met comfortably in a smooth session.
Free Practice 1:
1st #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 3min 29.309secs 36 laps
2nd #36 Alpine (Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere) +0.086secs 26 laps
3rd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +0.087secs 38 laps
4th #22 United Autosports USA (Hanson/Scherer/Albuquerque)+0.132secs 28 laps
5th #26 G-Drive Racing (Rusinov/Colapinto/de Vries) +0.785secs 36 laps
6th #709 Glickenhaus (Briscoe/Westbrook/Dumas) +0.907secs 31 laps
1st #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 3min 26.279secs 15 laps
2nd #36 Alpine (Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere) +0.816secs 10 laps
3rd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +1.392secs 15 laps
4th #708 Glickenhaus (Derani/Mailleux/Pla/Menezes) +1.977secs 15 laps
5th #38 JOTA (Gonzalez/da Costa/Davidson) +2.528secs 10 laps
6th #26 G-Drive (Rusinov/Colapinto/de Vries) +2.967.secs 12 laps
Free Practice 2:
1st #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 3min 29.351secs 29 laps
2nd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +0.387secs 27 laps
3rd #708 Glickenhaus (Derani/Mailleux/Pla) +0.761secs 26 laps
4th #36 Alpine (Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere) +1.393secs 24 laps
5th #709 Glickenhaus (Briscoe/Westbrook/Dumas) +1.758secs 26 laps
6th #38 JOTA (Gonzalez/da Costa/Davidson) +3.039secs 25 laps