Toyota TS050 Hybrid breaks Le Mans lap record - Motorsport Moments

We look back at Kamui Kobayashi’s amazing 2017 qualifying lap in our series on great moments from motorsport history.

Auto Express is looking back at some of the great cars, drivers and races from motorsport history. Our first instalment goes back just a few years to 2017, when Kamui Kobayashi broke the lap record at the Circuit de la Sarthe in qualifying for Le Mans.

Among motorsport fans, the Group C era of the eighties and early nineties is often held up as the pinnacle of sportscar racing, with the annual pilgrimage to Le Mans in France for the 24-hour race its centrepiece. Iconic, wedge-shaped machines from Porsche, Jaguar, Peugeot, Toyota, Lancia, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan and more did battle there and at circuits around the world.

During the nineties, sportscars suffered a downturn, with entry numbers for Le Mans tumbling and teams contesting regional series. Things picked up towards the end of the decade, with works entries from Porsche, BMW, Toyota and Nissan. But Audi’s arrival in 1999 kickstarted the revival towards the LMP1 hybrid era, which in years to come should justifiably be looked back on with the same reverence as Group C.

While there wasn’t the same big variety of cars, the petrol and diesel LMP1 hybrid racing machines created by Toyota, Audi, and Porsche must count among the most spectacular and sophisticated cars ever to grace a circuit. They brought advanced aero, jaw-dropping cornering speeds, mind-bogglingly complex hybrid systems and dizzyingly fast straight-line acceleration.

It’s hard to pick a single highlight from the three-season 2014-2016 heyday of fierce Audi vs Porsche vs Toyota rivalry, but it’s actually a moment from Le Mans 2017, after Audi had pulled out and in Porsche’s final year of competition, that stands out most for me. “Qualifying doesn’t matter in a 24-hour race” is the oft-repeated refrain in the week leading up to the big event, but for one incredible lap on that Thursday evening, it did. I was in the press room at Le Mans at the time, and it was an unforgettable few minutes to witness.

Following a stoppage for barrier repairs after another car crashed, Toyota got the #7 TS050 Hybrid out of the pitlane with ex-Formula 1 driver Kamui Kobayashi at the wheel at the perfect time, so he’d encounter almost no traffic on his qualifying attempt. As the time at the halfway point of the lap flashed on the screens, 1.6 seconds up on the previous best, the noise and chatter in the room abated and heads turned upward to watch the TV monitors closely.

Even after several years watching, you still got the impression footage had been sped up as these cars darted left and right through chicanes. Kobayashi’s progress in the first three-quarters of the lap was both smooth and flawless, but as with any tour of La Sarthe, the spectacular element was through the sweeping Porsche Curves.

The combination of sheer speed allied with limpet-like grip was goosebump-inducing, and the car remained composed as it bumped neatly over the kerbs of the Maison Blanche and Ford chicanes, before catapulting up the famous pit straight.

A wave of cheers and gasps erupted in the pressroom as the final time flashed on the screens. Helped by tailwinds on the Mulsanne Straight and headwinds through the Porsche Curves, Kobayashi not only took pole, but also annihilated the existing lap record. His 3:14.791 remains the fastest time with the current track configuration, more than two seconds faster than the previous record, set by Porsche’s Neel Jani in 2015.

Later in the week, the 2017 race provided a reminder of just how hard the works LMP1 teams were pushing to beat each other, as the #2 Porsche, which had a lengthy pitstop early on, fought back up the order to win, while its rivals – including its sister #1 car and all three Toyotas – hit trouble. 

Cars from the LMP2 category thus filled the other positions on the overall podium, adding a further element of historical note to an already extremely memorable event.

What's your favourite Le Mans memory? Let us know in the comments below...

