Monday, 22 April, 2019

Nakajima puts Alonso's Toyota on provisional pole at Le Mans

Fernando Alonso Fernando Alonso is competing in the Le Mans 24 Hours race for the first time this weekend
Cassandra Castillo | 18 June, 2018, 00:28

Improvements from both Rebellions at the start of the final two-hour session looked to have secured the leading privateer outfit a second-row lockout, only for the faster #3 auto to have its time removed.

Toyota are the only team in the class with the other LMP1 cars not being hybrids and being run by privateer teams which incurs a raft of penalties thereby meaning the Japanese cars are likely to win barring reliability issues.

Which events will Fernando Alonso race in during the 2018 season? In the GTE classes, it looks to be a fight between Porsche and Ford for the top spot, with Ferrari potentially able to get involved but BMW and Aston Martin looking to be off the pace.

That leaves Toyota [pictured above] as the sole hybrid-powered LMP1 manufacturer this year, making it the favourite team to take outright victory. The team entered the session in a provisional fifth.

DragonSpeed's BR1 set the sixth-fastest time, but hit trouble when Renger van der Zande stopped at pit exit, while the No. 11 SMP Racing BR1 of Jenson Button, Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov could only muster a time good enough for seventh-fastest. Button's vehicle, unlike Alonso's Toyota, is not a hybrid, and he will face series of handicaps. And considering Toyota has been denied nearly certain victory over the past two years because of vehicle faults, the privateer teams may well have a chance at winning.

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. The eighth vehicle in the LMP1 class, is the ByKolles Enso CLM.

They may lack grunt on the circuit's massive Mulsanne straight, but LMP2 cars have proven to be competitive in the past.

More news: Mexico beats cup holders Germany

Elsewhere in LMP2, the Chinese DC Racing squad is back for more after dramatically finishing on the overall podium a year ago when numerous LMP1 runners hit trouble, while ex-F1 driver and the current Formula E points leader Jean-Eric Vergne turns out for G-Drive Racing, alongside Andrea Pizzitola and Roman Rusinov.

The second-tier LMP2 class has a total of 20 entries this year, including a two-car effort from the Anglo-American team United Autosports.

It would thus not be surprising if Toyota were to give its #8 vehicle the edge over the #7 TS50 Hybrid in a bid to help Alonso win the race.

Last, but certainly not least, is the GTE (Grand Touring Endurance) class. 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.

They are not identical to their road auto counterparts, though, as each vehicle is fitted with specially developed engines and an assortment of wings to help them generate grip at high speeds.

The category has consistently delivered close racing in the past, such as Aston Martin driver Jonny Adam's thrilling last-lap battle with Corvette in 2017 to take the win.

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