An intense battle for the front row of the 24 Hours of Le Mans has swung between New Zealand driver Brendon Hartley and race favourites Toyota overnight with the Japanese manufacturer emerging on pole.

Seldom has qualifying for the epic endurance race been so closely fought.

Kiwi Brendon Hartley took provisional pole with fastest time in the first qualifying session at Le Mans, but his time of 3:23.157 was toppled by the Toyota team late in the second session when former Formula One driver Kazuki Nakajima, who shares the No. 7 car with double Le Mans winner Alex Wurz and Stephane Sarrazin, put in a 3:22.589.

Nakajima beat his own time by almost a second in the early stages of the third and final qualifying session and was never threatened.


Most of the action came in the early part of the session before darkness set in, with Nakajima the only driver able to get under the 3m22s bracket with a 3m21.789s.
"Pole is important and to start from pole position - even though it is 24 hours - is great," said Nakajima.

"It's a very good feeling and I am really happy with the car. I was struggling with the traffic but I managed to get one lap and it was just enough. It's going to be a tough race but tonight I am happy."

Romain Dumas was able to keep Porsche on the front row for its topline return to Le Mans by improving to a 3m22.146s, while Sebastien Buemi moved the second Toyota TS040 Hybrid from fifth to third, 0.7 seconds adrift of his team-mate.

The #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid, which held provisional pole after Wednesday's opening qualifying session, did not improve its time, leaving Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard fourth on the grid ahead of the three Audi R18 e-tron quattros.

The Le Mans 24 hour race was first held in 1923 and over the years has drawn most of motorsport's top drivers to its unique challenge. It is part of motorsport's Triple Crown of premium events, which groups the Monaco Grand Prix and Indy 500 titles together with Le Mans, creating an elite 'club' of top drivers who have competed in all three. Only British driver Graham Hill has ever won all three races.

The 2014 24-Heures du Mans can be viewed live on the internet at with live timing and online race narratives at