The championship favourites of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima had to make do with second place on the 61-car grid after Kobayashi bettered his overnight time with his very first lap on Thursday, with neither Toyota able to go any faster in Thursday night’s final session.
Kobayashi shaved a second-and-a-half off the existing fastest time of 3:17.161s by posting a 3:15.497s with his very first lap of the evening session, and the Japanese was quickly followed by compatriot Kazuki Nakajima at the wheel of the sister No 8, who showed no signs of the Wednesday struggles that left the championship leader down in fourth. Having been 2.676s off the pace overnight, Nakajima cut that gap to 0.411s, though the No 7’s immediate pace was all the more impressive given the team changed the car’s monocoque due to the Wednesday crash with the No 31 DragonSpeed LMP2 of Ricardo Gonzalez.
Stewards laid the blame of the head-on accident at the feet of Toyota’s Mike Conway, who clattered into the DragonSpeed at the Ford Chicanes as it attempted to return to track, with the Briton receiving a suspended three-minute stop-and-hold penalty that will only be activated if he reoffends during the weekend.
With teams only allowed to change the monocoque once throughout the entire season, Toyota elected to use up their card with the final race, knowing that they will not need it beyond the season-finale.
"Several pieces of bodywork (and the monocoque as well) had sustained damage,” said Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon. "It was possible to run afterwards, but inspecting the monocoque is always a longer job.
"It's a second deeper check which has revealed a crack. It was not reasonable to race with that, so we went for a change. It was good training for the team. For sure they are training for that, but they have been quite quick."
Like Wednesday night, Thursday’s running was far from smooth as the No 3 Rebellion ground to a halt on the exit of Mulsanne with Thomas Laurent at the wheel, with smoke billowing from the rear of the car and oil and fluids left on the track resulting in a 20-minute red flag. The Swiss team then saw the No 1 suffer a similar engine failure on the No 1 car early in the night-time session.
Those setbacks allowed SMP Racing to steal a march on Rebellion and bag third place through Egor Orudzhev, though once rebuilt the No 3 car managed to split the two Russian ones to take fourth courtesy of Gustavo Menezes, putting the top four within a second of the fastest time.
While there was little change in the LMP1 running, the same could not be said in LMP2. The No 39 Graff initially took ninth overall and pole in the second tier with a time of 3:25.073s, but the team was later stripped of the honour after their best times were deleted for “failing to stop at the weight bridge when instructed to do so”.
That handed the No 28 TDS Racing entry pole ahead of overnight pole-sitters DragonSpeed, with the No 31 ahead of their championship rivals with the No 36 Signatech Alpine third and No 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing struggling down in seventh.
After having their Wednesday night times deleted, Graff’s best from the second qualifying session leaves them 14th in class and 22nd overall.
The GTE Pro battle saw pole position change hands for the third consecutive session as the No 95 Aston Martin took the plaudits ahead of the No 67 Ford that led the opening session on Wednesday, with Thursday evening’s fastest car, the No 93 Porsche, bumped out of third by the No 63 Corvette with a last-gasp lap from Antonio Garcia.
Sadly, the 62-car field was depleted earlier in the day due to the withdrawal of the No 99 Dempsey-Proton Porsche. The team worked wonders to repair the extensive damage sustained in Wednesday’s high-speed crash on the Mulsanne, but despite passing scrutineering with the rebuilt GTE Am 911, the team were forced to withdraw when driver Tracy Krohn was advised not to race.
The 64-year-old American was at the wheel of the Porsche when it went off on the approach to the second chicane, and despite being released from hospital on Thursday morning, FIA medical staff advised him not to race for a week. It resulted in the No 99 - which Krohn was due to share with Porsche factory driver Patrick Long and amateur Nic Jonsson, being withdrawn during the second qualifying session.
“While it is a major disappointment for the Dempsey-Proton Competition team, headed up by Christian Reid, on behalf of myself, and my regular co-driver, Nic Jonsson, we want to thank all of the team members for their valiant efforts,” Krohn said in a statement.
“I respect the FIA decision as a safety precaution and look forward to competing again next year in this incredible and historic race.
“I wish to thank the medical professionals at the circuit and at the Hospital du Mans for the prompt and professional manner in which I was cared for, and of course, my wife, Laurie for her kind and loving support.
