Le Mans qualifying session two kicked off today at the famous Circuit de la Sarthe, and based on what we’re seeing so far, this year’s race will be a fast one. And while you might expect the Porsche 919 Hybrid to be at the front of the pack since the Audi R18 went into retirement, you’d be surprised to know that it appears to be Toyota that’s the most dominant car in the LMP1 class.
As a matter of fact, the Toyota is so wickedly fast that Le Mans specialist, Kamui Kobayashi, actually went out and annihilated the lap record by more than two full seconds with a time of 3:14.8! And in LMP1 time, that what you would call “a country mile.” Previously, the record was set by Neel Jani in 2015 and guess what he was driving, the Porsche 919 Hybrid.
If you’re familiar with Le Mans and the Circuit de la Sarthe, you’ll remember that it hasn’t always been in the configuration that it is now. The entire course is 8.47 miles long, making it one of the longest circuits in the world. It’s also one of the fastest with more than 85% of the lap time spent at full throttle. Which in a race car, especially one like the highly sophisticated LMP1 cars, that is next level fast.
Without question, the fastest part of the track is the famous Mulsanne Straight which is 3.7 miles long. It’s here where this wild looking race cars can reach speeds well over 200mph. The current speed record is a staggering 253mph (407km/h), which was set by the Peugeot Project 400 back in 1988. However, there was a major change to the famous straightaway in 1990 which was the addition of two chicane turns evenly spaced along the 3.7-mile stretch. Race organizers had no choice but to try and come up with a way to slow down the racers because people were dying. I’m sure you’ve had a tire blow out on you, imagine that happening at 240mph.
As fast as the cars were in the “old days,” it appears as if these new cars are even faster. Because not only did Kobayashi crush the lap record set just a few years back, he also beat out a pole set back in 1985 when the Mulsanne was wide open for the entire stretch. You might not think the addition of two chicanes would be that big of a deal, but again you must remember the speeds these cars are traveling at. When you’re pinned at 240mph for 3.7 straight miles, you’re covering a lot of ground really quickly. So adding in two chicane turns which will require the drivers to get up to speed, then slow down to where they can safely navigate the turn, then back up to speed only to do the same thing a mile or so down the road. That makes a huge difference when it comes to lap times.
For today’s session, the track and weather conditions were near perfect, and surely that played a part in Kobayashi’s blistering lap time of 3:14.8. And that could change when it comes to actual race day because rather than just a quick practice session, the Toyota has a full 24-hour race session that it must endure. But that doesn’t take anything away from Kobayashi and his crazy fast Toyota, it’s still a monumental achievement and we congratulate him and his team for reaching it.