After the pronounced closed session in 2020, then the health gauge in 2021, the public fully rediscovers the mythical endurance car race. In his absence, nothing or almost nothing has changed: hegemonic, Toyota has won the last four editions.
It is even the rivalry between the two cars of the Japanese manufacturer that has spiced up in recent years, the N.7 of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and José Maria Lopez ending years of bad luck by winning in 2021.
The N.8 hypercar, whose crew was modified with the arrival two years ago of Brendon Hartley and last year of Ryo Hirakawa to support Sébastien Buemi, took pole Thursday and therefore sees the opportunity to return to success, after his hat-trick in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Eighth pole for Toyota
“We are very happy to have taken pole for the eighth time, which places Toyota in second position in the history of the race, tied with Audi”, rejoiced Pascal Vasselon, director of the Japanese team. . “We’re as good as we think we can be. »
Who could compete with them? “We are not going to underestimate any of our opponents,” Vasselon said. “Glickenhaus was a little behind in qualifying, it was a surprise, however we know that they are at our level in race conditions. »
Performing well on Wednesday and Thursday during the tests, the Glickenhaus N.708 and N.709 were nevertheless overtaken by the Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre during the hyperpole. But the French team took risks to gain speed over a lap, which is not a guarantee of performance over the double clock.
“If we wanted to play with them, we had to be aggressive. We optimized everything, which they didn’t,” admitted Lapierre. “We are four tenths behind while they have a little + gardened + during this session. »
Alpine main rival
Alpine presents itself in any case as the natural rival of Toyota, which it is ahead of in the classification of the World Endurance Championship (WEC) after two races. This unusual delay from the Japanese manufacturer also adds to the challenge on the Sarthe circuit.
But paradoxically, it may be the small American team of New York director James Glickenhaus who could come and titillate the two Toyota vehicles.
The N.708 and the N.709 showed regularity and reliability throughout the week, essential qualities in this race where the slightest mechanical problem can compromise everything.
“I think we have our chance, the car is good, easy to drive and reliable over the long term”, blows the boss. “We trust. We build and design cars that last. Surviving may be our chance against the Toyotas to be there Sunday at 4 p.m. »
Good weather announced for the race
The N.709 will start from the second row, just next to the Alpine, while the N.708 will be installed on the third row with the Oreca-Gibson of the Belgians from WRT alongside it, fastest in the LMP2 category. during the hyperpole.
Its main competitor should be another Oreca-Gibson, that of United Autosports, the team of Zak Brown, the boss of McLaren F1, in this category which brings together 27 small prototypes a little slower than the hypercars.
At the lower level, the Corvette N.64 will start in front of the six other LMGTE-Pro (derived from production sports cars) and the Ferrari N.61 of the AF Corse team, with Vincent Abril at the wheel, ahead of the other 22 LGMTE-Am driven in particular by amateurs associated with professionals.
If the weather remained gray on Friday at Le Mans, the weather announced ideal conditions for the race: mild temperatures and bright sunshine.