But the sister No 88 Dempsey-Proton Porsche sealed a welcome pole position with the team, supported by the No 77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche to ease their pain, with another Porsche in the form of the No 86 Gulf Racing entry securing a top-three clean sweep for the German manufacturer.
1. No 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing (Kobayashi/Conway/Lopez), 3:15.497s (LPM1)
2. No 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing (Nakajima/Buemi/Alonso), +0.411s (LPM1)
3. No 17 SMP Racing (Sarrazin/Orudzhev/Sirotkin), +0.662s (LPM1)
4. No 3 Rebellion Racing (Laurent/Berthon/Menezes), +0.907s (LPM1)
5. No 11 SMP Racing (Petrov/Aleshin/Vandoorne), +1.168s (LPM1)
6. No 1 Rebellion Racing (Jani/Lotterer/Senna), +1.313s (LPM1)
7. No 10 DragonSpeed (Hedman/Hanley/Van der Zande), +4.703s (LPM1)
8. No 4 ByKolles Racing Team (Dillmann/Webb/Ruberti), +7.612s (LPM1)
9. No 28 TDS Racing (Perrodo/Vaxiviere/Duval), +9.848s (LPM2)
10. No 31 DragonSpeed (Gonzalez/Maldonado/Davidson), +10.170s (LPM2)
11. No 36 Signatech Alpine Matmut (Lapierre/Negrao/Thiriet), +10.377s (LPM2)
12. No 48 IDEC Sport (Lafargue/Chatin/Rojas), +10.514s (LPM2)
13. No 26 G-Drive Racing (Rusinov/Van Uitert/Vergne), +10.760s (LPM2)
14. No 22 United Autosport (Hason/Albuquerque/Di Resta), +11.046s (LPM2)
15. No 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing (Tung/Richelmi/Aubry), +11.324s (LPM2)
16. No 29 Racing Team Nederland (Van Eerd/ Van der Garde/De Vries), +11.610s (LPM2)
17. No 32 United Autosports (Cullen/Brundle/Owen), +12.012s (LPM2)
18. No 20 High Class Racing (Fjordbach/Andersen/Beche), +12.113s (LPM2)
19. No 23 Panis Barthez Competition (Binder/Canal/Stevens), +12.293s (LPM2)
20. No 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing (Heinemeier Hansson/King/Taylor), +12.552s (LMP2)
1. No 95 Aston Martin Racing (Thiim/Sorensen/Turner), 3:48.000s
2. No 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK (Priaulx.Tincknell/Bomarito), +0.830s
3. No 63 Corvette Racing (Magnussen/Garcia/Rockenfeller), +0,907s
4. No 93 Porsche GT Team (Pilet/Bamber/Tandy), +1.108s
5. No 82 BMW Team MTEK (Farfus/Felix Da Costa/Krohn), +1.116s
6. No 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA (Hand/Muller/Bourdais), +1.196s
7. No 92 Porsche GT Team (Christensen/Estre/Vanthoor), +1.391s
8. No 71 AF Crose (Rigon/Bird/Molina), +1.511s
9. No 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK (Mucke/Pla/Johnson), +1.546s
10. No 69 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA (Briscoe/Westbrook/Dixon) +1.573s
1. No 88 Dempsey-Proton Racing (Hoshino/Roda/Cairoli), 3:51.439s
2. No 77 Dempsey-Proton Racing (Campbell/Ried/Andlauer), +0.206s
3. No 86 Gulf Racing (Wainwright/Barker/Preining), +0.505s
4. No 84 JMW Motorsport (Segal/Baptista/Lu), +0.984s
5. No 78 Proton Competition (Prette/Prette/Abril) +0.995s
6. No 56 Team Project 1 (Bergmeister/Lindsey/Perfetti), +1.696s
7. No 54 Spirit of Race (Flohr/Castellacci/Fisichella), +2.456s
8. No 57 Car Guy Racing (Kimura/Cozzolino/Ledogar) +4.389s
9. No 85 Keating Motorsports (Keating/Bleekemolen/Fraga) +3.407s
10. No 60 Kessel Racing (Schiavoni/Pianezzola/Piccini) +3.443s
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