Kamui Kobayashi became the first driver to secure pole position for the Le Mans 24 Hours in the Le Mans Hypercar era on Thursday evening at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The Toyota stalwart, driving its new No. 7 GR010 HYBRID, managed a 3m23.900s in the frantic 30-minute session.
Kobayashi’s best time was almost 0.3s faster than the sister Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, which ended up with a 3m24.195s to take the second spot on the front row for the 2021 edition of the French classic.
“We were not really confident because it’s so easy to make mistakes,” said Kobayashi. “We had a good clear lap though, and lots of practice laps. Finally we made it. We didn’t expect a 3m23s; the team did a great effort. I gave it my all for Mike Conway, it’s his birthday today. We will now work hard for the race to ensure we don’t have problems.”
Despite Andre Negrao’s best efforts, Alpine was unable to truly challenge for pole after a fast showing in Free Practice 3 for the team’s A480. The Brazilian bettered the two Glickenhaus 007s, but his 3m25.574s was 1.6s off the pole time.
For Glickenhaus, being just a tenth off the Alpine will serve as a real positive. The No. 708 was the quicker of the two with a 3m25.639s.
Beyond the battle for the overall pole, the biggest story of this session was an incident at Indianapolis. The left-hander, which has caught out so many drivers already this week, claimed a high-profile victim in the opening minutes of the session.
Kevin Estre was the driver in question, the Frenchman losing the rear end of his factory No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR 19 and going backwards at speed into the barriers. The damage was hefty, and after inspecting the wreck himself, Estre told the team on the radio that there appears to be chassis damage.
Should the car be unable to continue, that may be it for the entry, as WEC TV revealed that Porsche has no spare chassis. This would serve as a big blow to Porsche’s hopes of another big Le Mans class win.
Porsche customer team HubAuto Racing did, however, step up to the plate in this session in the 92’s absence. Dries Vanthoor, the former GTE Am class winner, set a superb,3m46.886s to take the GTE Pro pole after a lap that left him “lost for words.”
His time was 0.2s up on Daniel Serra, who held provisional pole in the No. 52 AF Corse Ferrari until Vanthoor’s tour. Serra attempted to reclaim the top spot but couldn’t improve his time on his final flying lap.
Corvette Racing, which has had a rather quiet week thus far, ended third with its No. 64 C8.R, Nick Tandy made it three marques in the top three in PRO. His best time was less than a tenth off Serra.
In LMP2 Antonio Felix da Costa took pole, with a 3m27.950s in the No. 38 JOTA ORECA. He and Luis Deletraz in the WRT ORECA traded fast times during the closing minutes, the Portuguese getting the upper hand by the end of the 30-minute blast.
Deletraz had to settle for second with a best time half a second off, but a tenth up on the No. 65 Panis Racing ORECA of Will Stevens which slotted in third.
“Winning Le Mans is the goal, but to be on pole is a big deal,” da Costa said. “I’m very happy. The team has been superb with the car, it was a dream. I’m very happy with how it’s going.”
Finally in AM, Porsche teams dominated proceedings. The No. 88 Dempsey Proton example took pole after a superb effort by Julien Andlauer, who reeled off a 3m47.987s to go over half a second clear of the other challengers. Tom Gamble put GR Racing an impressive second, beating out the No. 56 Team Project 1 Porsche which will start third in class after Matteo Cairoli’s effort.
“This was my first time in Hyperpole, team did a fantastic job to produce a great car,” Andlauer said. “The team have been amazing all week. I just had to put a lap together. It’s wonderful to be up front.”
UP NEXT: Free Practice 4 at 10:00 p.m. local time