Naka­jima puts Alonso’s Toy­ota on pro­vi­sional pole

New Straits Times - - SPORT -

LE MANS: Ja­panese driver Kazuki Naka­jima put the Toy­ota he shares with dou­ble For­mula One world cham­pion Fer­nando Alonso on pro­vi­sional pole for the 24 hours of Le Mans sportscar race on Wed­nes­day night.

Naka­jima lapped the dry Sarthe cir­cuit with a fastest time of three min­utes 17.270 sec­onds in the first two-hour night-time qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion.

Toy­ota, now the only ma­jor man­u­fac­turer en­tered in the top LMP1 cat­e­gory af­ter cham­pi­ons Porsche quit, have only them­selves to beat but can take noth­ing for granted af­ter los­ing out in 2017 due to un­re­li­a­bil­ity.

The Ja­panese team are seek­ing their first win at the 20th at­tempt to be­come only the sec­ond Ja­panese mar­que af­ter Mazda to tri­umph in the en­durance clas­sic.

The num­ber eight TS050 hy­brid of Naka­jima, Alonso and Switzer­land’s Se­bastien Buemi was fol­lowed on the timesheets by the num­ber seven car of Japan’s Ka­mui Kobayashi, Bri­tain’s Mike Con­way and Ar­gentina’s Jose Maria Lopez.

Kobayashi took pole last year in a record 3:14.791 and the track has been short­ened by three me­tres since then for safety im­prove­ments. While Naka­jima set the pace, Le Mans rookie Alonso com­pleted a manda­tory five laps in night con­di­tions in a car that took the trio to vic­tory in the open­ing race of the sea­son at Spa in Bel­gium.

The Spa­niard is com­bin­ing a full For­mula One and world en­durance sea­son and ar­rived at the French cir­cuit straight from com­pet­ing in last Sun­day’s’ Cana­dian Grand Prix for McLaren.

Alonso, who has also won the Monaco Grand Prix as well as For­mula One ti­tles, is aim­ing to com­plete the ‘Triple Crown of Mo­tor­port’ and needs to win Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 to do so.

French­man Stephane Sar­razin was third fastest in the num­ber 17 SMP Rac­ing BR1 non-hy­brid car with a lap of 3:19.483 while Brazil­ian Bruno Senna was fourth in the num­ber one Re­bel­lion R13 en­try.

Jenson But­ton, the 2009 For­mula One cham­pion, also com­pleted his night laps in the num­ber 11 SMP Rac­ing BR1 that was sev­enth fastest.

The 86th edi­tion of the race starts to­mor­row with Spain’s French Open ten­nis cham­pion Rafael Nadal the of­fi­cial starter of the 60-strong field.

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