Toyota adamant SMP can challenge it for Le Mans 24 Hours pole

Toyota is expecting a challenge for pole position from the best of the LMP1 privateers during qualifying for this weekend's Le Mans 24 Hours

Toyota adamant SMP can challenge it for Le Mans 24 Hours pole

The World Endurance Championship's only manufacturer LMP1 team believes that the SMP Racing and Rebellion teams will mount a bid for the pole despite falling short of the times set by its TS050 HYBRIDs at the official pre-race test earlier this month.

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Toyota Motorsport GmbH team director Rob Leupen said: "From what we saw from the test day, based on our calculations, we believe they were not showing their true performance.

"We are expecting a tough fight in qualifying. We will be under pressure, maybe not from Rebellion, but from SMP."

TMG technical director Pascal Vasselon revealed that he had briefed the Toyota Gazoo Racing team about the likely challenge over the course of the three qualifying sessions on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

"We expect a strong challenge from SMP first and then Rebellion - that is what I said at the team briefing this morning," he said.

Toyota driver Sebastien Buemi topped the times at the test day with 3m19.440s, which was 1.8 seconds quicker than the fastest privateer lap set by Andre Lotterer in the #1 Rebellion-Gibson R-13.

The best time by one of the SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1s posted by Stoffel Vandoorne was a further 0.8s in arrears.

SMP is predicting that it will go faster than in qualifying last year when Stephane Sarrazin set a 3m19.449s aboard the fastest of the AER-powered BREs to line up fourth on the grid.

Gaetan Jego, technical director at the ART Grand Prix-run SMP said: "We are going to be quicker than last year. Are we going to be at the level of Toyota? We don't know."

Rebellion is less confident about improving on its 2018 qualifying performance when Thomas Laurent took third behind the Toyotas in the #3 car with a 3m19.449s.

It has stressed the difficulties of exploiting the increase in the rate of fuel flow under the Equivalence of Technology and that a new aero kit developed for Le Mans this year is aimed at making overtaking on the straights easier rather than outright performance.

Toyota took a second pole in a row last year with a 3m15.377s set by Kazuki Nakajima.

The weather forecast for the qualifying days is mixed, but it is expected that there will be some dry running.


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