By Steve & Tamami Laser
The 87th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans saw Toyota Gazoo Racing score a dramatic one-two finish following its historic first victory last year.
Defending their title in the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, and Fernando Alonso also captured the drivers’ World Championship. Teammates Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and José María López came in second in the #7 car.
With 62 cars sharing the 13.626km circuit, anything can happen in the 24-hour race. Thus the cars, drivers, and team must work together to handle changing track conditions, fatigue and potential exhaustion, plus mechanical glitches.
During Le Mans week, teams complete close to 35 hours of driving, including a four-hour practice session on Wednesday along with two hours of qualifying. The next day, two more 120-minute qualifying sessions were held and the starting grid was set using the fastest lap from any of the qualifying sessions.
TS050 Hybrid delivers four-wheel-drive via motor-generators at the front and rear axles. The 1,000 hp cars are said to use about 35 percent less fuel than in 2012 when Toyota entered its first LMP1 hybrid car. Energy generated during braking is harvested by the motor-generators and converted into electrical energy, which is deployed under acceleration to save fuel and deliver performance.
During the 24-hour race, it looked like car #7 was headed to victory with a lead of more than two minutes in the 367th lap. The car also set the fastest-ever LeMans race lap of 3 minutes, 17.297 seconds. However, López was forced to pit following an alert for a tire puncture. Unfortunately, a sensor issue caused the wrong tire to be replaced, so he had to return to the pits following a slow lap for another tire change.
Kazuki took the lead in #8 and crossed the finish line in first place at 385 laps. TS050 #7 came in second at +16.972 sec. Rounding out the top six finishers was third-place SMP #11 with +6 laps, fourth place Rebellion #1 at +9 laps, fifth-place Rebellion #3 at +15 laps, and Signatech Alpine #36 at +17 laps.
It’s celebration time in this video that highlights the spirit of the moment when Toyota Gazoo Racing captured first and second place finishes at the 87th Le Mans 24 Hours. (video: Toyota Motorsport GmbH)
Here’s a quick look at the TS050 Hybrids on the track during the heat of the action on Saturday at Circuit de la Sarthe. (video: Toyota Motorsport GmbH)
“I would like to truly thank all fans, supporting companies and all team members who fought with one heart,” said Shigeki Tomoyama, Gazoo Racing Company President. “In order to win Le Mans, a fast car alone is not enough. We also need a strong car and team. We wanted to improve on the victory last year; we made a continuous effort to improve everything and I believe this was clear in this year’s victory.”
“It was a difficult race for us because we knew that it was possible to lose the World Championship,” said Buemi. “When we started the race we wanted to stay on the pace of car #7 but after only five laps I realized this was nearly impossible. We got stronger during the race but admittedly car #7 was quicker in the end. I would have been satisfied to finish the race in second so what happened to car #7 is really painful. I am really sorry for them, they did an amazing job.”
“This year the Le Mans win was decided by luck and not by performance,” said Nakajima. “It was a tough race and what happened to car #7 is hard to believe. We experienced a similar situation in 2016 so we know how this feels and we feel for our teammates. Thanks to our win we are also World Champions and we are very proud of this after a long and hard season, which included many close fights with our sister car.”
“It is amazing to win Le Mans for the second time but the win came really unexpectedly,” said Alonso. “We did not have the pace to win this race against #7 on the track. Today luck was a big factor and this is part of motorsport. I feel for my teammates who are actually more than teammates, they are friends. They would have deserved the victory, but the race chose us to win it. Our main goal was to win the World Championship and we are very proud that we have achieved this.”
News source and photos courtesy Toyota Gazoo Racing Co., and Toyota Motor Corp.; videos courtesy Toyota Motorsport GmbH
Story intro and commentary © 2019 CarNichiWa.com