Alex Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima qualified the #7 TS040 HYBRID, which they share with Stéphane Sarrazin, at the head of the field by a tiny margin of just 0.005secs.
The #8 car, qualified by Anthony Davidson and Nicolas Lapierre as Sébastien Buemi watched from the pits, will start the eight-race season from fifth on the grid, having missed most of final practice due to a super capacitor change.
Like last season, the WEC qualifying format requires two drivers from each car to set a minimum of two flying laps each. The grid is decided by the combined average of each driver’s fastest two laps.
Alex and Anthony started the 25-minute session and it immediately became clear that all three LMP1 manufacturers were part of a close battle for pole position.
Two flying laps from each driver put both in contention before Kazuki took the #7 while Nicolas swapped with Anthony in the #8.
With traffic and tyre degradation coming into play, the fight for pole intensified. Kazuki improved consistently and used his final lap to snatch pole by the narrowest margin while Nico, who faced traffic on his stint, took fifth.
The six-hour race will begin at midday tomorrow with TOYOTA Racing looking to add to the five wins it has already achieved in its one-and-a-half seasons of WEC competition.
TS040 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Kazuki Nakajima)
Free practice 3: 6th (1min 43.997secs), 22 laps
Qualifying: 1st (1min 42.775secs average)
Alex Wurz: “I am bit surprised with pole but we knew it was going to be close. The reason I am surprised is not that I didn’t believe in our performance, but we had a lot of discussion and debate about the set-up. Obviously our decision turned out to be a good one and worked really well. Kazuki’s lap was great; he was really on it. We worked hard to make the car consistent and so far it has paid off. But the focus is fully on the race because that is where the points are.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “I am really happy to be on pole position for the first race of the season. The lap times were very close and I needed to push hard on my last lap to get the lap time. I already had six or seven laps on the tyres. I have to say thanks to Alex, he managed the tyres really well so I had grip until the end of qualifying. I had a really good lap and it all worked out with the traffic. Pole is good for the team; I am happy that the hard work has paid off and now we push for the race tomorrow.”
TS040 HYBRID #8 (Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre, Sébastien Buemi)
Free practice 3: 5th (1min 43.835secs), 3 laps
Qualifying: 5th (1min 43.189secs average)
Anthony Davidson: “First of all it is great for the team to be on pole position. It was a fantastic drive from the #7 guys and really nice to see that the TS040 HYBRID has the pace. On our car it was not quite as smooth due to the problem this morning. It meant I went into qualifying having driven no laps since yesterday morning. The track had changed an awful lot, so had the car. It was a big challenge to extract all of the potential from a brand new set of tyres but I am pleased with my performance. The good thing is that the car looks like it has the speed.”
Nicolas Lapierre: “As a team we got pole position so I am happy to see the performance is there; congratulations to Alex and Kazuki. Unfortunately on the #8 we didn’t manage to achieve the best lap times as the missing session this morning was hurting us a bit. We also made a different choice on set-up. But it will be a long race tomorrow and we will push to get the best possible result. We expect some rain so it could be an exciting one and anything can happen.”