Toyota believes bettering Kamui Kobayashi’s Le Mans 24 Hours lap record is possible this weekend in the final year at La Sarthe for the current-generation LMP1 cars.
The Japanese manufacturer said on the eve of the start of on-track running for this year’s 88th edition of the French classic that Kobayashi’s pole-winning 3m14.791s effort from 2017 could be within reach if track conditions are favourable.
In 2018, the pole time was 3m15.377s set by Kazuki Nakajima, while last year Kobayashi claimed the top spot with a 3m15.497s.
This weekend, the Toyota TS050 HYBRID is running 7kg heavier than it did in 2019 owing to the new Equivalence of Technology rules, with the car now 17kg up on what it was in 2017.
However, the chances of getting a clean lap have been boosted by the new-for-2020 ‘hyperpole’ qualifying format, which allows the top six cars in each class from Thursday’s first qualifying session getting the track to themselves.
Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon said any attempt at the lap record will depend on how much grip there is on the track come Friday morning.
“Normally we should be able to run in similar laptimes as previous years,” said Vasselon when asked for his thoughts on beating Kobayashi’s record.
“To beat the 2017 pole has already proven twice to be difficult, because we had at that time very exceptional circumstances, especially in track grip.
“We have never seen again the level of track grip we have seen during that session in ’17.
“But I would say theoretically we have a chance to be in the ballpark, and even beat marginally this laptime – it’s not impossible, let’s say.
“It will all depend on the level of grip we have on the track, which from year to year is not identical.”
Kobayashi (above) said he is keen to better his own record, knowing that the introduction of slower Le Mans Hypercars for the 2021 running of the race would mean the existing benchmark would stay in place for some years afterwards.
“Once you get the record, you want to break the record [again],” said the Japanese driver.
“It’s going to be important this year because we have hyperpole, so there’s more chance to be alone on the track.
“Once we’ve got a record this year, I guess it’s going to stay longer, because next year we have the hypercar which will be a bit slower than what we have now.
“I want to break the record, and keep it longer – the next 30 or 50 years would be nice!”