Continue Reading

Recommended

Toyota launches groundbreaking 10-year warranty
Toyota service centre
Toyota

Toyota launches groundbreaking 10-year warranty

The ‘Relax’ programme covers new and used Toyota and Lexus vehicles, with the scheme applying retrospectively to second-hand models
1 Jun 2021
Toyota Corolla Cross SUV set for launch outside Asia
Toyota Corolla Cross SUV
Toyota

Toyota Corolla Cross SUV set for launch outside Asia

Toyota could soon bring its new Asia-specific C-segment SUV and more practical C-HR alternative to the USA. Could Europe follow?
19 May 2021
Subaru Solterra electric SUV to go on sale in 2022
Subaru Solterra
Subaru

Subaru Solterra electric SUV to go on sale in 2022

Subaru has announced that the Solterra, its first pure-electric model, will hit showrooms in 2022
11 May 2021
New Toyota bZ4X previews electric SUV on sale in 2022
Toyota bZ4X concept - front
Toyota

New Toyota bZ4X previews electric SUV on sale in 2022

Toyota’s first car on new e-TNGA platform is a new Volkswagen ID.4 rival
19 Apr 2021

Most Popular

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox
Dacia Duster gear lever
News

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox

With more drivers learning in autos and electric cars, the DVSA is looking to update the driving test so people can still drive manuals in future
16 Jun 2021
UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars
Electric car charging
News

UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars

Analysis reveals lithium refining takes 65 per cent of Chilean region’s water, while 40,000 child miners dig for cobalt in DRC
14 Jun 2021
Fiat 500 vs MINI Electric vs Honda e
Fiat 500 vs Honda e vs MINI Electric
Car group tests

Fiat 500 vs MINI Electric vs Honda e

The new Fiat 500, MINI Electric and Honda e are three retro-inspired electric superminis - but which is best?
19 Jun 2021
New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review
Audi Q4 e-tron 2021  front
Audi Q4 e-tron

New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review

We get involved with the new all-electric Audi Q4 e-tron SUV on UK roads for the first time
17 Jun 2021
New Volkswagen ID.4 GTX 2021 review
Volkswagen ID.4 GTX
Volkswagen ID.4 SUV

New Volkswagen ID.4 GTX 2021 review

VW ID.4 EV gets another electric motor and four-wheel drive in hot GTX form
21 Jun 2021
Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review
Ineos Grenadier prototype
Ineos Grenadier 4x4

Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review

Can the Ineos Grenadier really fill the mud-splattered void left by the old Land Rover Defender? We take a first drive in a prototype to find out...
15 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021
New Nissan Qashqai 2021 review
Nissan Qashqai 2021
Nissan Qashqai

New Nissan Qashqai 2021 review

We get behind the wheel of the larger, more comfortable and higher-tech Nissan Qashqai SUV in the UK
16 Jun 2021
Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition revealed
Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition
Ford Puma

Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition revealed

Ford unveils a special edition Puma ST, with a black and gold colour scheme chosen by Ford fans over social media
18 Jun 2021
New 2021 Vauxhall Astra to offer plug-in hybrid power
Vauxhall Astra render
Vauxhall Astra

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra to offer plug-in hybrid power

The new Vauxhall Astra will get a plug-in hybrid powertrain and a more premium image - here’s how it could look
17 Jun 2021
New Volkswagen Caddy California 2021 review
Volkswagen Caddy California MPV - front
Volkswagen Caddy

New Volkswagen Caddy California 2021 review

It’s a family hauler and weekend camper all rolled into one, but is the Volkswagen Caddy California any good?
21 Jun 2021
'A top footballer works minutes for his car, but the average worker must graft for 12 months'
Opinion - average car
Opinion

'A top footballer works minutes for his car, but the average worker must graft for 12 months'

Mike Rutherford says it's increasingly easy for them, and far harder for us, to earn enough for our new cars
20 Jun 2021
'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'
Toyota Mirai opinion
Opinion

'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'

Mike Rutherford says hydrogen-powered cars could still be a frequent sight on UK roads
13 Jun 2021
Tesla Model 3 police car all set for evaluation by UK emergency services
Tesla Model 3 police car - front
News

Tesla Model 3 police car all set for evaluation by UK emergency services

Tesla hopes to offer UK police forces a new zero-emission emergency responder option with the Model 3 police car
17 Jun 2021