Kobayashi on pole in bid for elusive Le Mans win

Jon Wilde
Kamui Kobayashi's Toyota Gazoo Racing Hypercar in the pits at Le Mans. August 2021.

Kamui Kobayashi's Toyota Gazoo Racing Hypercar in the pits during qualifying for the Le Mans 24-Hour Race. Le Mans August 2021.

Former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi has made the ideal start to his bid for a first Le Mans 24-Hour Race victory after several near misses.

The Japanese driver, who finished on the podium at his home grand prix for Sauber in 2012, has finished runner-up three times at Le Mans and third last year.

On each occasion, he was competing for Toyota Gazoo Racing with Britain’s Mike Conway as one of his co-drivers, and the duo are back for a fourth time partnered by Argentina’s Jose Maria Lopez.

Kobayashi is the track record holder at Le Mans and this year he clocked 3mins 23.900sec to take pole position by just under three tenths of a second.

It is the fourth time in the last five years the 34-year-old’s car will have started on pole at the Circuit de la Sarthe and this time he will hope to take full advantage.

Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi celebrate pole position for the Le Mans 24-Hour Race. Le Mans August 2021.

Starting second will be the other Toyota Gazoo Racing Hypercar being driven by a trio of ex-Formula 1 racers in Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima.

Buemi and Nakajima are seeking a fourth consecutive Le Mans victory, the first two of which came when they were partnered by Fernando Alonso.

Last year, Hartley took over from the Spaniard and is now looking for a third win of his own, having also triumphed for Porsche in 2017 before beginning his 25-race Formula 1 career with Toro Rosso.

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If they have a relatively trouble-free race, the two Toyota Hypercars are likely to have victory between them because they have won all three rounds of this year’s World Endurance Championship.

The Buemi/Hartley/Nakajima car triumphed at Spa and Portimao, while Kobayashi’s did so at Monza.

In the 89th running of the world-famous Le Mans event, which has been delayed from its usual mid-June date to allow fans to attend as pandemic restrictions ease, a host of past F1 drivers are competing in the various classes.

In terms of outright prospects, former Super Aguri racer, current Mercedes simulator driver and Sky Sports presenter Anthony Davidson will be hopeful of a high finish – and potentially victory in class – after Antonio Felix da Costa set the fastest LMP2 qualifying time for the Jota Sport team.

Among their main rivals in that category will be Team WRT, the Belgian outfit who have Robert Kubica and ex-F2 racer Louis Deletraz joined by Ye Yifei of China in their line-up.