Toyota Gazoo Racing Takes 1-2 Finish at 87th Le Mans 24 Hours
Toyota Gazoo Racing won the 87th Le Mans 24 Hours with a one-two finish at the Circuit de la Sarthe following a dramatic final hour of the 2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, and Fernando Alonso, in the #8 TS050 Hybrid, defended their Le Mans crown and secured the drivers’ World Championship in the process, winning by 16.9 seconds from team-mates Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and José María López in the #7.
But those bare facts do not reflect the true drama of the closing stages, which denied the #7 what seemed a certain victory in front of 252,500 spectators.
On the 367th lap, with a lead of over two minutes, data on the #7 car indicated a puncture and López pitted to replace the tire. A sensor issue resulted in the wrong tire being identified, meaning López left the pits still with a deflating tire. That necessitated a slow lap back to the pits when all four tires were changed, handing an unassailable lead to Nakajima in the #8.
The #7 crew had controlled much of the contest, having set the fastest-ever Le Mans race lap of three minutes, 17.297 seconds. Other motorsport records were rewritten too; Nakajima became the first circuit-racing World Champion from Japan and Alonso is the second driver to win four-wheel world titles in two different disciplines, having previously been crowned a Formula 1 champion.
The #7 car had started the race from pole position following Kobayashi’s fastest qualifying lap, with the #8 starting just behind. That set the scene for an exciting and close battle for overall victory between the two 986-hp TS050 Hybrid, with momentum swinging one way and then the other.
After 12 hours the two Toyotas were separated by only 8.6 seconds. In the night, the #7 seized a decisive advantage as the sister car faced an aerodynamic imbalance. That was caused by bodywork damage due to the rigors of a tough, flat-out contest although the cars were always on the same lap.
As the final hours approached, the gap remained relatively stable around two minutes and the focus switched to bringing the cars home safely. All appeared to be going to plan until the #7 experienced its dramas and Nakajima took the lead with less than an hour to go.
“We have an unusual feeling because we have won our second Le Mans but everyone in the team is sorry for Mike, Kamui, and José and the #7 crew, who would have been deserving winners,” said Team President Hisatake Murata. “We will investigate the exact cause of this issue in the coming days to avoid a repeat. Nevertheless, I am proud of the overall performance as well as the team spirit which we showed throughout the race, also in the difficult moments in the final hour. Congratulations to the new World Champions Sébastien, Kazuki, and Fernando, also on their second Le Mans victory. This was a dramatic end to an incredible season for Toyota Gazoo Racing and we look forward to defending our titles next season.”