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Motor racing-Ferrari take first pole in 50 years as Le Mans turns 100

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(Reuters) – Ferrari swept the front row in qualifying for the centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans sportscar race on Thursday, with the number 50 car taking the Italian marque’s first pole at the Sarthe circuit in 50 years.

Italian Antonio Fuoco was at the wheel of the 499P car he shares with Spaniard Miguel Molina and Denmark’s Nicklas Nielsen as Ferrari ended champions Toyota’s run of six successive Le Mans poles.

“It feels amazing, in front of all these people. Ferrari’s back after 50 years and we scored a pole position,” Fuoco told Eurosport television after the 30 minute hyperpole session.

“It was a really good lap, a really tough qualifying.”

The sister number 51 car, shared by Italian Alessandro Pier Guidi, Britain’s James Calado and ex-Formula One racer Antonio Giovinazzi, qualified 0.773 slower than the pole lap of three minutes 22.982 seconds.

The number eight hybrid Toyota of defending champions Sebastien Buemi of Switzerland, New Zealander Brendon Hartley and Japan’s Ryo Hirakawa qualified third.

The Porsche 963 shared by France’s Mathieu Jaminet, Brazilian Felipe Nasr and Britain’s former winner Nick Tandy qualified fourth.

The number seven Toyota of Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi, Britain’s Mike Conway and Argentina’s Jose Maria Lopez will line up fifth and ahead of the Cadillac driven by New Zealand’s two times winner Earl Bamber and Britons Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook.

The qualifying session was red-flagged with five minutes and 15 seconds still on the clock when the number three Cadillac driven by Le Mans-born Sebastien Bourdais stopped at the first chicane after catching fire.

Bourdais had set the third fastest time but it was deleted for causing the red flag and the car qualified eighth.

Kobayashi also lost his best lap, allowing Nasr to take fourth.

The last Ferrari pole at Le Mans was set by Italian Arturo Merzario in 1973, the last time the Italian marque entered as a factory outfit in the top category.

Le Mans is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first 24 Hours held in 1923.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond)

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