TOYOTA GAZOO Racing endured a painful Le Mans 24 Hours in which two of its TS050 HYBRIDs did not reach the checkered flag while the remaining car finished ninth.
Hopes were high of a first TOYOTA win at Le Mans when the pole position-winning No.7 TS050 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Stéphane Sarrazin led for the opening 10 hours but it retired at 1:15 am following a clutch problem.
“The race started off well with good pace and we were controlling it from the front." said Conway "Unfortunately we had the issue which took us out of the race very quickly; from having no hint of trouble to retiring so quickly was tough to see. It was a real pity and to see the other TOYOTAs have problems around the same time is just massively disappointing. We were hoping at least one of us would be on the top step of the podium today but it wasn’t to be.”
The No.8 of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima had also been in contention for the victory for almost eight hours until an issue on the front motor cost it almost two hours in the pits. It rejoined and finished ninth, setting the fastest lap late in the race.
“I don’t know where to start." said Buemi "We lost a lot of points for the championship and that’s what you think of when the victory is out of reach. Hopefully we still have a chance to fight for the World Championship. I would like to say thank you to the team, especially the mechanics who worked very hard. I feel sorry for everyone. The only thing we can do now is focus on the rest of the season.”
An accident put the No.9 of Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto and José María López out just minutes after the No.7 stopped, when it was hit from behind by an LMP2 car, causing a puncture and damaging the hydraulics. That left the car unable to shift gear and it retired on track just a few hundred metres from the pits at 1:35 am.
“It was a very hard race for us with a lot of misfortunate." said Lapierre "We had a few smaller issues earlier in the race which cost some time but we were running a strong second and back in the fight. In turn one I was hit by an LMP2 who hit the back of me due to the normal fuel cut; there was nothing we could do about it. It was the beginning of the track so it was impossible to get back to the pits. It was very, very disappointing.”
It represented a bitterly disappointing end to a race which the team had begun with strong hopes of a first TOYOTA victory at Le Mans in 19 appearances since its debut in 1985. Thursday had seen Kamui Kobayashi set the fastest-ever lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe, beating the average speed record that had stood for 32 years. The team also went into the race as drivers’ and manufacturers’ World Championship leaders following victories in the first two WEC races of the season.
But Le Mans, which is a double-points race, has proved costly in World Championship terms too. Porsche has taken a 36.5-point lead in the manufacturers’ standings, while the No.8 drivers, the highest-placed TOYOTA crew, have dropped to second, 21 points away from the leading No.2 Porsche drivers.
Le Mans regulations mean the retired cars are returned to teams only after the race, so work begins immediately to understand in precise detail the damage suffered by the No.7 and No.9 cars, while analysis is already underway on the No.8 issue.
The team will regroup and return to WEC action more determined than ever when the series continues with the 6 Hours of Nürburgring on 16 July.
Toshio Sato, Team President said, “The whole team is devastated by what happened here, after all the hard work and effort over the last months to come to Le Mans with such a competitive car. Our pace was very good all week and we were leading a tough fight with Porsche. The drivers, engineers and mechanics performed superbly this week and I would like to thank them. Of course, we sincerely congratulate Porsche on their victory because undoubtedly they deserved to win today. For TOYOTA, we must leave Le Mans again without the winner’s trophy, despite the amazing support from the fans here. We will analyse what went wrong because we cannot accept a double retirement like that during the night. We will come back stronger and more determined than ever; our Le Mans challenge will continue.”
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