Kamui Kobayashi takes the Le Mans qualifying lap record with an incredible time of 3:14.791, smashing the 3:16.89 set back in 2015 by Neel Jani. Kobayashi’s 3:14 is the quickest time to ever be recorded around the current configuration of Circuit de la Sarthe, the Mulsanne chicanes were added in 1989. Kobayashi also took the highest average speed record but does not break the outright record set back in 1971 by Pedro Rodriguez who set a 3:13.9 in a Porsche 917. Kobayashi held the lead by 2.4 seconds with an hour left to run in Qualifying 2.
Things got off to an worrying start for Toyota, the #8 slowed to a stop at the exit of the second Mulsanne chicane having lost all drive but the Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi managed to get the car going again and back to the pits. Dominik Kraihamer put in a strong performance in the ByKolles ENSO posting a time of 3:26.026.
Thomas Laurent set a new LMP2 Qualifying lap record in the #38 Jackie Chan DC Oreca posting a time of 3:26.776 The sister #38 car however was moving slowly through the Porsche Curves. After last night’s limited running, due to an oil pump failure, David Cheng appeared similarly compromised, and his slow progress caused several sharp intakes of breath as he was narrowly avoided by quicker machinery.
Mike Conway took the early lead in LMP1, posting a time of 3:18.651 claiming provisional pole with 15 minutes on the clock for the #7 Toyota.
James Allen put the #40 Graff Oreca into fourth place in LMP2 with a time of 3:30.400 just before Erik Maris hit the barriers on the exit of the first Mulsanne chicane. The session was red flagged instantly and Maris extracted from the car before being taken to hospital for a precautionary check. Track action was delayed until 20:15 but the pit lane opened five minutes ahead of schedule and the session resumed.
Following the early slow running for the #8 Toyota, it was announced that the car was undergoing a precautionary engine change due to an issue with “oil supply”. As the work began however, the team discovered the source of the issue and quickly fixed it, leaving the engine in place and ensuring that the car would be fit to return to track later in the session.
As the lights went green, Kamui Kobayashi was one of the first drivers to take to the track and with a clear track in front of him, the Toyota driver smashed the lap record, posting a time of 3:14.791, everyone was transfixed to the timing screens, the entire Toyota garage watching in awe as the TS050 glided through Porsche Curves like a slot car on rails, Kobayashi on the absolute limit as he ran down to Ford Chicane and flicked the car through onto the pit straight, an enormous cheer went up from the Toyota crew as Kobayashi took the lap record by over two seconds!
Meanwhile in LMP2, Vitaly Petrov put in a stunning 3:25.549 to put the #25 Manor on provisional pole, smashing last nights previous lap record by three seconds! Petrov’s lap was good enough to take sixth overall.
Porsche quickly responded but could get no where near Kobayashi’s time, the 919 Hybrids took second and third, posting respective times of 3:17.259 and 3:18.162. The latter was improved to 3:18.067 as Timo Bernhard took over the #2. Yuji Kunimoto improved slightly but could not move the #9 Toyota out of fifth place overall.
Matthias Beche put the #13 Vaillante Rebellion up to seventh in class with a time of 3:29.884, three hundredths off the sister #31 car. Ollie Jarvis sat second in the #38 Jackie Chan Oreca behind the pole sitting Manor. A couple of laps later and Roman Rusinov moved into fourth place in the #26 G-Drive with a time of 3:28.807 but he was still two seconds off the pace of the front three.
Towards the end of the hour, Beche posted a time of 3:28.387 to unseat the #26 from fourth position. The top seventeen cars in LMP2 by this point had all beaten the previous years records. The #37 Jackie Chan DC now had Brundle at the wheel who quickly set about improving the cars position. It wasn't long before Brundle had the car up to fifth in class. This didn't last long however before Bruno Senna took fourth.
Jose Gutierrez and Andrea Bellichi sat ninth and tenth in the #26 and #40 Oreca’s with half an hour to go just before the red flags came out. The #23 Panis Barthez Ligier had stopped on the grass on the run out of the Esses. Timothe Buret spun the JSP217 but went into the wall head first, ricocheting through the gavel trap at the entrance to Tertre Rouge. With half an hour left, the red flags came out and Race Control confirmed the session would not restart.
In GTE, there was a similar story to LMP, lap times and lap records were falling. Richard Westbrook set the best time so far for Ford, putting the #69 GT third quickest at this moment with a time of 3:52.496. Following the red flag, the cars returned to track at around 20:10. Jonny Adam set the first quick time of the session, posting a time of 3:51.860 whilst in GTE Am, the #98 Aston fell from the top of the time sheets, the #77 Proton Porsche and the #50 Larbre Corvette knocking the Aston down the order. All of this before Dries Vanthoor took the GTE Am lap record in the JMW Ferrari with a time of 3:54.543!
With just over 30 minutes of the session left to run, Mathias Lauda went even quicker than Vanthoor, putting the #98 Aston back at the top of GTE Am before Richard Wee, in the #60 Ferrari, got stranded in the gravel trap at Indianapolis, the resulting slow zone temporarily halted any further effort to improve lap times. That is until the session went back to green. Euan Hankey in the TF Sport Aston Martin jumped to the top of the tie sheets with a time of 3:54.319 before Will Stevens put the JMW Ferrari on top again posting a time of 3:53.981!
Back in pro, James Calado launched his #51 Ferrari into second posting a time of 3:52.087 just before the premature end of the session. That left the #97 Aston, #51 Ferrari and #95 Aston first, second and third GTE Pro ahead of the final part of qualifying, with the top three in GTE Am the JMW Ferrari, TF Aston Martin and #98 Aston Martin. The GTE Pro lap record of 3:51.185 remained unbeaten.