TOYOTA GAZOO Racing endured a painful Le Mans 24 Hours in which two of its TS050 HYBRIDs did not reach the chequered flag while the remaining car finished ninth.
Hopes were high of a first TOYOTA win at Le Mans when the pole position-winning #7 TS050 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Stéphane Sarrazin led for the opening 10 hours but it retired at 1.15am following a clutch problem.
The #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.
An accident put the #9 of Nicolas Lapierre, Yuji Kunimoto and José María López out just minutes after the #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 1.35am.
The race, round three of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), was won by the #2 Porsche from the #38 and #13 ORECA LMP2 cars, following a technical issue for the #1 Porsche, which retired from an 11-lap lead.
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 #8 drivers, the highest-placed TOYOTA crew, have dropped to second, 21 points away from the leading #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 #7 and #9 cars, while analysis is already underway on the #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: “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.”
Le Mans 24 Hours results:
1st #2 Porsche (Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley) 367 laps
2nd #38 Jackie Chan DC (Tung/Laurent/Jarvis) +1 laps
3rd #13 Rebellion (Piquet/Heinemeier Hansson/Beche) +3 laps
4th #37 Jackie Chan DC (Cheng/Gommendy/Brundle) +4 laps
5th #35 Alpine (Panciatici/Ragues/Negrao) +5 laps
6th #32 United Autosports (Owen/De Sadeleer/Albuquerque) +5 laps
9th #9 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +9 laps