Toyota cruise & Aston Martin sprint to Le Mans 2019 poles
Qualifying for Le Mans 2019 came to an end at midnight on Thursday evening, although the celebrations for some went on in to the early hours of Friday morning. The headlines were grabbed by the No. 7 Toyota who took overall pole position with a fastest time of 3m15.497s. They finished ahead of their sister car, with the No. 8 car completing the front row. It can be argued that the difference between starting first and second in a 24 hours endurance race is of little significance, but Kobayashi, Lopez & Conway were happy to celebrate in front of the cameras. In reality the point they receive for pole position narrows the gap to the No. 7 crew who still lead the FIA WEC Championship by 30 points.
Perhaps more significant for the top LMP1 class was the performance of the 3rd placed No. 17 SMP Racing car. Not only were they the first of the non-hybrid (privateer) cars, but they were impressively quick. Not only was their qualification time 3 seconds quicker than this time last year, but it was also quicker than the factory hybrid Porsche 919s and Audi R18 that preceded it. Paul Truswell, the much respected statistician at Radio Le Mans, calculated that if all cars ran without problems for 24 hours, then the Toyotas would have a 28 minutes gap to the next nearest car. However, Le Mans is rarely without problems, many of which take longer than 30 minutes to repair. So Toyota will be still be looking over their shoulders come the start of Le Mans 2019.
There was a certain amount of controversy in the LMP2 qualification, with the No. 39 Graff Racing car initially setting the fastest lap time. However, the team were stripped of their times by the stewards after the chequered flag, after the car failed to stop and a mandatory weighbridge. So the official pole position in the LMP2 class was inherited by the No. 28 TDS Racing car in the early hours of the morning. This was a costly error by Graff Racing and the celebratory champagne had to go back on the ice as they will try to redeem themselves during the race.
Some of the best qualifying action was witnessed in the GTE Pro class, which regularly saw 4 different manufacturers occupying each of the 4 fastest time slots. In the end, and with the clock ticking down to midnight, it was a clear track for the No. 95 Aston Martin Racing with Nicki Thiim at the wheel that enabled them to complete a hot lap and take pole in this class. The qualifying result saw Aston Martin finish ahead of Ford and then Corvette in the top three. Perhaps surprising was the relative speeds for Porsche & Ferrari who qualified further down the order.
By contrast Porsche completed a 1-2-3 in the GTE Am class, with No. 88 Dempsey-Proton Racing 911 RSR, claiming pole. The No. 77 sister car claimed second place on the grid with a remarkable turnaround seeing the No. 86 Gulf Racing Porsche claim 3rd. Gulf Racing looked out of the equation during the qualifying sessions, as they experienced gear-box issues. however, some sterling work by their pit team managed to get the car back on the track late in the last qualifying session and with enough time to set the 3rd fastest time. This relegated the No. 84 Ferrari 488 of JMW Motorsport to 4th on the GTE Am grid.
The weather looks set fair for the race on Saturday & Sunday and if the Le Mans 2019 qualifying sessions were anything to go by then we should be in for an exciting Le Mans 2019.
Written by Richard Webb
Photography by Dailysportscar