TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will start its home race from pole position after taking a clean sweep, despite late drama, in qualifying for the 6 Hours of Fuji, the second round of the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley set the pace in the #8 TS050 HYBRID they share with Sébastien Buemi, setting an average time of 1min 25.013secs in front of the team’s home fans.
“It’s a nice feeling to take my first pole position with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing,” commented Hartley. “Kazuki did an amazing first lap because it’s always hard going out first. I had a lot of traffic in the last sector of my lap so I needed to do another one and that was enough for the pole. It was a surprise that the non-hybrid LMP1 cars were not closer but we are still expecting a close race tomorrow.”
It will be an all-TOYOTA GAZOO Racing front row after Kamui Kobayashi and Jose María López put their World Championship-leading #7 car, which they drive alongside Mike Conway, into second place on the grid, 0.790secs behind.
Prior to qualifying, the team enjoyed a surprise visit from Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda, during which he spent time with the drivers and visited the garage, greeted by team members.
It was not a straightforward qualifying session, with a red flag and a track limits violation combining to force a late dash to the flag for the #7. After José had set the second fastest time earlier in the session, Kamui took the fight to the #8 but was judged to have left the track on his single flying lap, so it was deleted.
At the same time, the #6 Ginetta, which had been the closest threat to the TS050 HYBRIDs, stopped on track, causing a red flag. With just three-and-a-half minutes remaining, Kamui had to complete an out lap and set a fast time on used Michelin tyres to earn a front row spot. He navigated the LMP2 traffic and earned second.
The #8 crew enjoyed a smoother qualifying, with Kazuki setting the fastest lap of the session on his first effort, supported by a clean effort from Brendon, who had earlier had to abandon his first attempt due to traffic.
As a result, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will start from pole position for the ninth consecutive race as it seeks a seventh straight WEC victory. Rebellion #1 will lead the non-hybrid LMP1 challenge from third after qualifying 1.150secs slower.
Free practice 3 results:
1st #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 1min 25.621secs 32 laps
2nd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +0.206secs 34 laps
3rd #1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato) +0.551secs 30 laps
4th #6 Ginetta (Robertson/Simpson/Smith) +1.418secs 28 laps
5th #5 Ginetta (Ghiotto/Hanley/Orudzhev) +2.261secs 26 laps
6th #29 Team Nederland (Van Eerd/Van der Garde/De Vries) +3.387secs 31 laps
Qualifying results (average lap time):
1st #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 1min 25.013secs
2nd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +0.790secs
3rd #1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato) +1.150secs
4th #5 Ginetta (Ghiotto/Hanley/Orudzhev) +1.807secs
5th #37 Jackie Chan (Tung/Aubry/Stevens) +4.289secs
6th #22 United Autosports (Hanson/Albuquerque/Jarvis) +4.774secs