LE MANS, France — Fernando Alonso’s Toyota squad will start the Le Mans 24 Hours from pole position.

Having topped the timesheets in the initial qualifying session on Wednesday night, the No.8 team extended its advantage over the other Toyota car to exactly two seconds on Thursday when Kazuki Nakajima set a 3:15.377. That was just 0.5s off the lap record Toyota set at Le Mans last year.

Having featured earlier in the day, Alonso got into the car with an hour remaining of the third and final qualifying session. Earlier this week the two-time world champion stated his desire to maximise his experience of night-time running ahead of the race itself.

Unlike the night before, when he visited the circuit at one of its busiest points, Alonso spent much of his time in the car as light rain fell on the circuit, meaning most other cars remained in the garage. It meant the final 30 minutes or so felt more like a private Toyota test than an open qualifying session for every class, with the No.8 and No.7 cars completing a series of quick pit-stop practices.

Toyota’s huge pace advantage meant pole position always seemed a certainty for the Japanese manufacturer. It is heavily favoured to win but has a history of heartbreaking failures and retirements at this race, which it is still yet to win. As a result, the team has taken an almost obsessive approach to reliability in the lead-up to the race, having actively broken the car to find every fix possible — for example, at one test this year, it sent the car out with three wheels to see if its drivers could still return it to the garage.

Jenson Button’s SMP Racing team will start from seventh on the grid. Button, who has signed up to contest the remainder of the World Endurance Championship ‘Super Season’ (which runs until next year’s Le Mans) with the Russian outfit. The race will host a number of other ex-F1 drivers. The No.7 Toyota team includes former Sauber and Caterham man Kamui Kobayashi. The LMP2 category, below the premier LMP1 division which Toyota competes in, features the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Jean-Eric Vergne, Felipe Nasr and Pastor Maldonado.

The Le Mans 24 Hours starts on Saturday, June 16, at 3pm local time.