Le Mans: Kazuki Nakajima takes pole for Toyota in chaotic qualifying
Nakajima's time of 1m21.789 in the TS040 Hybrid early in Qualifying Practice 3 was never bettered although the other LMP1 cars of the sister Toyota and Porsche and Audi continued to mix things up behind.
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Brendon Hartley had claimed the fastest time for Porsche on Wednesday in QP 1 but that session only ran for 53 minutes because of two incidents. The first involved Nicolas Minassian, who span his SMP Oreca leading to a red flag. Fernando Rees then crashed the Craft-Bamboo Aston Martin at the Porsche Curves, damaging the Vantage V8. It caused problems for marshals still trying to rebuild a barrier impacted by Loic Duval's huge crash earlier in the day. The session was called off with 30 minutes still to run.
Duval ended up in hospital after he lost control of the #1 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro at the Porsche Curves, hitting the barriers at 169mph.
The car was destroyed in the crash and it was feared the Frenchman could have been seriously injured. Fortunately he escaped with a few scrapes but was kept in hospital overnight as a precaution. Audi's mechanics worked hard overnight though and by 8am Thursday morning, it was completely rebuilt and ready to go before its two sister cars.
The charmed life of the #1 car continued into QP 2 when Lucas Di Grassi slid off the circuit at Indianapolis, damaging its front bodywork. The Brazilian was nursing the car back to the pits but narrowly avoided being hit by an LMP2 car, the #29 Pegasus Morgan-Nissan driven by Leo Roussel who was unsighted as he approached the Ford Chicanes and was forced onto the grass. The Frenchman was soon a passenger in the car as it slewed across the track and thumped the barriers. Red flags were out again.
Di Grassi got his car back to the pits and when the session restarted with 15 minutes to go, the #3 Audi was back out again. However, he and Roussel were both summoned to race control to explain themselves.
In the final minute of QP2, Nakajima set a fastest time of 3m22.589. The session ended with the two Porsches 919 Hybrids second and third with the fastest Audi being the accident-prone #1 R18 with Oliver Jarvis now at the wheel.
The interrupted sessions had meant many teams were behind in their pre-race programmes.
"Qualifying was a bit of a non-event yesterday but we did learn things," Anthony Davidson told AOL Cars on Thursday. "We have a pretty perfect car in terms of balance and we're just fettling with the small details of set-up tuning now and we're settled on compromising on what we have – which isn't a bad compromise.
"The emphasis is the race, it's not a huge deal if we're not on pole. It's not what this race is about."
Audi's Oliver Jarvis was equally frustrated with the early session, telling AOL Cars: "It was a very messy day, very few laps and I don't think anybody got a really clear picture of the pecking order... our focus really is to find a race set-up."
Because QP2 was shortened after Roussel's incident and another crash involving Ferrari driver James Calado, who was withdrawn from the race and sent to hospital after crashing the #71 AF Corse 458 Italia, QP3 was extended to two and a half hours.
Within 15 minutes Nakazima had improved Toyota #7's hold on pole by setting the 3m21.789. As the sun started to dip behind the grandstands, the air temperature cooled from its high of 28 degrees. Combined with a still-warm circuit, drivers were able to improve on their times and it looked as though Nakajima's benchmark could be under threat.
The #8 TS040 Hybrid did move up to third, splitting the Porsches but with 13 minutes to go yellow flags came out and stayed out until the session ended at midnight. Nakajima had done it for Toyota.