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Toyota Smashes Le Mans Track Record in Qualifying

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Toyota TS050 Hybrid

Photo: emperornie

About an hour ago, we published an article about a 360-degree lap of the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit in the Porsche 919 Hybrid that we thought was worth a watch. Well, forget about that—this is the one to watch instead.

Kamui Kobayashi, at the wheel of the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1 car, has set a new track record at the famous Circuit de la Sarthe with a 3:14.791, beating Neel Jani’s pole position lap of 3:16.887, set during qualifying in 2015, by more than two seconds—a significant margin in motor racing.

Kobayashi’s lap was set during the second of three qualifying sessions ahead of the 24-hour race, and beats even Hans-Joachim Stuck’s 1985 lap in the Porsche 962, a 3:14.80. However, though the track length was comparable—13.626 kilometers at the time compared to 13.629 kilometers today—there is one key difference: Stuck’s time was set before the two chicanes were added to the 6-kilometer Mulsanne Straight, where Group C prototypes used to reach 400 km/h in the late 1980s.

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That Kobayashi was able to beat that lap time while having to slow down and navigate the chicanes, and while reaching top speeds much lower than in the 1980s as a result, is a testament to the modern hybrid LMP1 cars’ incredible acceleration and cornering potential.

The absolute all-time record at Le Mans remains unbeaten, though probably not for long. It was set by Pedro Rodriguez in the Porsche 917 in 1971, a 1:13.9 on a circuit that was 157 meters shorter than today and, again, with an uninterrupted Mulsanne Straight.

It’s quite possible it will be beaten later today in the final qualifying session.

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