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Alonso No 8 car takes Le Mans pole

NEWS STORY
15/06/2018

Toyota Gazoo Racing took pole position for the 86th Le Mans 24 Hours and locked out the front row as qualifying for the second round of the World Endurance Championship (WEC) concluded at the Circuit de la Sarthe on Thursday night.

Kazuki Nakajima earned his second career pole position at Le Mans, and Toyota's fourth, with a lap of 3:15.377s right at the start of third qualifying in the #8 car he shares with Sebastien Buemi and Fernando Alonso.

Both Toyotas will start Saturday's race from the front, with the #7 car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Marķa Lopez earning second place thanks to a best lap set by Kamui in first qualifying.

A perfect qualifying result brings an extra World Championship point but the team's focus throughout preparations was on consistent, reliable performance in the race, which Toyota is attempting to win for the first time at its 20th attempt.

Grid positions are decided by the fastest lap from any of the three two-hour qualifying sessions, but there was no opportunity to improve on Wednesday's times during second qualifying. Two red flags made for relatively little action and ultimately saw the session halted 24 minutes early as a result of an LMP2 accident.

But third qualifying was different, with both cars immediately hitting the track to fight for pole position. A clean lap from Nakajima significantly improved the pole position time and set a new track record for the updated 13.626km circuit lay-out, in use for the first time this year.

With up to 60 cars on track, traffic is always a factor in qualifying and it did not fall kindly for Kobayashi, who was unable to improve on his Wednesday lap time. For the remainder of the session both cars focused on race preparations and experienced a wet track when light rain began to fall around 10.30pm.

That provided important data ahead of the race but meant the fight for grid positions was effectively over for the entire grid well before midnight.

There is no track action today (Friday) but that does not mean anyone in the team has a day off. While mechanics will work hard to prepare both cars for the race, the drivers will meet some of the 250,000 fans during the unique drivers' parade in the city centre.

"I'm definitely happy," said Alonso. "We know that qualifying is not really important for a 24-hour race but I'm happy for Toyota to be one-two ahead of the long race in front of us.

"Kazuki did a very good lap," he added. "I'm happy for him to put the car on pole. It's what we wanted to achieve. But we have earned nothing yet, this is just a preparation for the race. We have a long 24 hours in front of us but so far it has been a smooth preparation without any issues on the car. We are ready."

Combined qualifying results:

1st #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing 3:15.377s
2nd #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing + 2.000s
3rd #1 Rebellion (Jani/Lotterer/Senna) + 4.072secs
4th #17 SMP (Sarrazin/Orudzhev/Isaakyan) + 4.106secs
5th #3 Rebellion (Beche/Laurent/Menezes) + 4.568secs
6th #10 Dragonspeed (Hedman/Hanley/Van der Zande) + 5.733secs

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