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Toyota leads polesitters for 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans

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After a staggering lap in the second of three qualifying sessions for the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans, Kamui Kobayashi’s No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid will lead the field to the green for Saturday’s endurance classic, as Toyota Gazoo Racing looks for its elusive first victory at Le Mans.

Kobayashi’s best time of 3:14.791 is a new lap record for the 8.47-mile Circuit de la Sarthe in the configuration that features chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight.

He’ll share the car with Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin, the latter driver having been swapped over to this entry for this race compared to the rest of the FIA World Endurance Championship season in place of Jose Maria Lopez.

Toyota had the 2016 Le Mans overall win in the bag with the No. 5 car, driven by Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima, last year before a technical defect occurred on a connector on the air line between the turbo charger and the intercooler, which caused a loss of turbo charger control.

That trio, now in the renumbered No. 8 Toyota, will roll off second in LMP1 and overall.

The pair of Porsche 919 Hybrids are next, with the third Toyota unable to better fifth in the hands of Lopez, Yuji Kunimoto and Nicolas Lapierre. That third Toyota can be used for strategic purposes against the Porsches for Saturday’s race.

The privateer LMP1 ByKolles Enso CLM P1/01 NISMO did well to get ahead of the LMP2 field, Oliver Webb turning the No. 4 car’s best time of 3:24.170.

The other polesitters in the other three classes are Alex Lynn (LMP2, No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07 Gibson, 3:25.352), Darren Turner (GTE-Pro, No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage V8, 3:50.837) and Fernando Rees (GTE-Am, No. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7.R, 3:52.843).

All these classes changed hands from the Wednesday polesitters.

The unofficial starting grid is below.

RESULTS
STARTING GRID

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.