TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will start its home race from pole position after taking a clean sweep, despite late drama, in qualifying for the 6 Hours of Fuji, the second round of the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley set the pace in the #8 TS050 HYBRID they share with Sébastien Buemi, setting an average time of 1min 25.013secs in front of the team’s home fans.
It will be an all-TOYOTA GAZOO Racing front row after Kamui Kobayashi and Jose María López put their World Championship-leading #7 car, which they drive alongside Mike Conway, into second place on the grid, 0.790secs behind.
Prior to qualifying, the team enjoyed a surprise visit from Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda, during which he spent time with the drivers and visited the garage, greeted by team members.
It was not a straightforward qualifying session, with a red flag and a track limits violation combining to force a late dash to the flag for the #7. After José had set the second fastest time earlier in the session, Kamui took the fight to the #8 but was judged to have left the track on his single flying lap, so it was deleted.
At the same time, the #6 Ginetta, which had been the closest threat to the TS050 HYBRIDs, stopped on track, causing a red flag. With just three-and-a-half minutes remaining, Kamui had to complete an out lap and set a fast time on used Michelin tyres to earn a front row spot. He navigated the LMP2 traffic and earned second.
The #8 crew enjoyed a smoother qualifying, with Kazuki setting the fastest lap of the session on his first effort, supported by a clean effort from Brendon, who had earlier had to abandon his first attempt due to traffic.
As a result, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will start from pole position for the ninth consecutive race as it seeks a seventh straight WEC victory. Rebellion #1 will lead the non-hybrid LMP1 challenge from third after qualifying 1.150secs slower.
Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “It’s great for the team to start our home race from the front of the grid. On our car, we did our best but it was always going to be hard having more success handicap than anyone else. We knew there was no real chance of pole so that wasn’t a surprise. I had the track limits issue on my first lap but it all worked out fine in the end and I’m satisfied with the result.”
José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7): “We knew it was going to be impossible to match the speed of car #8 due to the success handicap. I was a bit on the safe side with my lap because it made no sense to take any risks. Both of us did decent laps and I’m happy with qualifying, especially because on Friday we were not even sure we could fight for the top three. In the end it’s a very good result for the team to lock out the front row.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “I’m very pleased with pole position. I think I got the maximum out of the car on my lap; it was clean with no mistakes. We were worried about qualifying because we didn’t know what to expect from the non-hybrid LMP1 cars so I’m happy to be on pole. It’s good to start our home race from the front; I hope we stay there throughout the whole six hours.”
Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It’s a nice feeling to take my first pole position with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing. Kazuki did an amazing first lap because it’s always hard going out first. I had a lot of traffic in the last sector of my lap so I needed to do another one and that was enough for the pole. It was a surprise that the non-hybrid LMP1 cars were not closer but we are still expecting a close race tomorrow.”