Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Text: Steve Tarrant
Images: Rick Kiewiet, ACO, WEC-timing
Toyota will form the front row of the grid, after securing pole and second places in the 30 minute Hyperpole session. As ever, Kamui Kobayashi was the one lap wonder, finishing with a fastest lap of 3:23.900, beating the sister car driven by Brendon Hartley by 0.295 seconds. He then subsequently did a lap that coloured the timing screens purple, with the first two sectors faster than anyone else, but once he realised his earlier time was not going to be bettered by his teammate, he chose to abandon the lap and pit instead.
This is the fourth time he has taken pole position, and is now just one pole position behind all time record holder, Jacky ickx.
In the subsequent press briefing, he said, "I am very happy to be here, in Hypercar, at a fantastic circuit, in pole position. It is such a team effort being the fastest on the track and to have such a great car for the race. We have done excellent work so far. Now on to the 24-hour race!"
It is evident the Toyota still has performance to spare, so will the ACO's Technical Group look to adjust the BoP figures before the race?
Third in the Hypercar went to the Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre, some 1.674 seconds behind the fastest Toyota, and just 0.1 seconds faster than the fastest Glickenhaus, the #708 ahead of the #709.
What was noticeable with the Glickenhaus from the onboard cameras was the number of steering inputs needed to get the car through the Porsche Curves, the drivers sawing at the wheel left and right while attempting to hustle the car to go faster.
In LMP2, it was Antonio Felix de Costa in the #38 JOTA Sport that took prime position, by half a second from Louis Deletraz in the Team WRT #41. Will Stevens in the #65 Panis Racing was just a tenth behind, with newly crowned FIA Formula E world champion Nyck de Vries in the #26 G-Drive Racing a further four tenths behind.
De Costa said afterwards, "It's a great feeling, especially without much traffic and little fuel. As a driver, it's what we dream of. The first stint was not the best, but I was able to come back stronger during the second with fresh tires. The car was perfect this evening."
The pair of United Autosport cars, the #32 and #23, uncharacteristically brought up the rear of the group.
A surprise entry took the GTE Pro pole, the #72 HubAuto Racing of Dries Vanthoor claiming the fastest time. In doing so, they have created history, being the first Asian Le Mans team to compete in GTE Pro. Morris Chen, their Team Principal, was quoted before the event as saying that he "wanted to make Asia, our supporters, and our sponsors proud." I think there will be an increase of Asian viewers now for the race on Saturday.
Vanthoor's reaction to setting fastest Pro time was "I gave my all and tried to go as fast as possible. It is kind of crazy to fight with official teams like Corvette, Ferrari and Porsche. It may be surprising that we are ahead of the official Porsches, but I think it reflects that competition client services work well. I don't think I could have gone any quicker."
Heading the rest was the #52 AF Corse Ferrari of Daniel Serra, which was just 0.030 seconds ahead of Nick Tandy in the #64 Corvette. The Corvette initially had issues, leaving the pits with no headlights so had to return to the pits to resolve the problem before heading out again.
The repair time was aided by an unfortunate accident that befell Kevin Estre in the #92 Porsche GT, where he lost control of the car while taking the left at Indianapolis. The rear of the car was severely damaged, and Eduardo Freitas had to call for the red flag to stop the session while the car was removed. A very sad sounding Estre was heard reporting back to the team with a long damage report, knowing his mechanics are in for a long rebuild and the car would not be able to run in Free Practice 4 which immediately followed Hyperpole.
It was a Porsche 1-2-3 in GTE Am, with Julian Andlauer taking the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing to fastest, ahead of Tom Gamble in the #86 GR Racing, and Matteo Cairoli for Team Project 1. Antonio Fuoco took the #47 Cetilar Racing Ferrari to fourth, 1.4 seconds behind the fastest of the Porsches, and ahead of the similar car of Ben Barnicoat for #71 Inception Racing.
"The team prepared well for this Hyperpole over the last two days. My first lap was already good, then as I went into the last section, the red flag was deployed. I only had one set of tires left, so I couldn't make a mistake. I found a happy medium between risk and caution. The Hyperpole reshuffles the cards and I appreciate the format. Today we confirmed we were the fastest in our class. It proves the work our team has done is high calibre.".
The grid has therefore been formed for the 89th running of the Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans, and subject to any technical penalties being inflicted before Saturday's start at 4PM CET, the starting order will be as follows: -
Text: Steve Tarrant
Photos: Rick Kiewiet/Prescott Motorsport