Le Mans: Fernando Alonso to start from pole after Kazuki Nakajima sets fastest time
Fernando Alonso will start his first Le Mans 24 Hours from pole after team-mate Kazuki Nakajima qualified fastest.
The Japanese, an ex-Williams Formula 1 driver, set a lap in final qualifying on Thursday two seconds faster than the best achieved by the sister Toyota.
The Toyotas are effectively in a class of their own at the sportscar race this year and one of their cars will almost certainly win if they prove reliable.
A Le Mans win would give Alonso part two of motorsport’s ‘triple crown’.
The Spaniard has already won the Monaco Grand Prix twice and, unable to get his hands on a competitive F1 car to add to his tally of 32 victories, has set his sights on winning Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.
Only fellow two-time F1 world champion Graham Hill has achieved the feat of winning all three classic races in the history of motorsport.
Toyota have never won Le Mans, but are strong favourites this year.
Nakajima’s fastest time of three minutes 15.377 seconds around the 8.5-mile Sarthe circuit in the car he shares with Alonso and fellow former F1 driver Sebastien Buemi was exactly two seconds quicker than the team’s other car, driven by Briton Mike Conway, Japanese Kamui Kobayashi and Argentine Jose Maria Lopez.
Without realistic competition in the front-running LM P1 category, the team have been forced to deny speculation that they are going into the race with a plan to ensure Alonso wins if at all possible given the publicity the victory would generate.
Alonso is the biggest star in the race but is not the only major ex-F1 name taking part at Le Mans.
Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion, will start seventh for the Russian-backed SMP team in a car he is sharing with ex-F1 driver Vitaly Petrov, who set the car’s qualifying time, and Mikhail Aleshin, both Russians.
Button is racing in LM P1 but his car is not a hybrid, unlike the Toyota, and the rules dictate a number of handicaps for the non-hybrid cars compared to the Japanese factory entries.
Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, a seven-time winner for Williams and McLaren in the 2000s, will line up 24th in his United Autosports car, which is in the lower LM P2 class, for slower cars.
Montoya has a chance to win the triple crown before Alonso, as he has already won Monaco and the Indy 500, but his car would need an unlikely run of luck involving reliability problems for all 10 LM P1 cars and many of the faster LM P2 cars for that to happen.
Scot Paul Di Resta, in the sister United Autosports car, will start 18th in the entry he shares with Briton Phil Hanson and Portuguese Filipe Albuquerque.
The race starts at 14:00 BST on Saturday.