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Toyota takes pole for Le Mans

The Japanese manufacturer Toyota laid down a marker for the 82nd Le Mans 24 Hours by clinching pole position in qualifying.

The No. 7 TS 040 Hybrid will start at the front of the field today and joining it on the front row will be the no. 14 Porsche 919 Hybrid.

In LM P2, pole went to the no. 46 Ligier; in LM GTE Pro and Am, Ferrari scored a double with the No. 51 and 81 458 Italias.

The session started under full sunshine, the first qualifying was somewhat disturbed. Among the first to take to the track included the No. 1 car Team Joest Audi rebuilt following the violent accident on Wednesday for Loïc Duval.

The French driver was discharged from the Centre Hospitalier du Mans on Thursday, but was not allowed to take the wheel this weekend.

He was replaced by Spaniard Marc Gené, a reserve driver of the German marque. Gené, who was driver of ZytekZ11SN Nissan-38, is now replaced by the British driver Oliver Turvey.

The two Porsche LM P1 machines took control right away. The accident of James Calado (Ferrari 71) in the Porsche curves brought the first red flag period of 25 minutes.

Shortly after, it was the turn of Lucas di Grassi, driving the Audi No. 1 who had a spin between Indianapolis and Arnage.

The Brazilian brought his car back to the pits but was running so slowly that the young Leo Roussel (Morgan-Nissan No. 29) lost control while taking avoiding action at the pit entry.

With the Porsche No.79 also in the gravel trap at the Dunlop curve, the Race Director interrupted the session again.

Although there were only 15 minutes before the break. Kazuki Nakajima (Toyota No. 7) set a time of 3:22.589, three tenths better than Timo Bernhard (Porsche No. 20) with a time of 3:22.908.

In LM P2, the best provisional time was set by the Ligier JS P2-Nissan No. 46 with a time of 3:38.094. In LM GTE Pro, the fastest time was set by the Corvette No. 73 (3:55.038) and in GTE Am, Ferrari 458 Italia No. 61 set the best time with a lap in 3:56.917.

In the second session Toyota confirmed its domination thanks to no. 7 in the hands of Nakajima, Sarrazin and Wurz. The TS 040 clinched pole with a lap in 3:21.789. As a reminder, in 2013 the quickest Audi got round in 3:22.349. Porsche went for broke but no. 14 driven by Dumas, Jani and Lieb was unable to beat the Japanese car’s time.

Toyota and Porsche have locked out the first two rows of the grid for the 82nd race, while Audi, the previous year’s winner, had to make do with the next three places.

And what a comeback for Ligier! The prestigious French make put on a stunning performance 29 years after its last appearance at Le Mans.

Thanks to a lap in 3:37.609, No. 46 driven by Badey, Gommendy and Thiriet set the fastest time in the category in front of the No. 38 Zytek Z11SN-Nissan and another Ligier, No. 35.

In LM GTE Pro there is a mouth-watering battle in perspective.

The No. 51 Ferrari of Bruni, Vilander, and Fisichella was quickest, but the AF Corse car is under threat from the very promising No. 73 Corvette C7 in the hands of Garcia, Magnussen and Taylor and the No. 97 Aston Martin of Mücke, Senna and Turner.

As a result of his accident James Calado has been forbidden to drive this weekend by the doctors. He will be replaced in the No. 71 Ferrari by Pierre Kaffer.

LM GTE Am saw the same Prancing Horse domination thanks to No. 81 driven by Bird, Rugolo and Wyatt.