Toyota Gazoo Racing endured a heartbreaking conclusion to their 2016 Le Mans challenge, seeing victory slip from their grasp in the closing moments of the 24-hour race.
Both the team’s TS050 Hybrid race cars had taken turns leading the race, in a long battle with the #2 Porsche. The #5 crew of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima were poised to win when a sudden loss of power sidelined their car on the penultimate lap. At the wheel, Nakajima was eventually able to fire up the engine again, but his final lap was too slow for the car to be classified in the official results.
The #6 Toyota of Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi led the race for long periods, but suffered its own troubles in the later stages. It came home in second place behind the victorious #1 Porsche.
The result was Toyota’s sixth Le Mans podium and its fifth second place finish in its 18 Le Mans starts since 1985.
Intense Porsche battle for 24 hours
The race produced one of the closest fights in Le Mans history, with the two Toyotas contesting an intense battle with Porsche for the entire 24 hours. The TS050 Hybrid, contesting the race for the first time with its redesigned chassis, 2.4-litre turbo engine and 8MJ hybrid system, was not tipped to win, but proceeded to set the pace throughout the race. Its superior fuel efficiency allowed the drivers to run 14 laps on each stint before pitting, while its rivals had to stop after every 13, an advantage that helped produce such a close-fought contest.
Prior to the late dramas, the team encountered few issues. The #5 car required an early additional pit stop to attend to tyre vibration, while the #6 Toyota required a 30-second stop to repair minor bodywork damage, the legacy of contact with a lapped car.
After 20 hours of flat-out racing, the top three were covered by less than 30 seconds. The #6 car dropped out of contention in the battle for second place, with a nine-minute pit stop for bodywork repairs, but returned to the track to run comfortably in third. Meanwhile the #5 car held off the rival Porsche until victory was snatched from its grasp, within just a few kilometres of the chequered flag.
You couldn’t have written the way it ended; no one would have ever believed a movie that ended like this – Anthony Davidson
The team is now analysing the cause of the problem as part of its immediate preparations for the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours.
After the race, Anthony Davidson reflected: “That was an unbelievable end to such a difficult race. You couldn’t have written the way it ended; no one would have ever believed a movie that ended like this. So to live through the experience is pretty hard to take, but it will make us stronger and we will be back.”
Toshio Sato, Team President, said: “I am incredibly proud of our team effort, not just today but since Le Mans last year. Thank you to the team in Higashi-Fuji and Cologne, as well as our partners Oreca. The way we have responded to the pain of our 2015 disappointment, by developing an all-new chassis and powertrain in a short timeframe, has been impressive and the performance of the TS050 Hybrid was strong.
“We worked as one team and took part in an amazing Le Mans 24 Hours. Congratulations to Porsche on its victory. I have no words to describe our emotions today. It is simply heartbreaking but we will return stronger and more determined to win.”