Photo: ACO

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

Daniel Ricciardo to decide soon about moving from Red Bull to another F1 team

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) Daniel Ricciardo says over the next six weeks he wants to decide between staying at Red Bull or joining another Formula One team for next year.

Ricciardo said on Thursday at the French Grand Prix, “It would be nice to go on the summer break knowing what I am doing.”

F1 is working its way toward its three-week break in August with speculation mounting that Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren are interested in luring Ricciardo away from Red Bull for 2019.

“I will be honest, everyone is talking about Mercedes and Ferrari as potential places for me to go, and I am aware that there will be interest from other teams,” he said.

The Australian driver has won seven races in his four-plus seasons with Red Bull. He is fourth in the standings behind leader Sebastian Vettel heading into the race at the Paul Ricard Circuit near Marseille.

Ricciardo’s stock has risen in recent months after his victories in Shanghai and Monaco. His Monaco win was particularly impressive because Ricciardo had to deploy some masterful defensive driving to protect his lead after losing an estimated 25 percent of his engine power.

Ricciardo said he had not directly spoken to rivals Ferrari and Mercedes, but he hedged when asked if his manager had.

“People talk, have coffees, I will leave that one open-ended,” he said with a laugh.

Ricciardo called the decision on whether to go or stay with Red Bull the biggest choice of his career following his decision to leave his native Australia and continue his racing career in Europe over a decade ago.

“For sure the priority is to get a car to win the world title because I really believe I can,” he said. “I am slightly careful because it is easy to think the grass is greener and maybe it is, but I also have it pretty good where I am.

“People do like a change but just to make change for the sake of making a change is not enough for me. I need to find some substance behind it to jump ship.”

Red Bull announced recently it would be ending its 12-year partnership with engine-maker Renault and switching to Honda motors for next year.

Ricciardo was hesitant to endorse or criticize the change, saying he was going to “try to keep putting the pieces together if it is a good move.”

But with the question of the engine manufacturer out of the way, Ricciardo said Red Bull would likely be looking to resolve its drivers’ lineup for next year.

“I haven’t been pushed yet, but I would say that there will be some movement in the next week,” he said. “Whether that is something that gets put down on paper (or not), for sure the discussions will start to ramp up in the next few days.”