Toyota finally breaks through at Le Mans

June 17, 2018

Toyota finally breaks through at Le Mans

June 17, 2018

Toyota Gazoo Racing has, at long last, won its first 24 Hours of Le Mans. Toyota has also delivered Michelin its 21st consecutive overall victory at Le Mans, extending a streak that started in 1998.

Toyota joins Porsche, BMW, Audi, Bentley and Peugeot as manufacturers who have won overall with Michelin tires in that stretch.

The Toyota team was never headed during the race and overcame only a few minor obstacles. Its seemingly usual gut-wrenching twist of fate almost took hold, but didn’t follow through.

Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima shared the winning No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, with all drivers playing a pivotal role during the week.

Nakajima scored the pole position in authoritative fashion on Thursday, then brought the car home to the checkered flag. The Japanese driver lowered the mark by two seconds in the final session compared to teammate Kamui Kobayashi.

Buemi, then, set the fastest lap of the race early on at a 3:17.658 lap. This was only 2.4 seconds off Nakajima’s pole time, and was faster than the car’s best 2017 race lap.

Alonso, meanwhile, put in a storming overnight drive to help overcome a one-minute penalty assessed for speeding in a Slow Zone. Starting from 1:30 a.m., Hour 10, the Spaniard clawed back more than a minute to the sister car. By Hour 16, the No. 8 Toyota was back in front. It stayed there almost the entire rest of the race, save for exchanging the lead on pit stops.

Toyota completed a 1-2 finish to cap off the day. The sister No. 7 car of Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez led most of the first half of the race. However, this car fell into the No. 8 car’s clutches as the race progressed.

The No. 7 car hit drama with just over 90 minutes remaining with an apparent fueling issue. Kobayashi had to limp the car home to the pit lane after slowing on the Mulsanne Straight, having missed his 11-lap window to pit. But he resumed in second place after the brief scare.

Most of the other LMP1 runners hit issues at various points in the race. Ultimately Rebellion Racing prevailed with the final podium position.

Its young gun trio of Thomas Laurent, Gustavo Menezes and Mathias Beche finished third in the No. 3 Rebellion R13 Gibson. Their teammates ended just behind in fourth.

 While Rebellion was delayed slightly with multiple garage trips, the other LMP1 cars had more significant issues.

Accidents took DragonSpeed’s No. 10 and SMP’s No. 17 BR1 chassis out of the race, while the sister SMP BR1 and both CEFC TRSM Ginettas pressed on despite various longer delays.

The TDS Racing-operated G-Drive Racing entry enjoyed a similarly dominant drive in LMP2. Formula E championship leader Jean-Eric Vergne led the driving lineup with Roman Rusinov and Andrea Pizzitola in the No. 26 Oreca 07 Gibson.

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