Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi, in the #8 TS040 HYBRID, grabbed pole by 0.043secs in the final moments of qualifying to extend their advantage in the Drivers’ World Championship to 12 points.
That point also brought the team to within 17 points of the Manufacturers’ Championship lead ahead of tomorrow’s race, the fifth of eight WEC races this season.
The #7 car has won this race for each of the last two seasons and will again be in the fight tomorrow. Alex Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima, who share the car with Stéphane Sarrazin, earned fourth place in qualifying.
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 both delayed their start of qualifying in order to find a clear track and that decision paid off as they battled for top position, with Anthony ultimately setting the fastest lap of the session on his first flying lap.
After the driver changes, qualifying was made more challenging for Kazuki and Sébastien when the red flags came out with seven minutes to go due a minor incident.
While rivals waited in the pits, both TS040 HYBRIDs stayed on track to improve position, entertaining a big crowd in the process. On his very last lap, Sébastien overturned the deficit to take TOYOTA Racing’s fourth pole from five races in 2014.
Earlier in the day, the team fine-tuned its qualifying and race set-ups during the final, one-hour practice session. A trouble free session saw Anthony set the fastest lap of the session, while Stéphane put the #7 in fourth.
TS040 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Kazuki Nakajima)
Free practice 3: 4th (1min 27.980secs), 27 laps
Qualifying: 4th (1min 27.437secs average)
Alex Wurz: “I am happy for the #8 to get pole position like that. On our car we struggled with the front end throughout the weekend in the first sector and we couldn’t close the gap to the #8. It is a bit disappointing for us but never mind. I know the race is six hours long so we’ll see. I think the race could still be good for us.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “Firstly congratulations to the team. It is great to have the pole position, especially in such dramatic circumstances. We struggled a bit on the #7 car but I am sure we are strong in race trim and compared to the other manufacturers it is not too bad. It’s a six-hour race, so we keep pushing.”
TS040 HYBRID #8 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi)
Free practice 3: 1st (1min 27.033secs), 28 laps
Qualifying: 1st (1min 26.886secs average)
Anthony Davidson: “That was an amazing qualifying session, getting pole position for our home race. You never know what’s going to happen in aggregate qualifying. I was confident we had the speed. My second flying lap should have been faster but there was mud on the track at turn 15 which cost a little time. Still I thought it was enough. It was but only just; we really had to work for it. Thanks to the team, including everyone at TOYOTA; without their support we wouldn’t be on pole today.”
Sébastien Buemi: “This is the best qualifying you can dream of because at the last minute we grabbed the pole by such a small margin. If you get pole like in Austin when it is by some distance it is great, but to fight so hard for it and succeed is just perfect. After Anthony’s first laps I thought it might be relatively comfortable for us but I was wrong. We struggled a bit to warm up the tyres so I had quite low grip for my first laps, then the red flag came and the tyres cooled as we waited in the pit lane. But they came up to temperature and just in time for my last flying lap.”