Toyota on the pole, Porsche on second row, Audi on third row

LE MANS, France — Ok it’s not a Prius — not even close — but for the 82nd running of the 24 hours of Le Mans Toyota’s TS040 HYBRID and the World Endurance Championship series leader found itself on the pole after chasing the Audi e-tron quattro for the last two years.

The No. 7 Toyota with Kazuki Nakajima at the wheel posted the top qualifying time 3mins 21.789sec more than half a second faster than last year’s time. Second fastest in qualifying was the Porsche 919 hybrid with Romain Dumas at the wheel which came in at 3mins 22.146 seconds. The second Toyota was third followed by the second Porsche in fourth.

However, much of the Toyota thunder was stolen by a valiant Audi effort to rebuild its No. 1 car that was totaled in accident during practice on Wednesday when Loic Duvall lost control of the car at the Porsche curves and went off the track at high speed.

Before the first qualifying session began on Wednesday the Audi team was busy assembling a new car on the base of a spare monocoque. The three Audis ran slightly off the pace of the four front runners with the fastest time turned in by the No. 3 Audi that was just a bit more than three tenths of a second slower than the fourth place qualifier.

According to Audi,  Duval’s name will continue to be present on the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro at Le Mans. His place in the cockpit was taken over by the Spaniard Marc Gené. Together with Lucas di Grassi and Le Mans record winner Tom Kristensen, Gené will start the race from grid position seven.

The fastest time of car #1 was achieved by di Grassi in 3m 25.814s.

One must remember that this is not a 250 mile race, or even a 500 mile Indy race — but a 24 hour long race in which the winning cars will travel nearly 3,000 miles. In this twice around the sun race there is likely to be more plot twists than an hour of “24”. Toyota and Porsche seem to hold the high cards at this writing. But this is Le Mans and anything can happen.

Qualifying results:

1 Nakajima/Sarrazin/Wurz (Toyota) 3m 21.789s
2 Dumas/Jani/Lieb (Porsche) 3m 22.146s
3 Buemi/Davidson/Lapierre (Toyota) 3m 22.523s 
4 Bernhard/Hartley/Webber (Porsche) 3m 22.908s
5 Albuquerque/Bonanomi/Jarvis (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 3m 23.271s
6 Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 3m 24.276s
7 di Grassi/Gené/Kristensen (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 3m 25.814s
8 Beche/Heidfeld/Prost (Rebellion-Toyota) 3m 29.763s
9 Belicchi/Kraihamer/Leimer (Rebellion-Toyota) 3m 31.608s
10 Thirlet/Badey/Gommendy (Ligier-Nissan) 3m 37.609s

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