Alonso's #8 Toyota seals Le Mans pole

Fernando Alonso (ESP); Kazuki Nakajima (JPN); and Sebastien Buemi (SUI) celebrate pole position at Le Mans
© XPB 

A brilliant lap by Kazuki Nakajima early in final qualifying confirmed that the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 that he shares with Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi will start the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours from pole position.

Already having been provisional pole setter overnight after Wednesday's first runs, Nakajima found another two seconds on Thursday to set an unmatched time of 3:15.377s.

That's still half a second slower than Kamui Kobayashi's record time last year. However, that had been set in more favourable conditions than this year's cool, overcast and increasingly drizzly weather.

"Kazuki did an amazing lap yesterday. We put it all in his hands and he delivered,” said Alonso. “Congratulations to Kazuki, especially!"

That put it two seconds ahead of the sister #7 car driven by Kobayashi, Mike Conway and José María López, which never had the right opportunity to respond during a disrupted day's running. Even so, Toyota were delighted to lock-out the top two spots on the grid.

“It’s good for us, 1-2 for Toyota is what we wanted," Alonso agreed. "We know it's only the preparation for the big race - [there's a] long 24 hours in front of us, but so far it has been a smooth preparation without any problem on the car. I think we are ready."

The first of the two scheduled two-hour qualifying sessions had been red-flagged after drizzle over certain parts of the Circuit de la Sarthe led to a spate of minor incidents.

When qualifying resumed, track conditions were still against drivers improving their overnight times. Then a massive crash for Giorgio Sernagiotto heading into the first chicane in the #47 Cetilar-Vilorba Corse forced another stoppage.

With repairs necessary to the barriers, the race director decided not to resume the session, but instead to start final qualifying half an hour early and extend it by half an hour.

Nakajima got straight to work and timed his first run perfectly, setting the best lap of the day.

"It was more or less at the maximum with no traffic, so I can't complain," Nakajima commented afterwards. "The track conditions were much better than yesterday and the lap was more or less as we expected."

Attempts by the #7 car to close the gap to their team mates were thwarted by traffic and then by more intermittent drizzle, which started an hour in and grew steadily stronger as the night wore on.

The #3 Rebellion set the third fastest lap of the evening only to have the time docked after driver Thomas Laurent missed the light calling him in to scrutineering.

The #11 SMP Racing car driven by Vitaly Petrov, Mikhail Aleshin and Jenson Button failed to take part in the final session, staying sidelined in the garage with clutch issues. The car will start the race from seventh place.

In the LMP2 field, the #48 IDEC Sport Oreca held on to top spot. He improved on his overnight time by a tenth to set a new record for the fastest-ever lap in the category at Le Mans. He will start in overall tenth position on the grid.

The #31 DragonSpeed Oreca was second-fastest in LMP2. Another of the Orecas, the #28 TDS Racing entry, had a better lap deleted after failing honour the scrutineering light during the session and dropped to fourth in class behind the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca piloted by Jean-Eric Vergne.

Meanwhile Porsche took pole in the GTE-Pro category thanks to Gianmaria Bruni’s Wednesday lap of 3:47.504s in the #91. The top three in class had remained unchanged from first qualifying.

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