Toyota GAZOO Racing finished second in the 84th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours held recently in France with victory and a first place finish taken from its grasp in a cruel late twist. Both the Toyota TS050 Hybrids took turns to lead the race as part of an exciting battle with their nearest competitor and were poised to win with the Toyota Hybrid vehicle #5 crew of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima before incredible late drama. Toyota was taking part in the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours, the highlight of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.
Starting what would have been the penultimate lap, with Kazuki at the wheel, the Toyota Hybrid vehicle #5 suffered a sudden loss of power. Despite strenuous efforts to restore drive, the car struggled round the lap and stopped on the start-finish line. It was eventually restarted and completed the final lap too slowly to be classified.
The Toyota Hybrid vehicle #6 of Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi finished second.
That marked Toyota's sixth podium finish, its fifth second place, in its 18th Le Mans since a debut entry in 1985.The race was one of the closest fights in Le Mans history, with three cars locked in an intense battle for the entire 24 hours.
According to Takayuki Yoshitsugu, Chief Representative, Middle East and North Africa Representative Office, Toyota Motor Corporation, “Winning at Le Mans is a great challenge and unfortunately, a first place finish just eluded our grasp. Inspite of that, it was a commendable performance by the entire team of drivers and support staff. We will use this experience to make further enhancements to the Toyota TS050 Hybrid as part of our constant efforts to build ever better vehicles. I would like to thank our fans for their encouragement and we look forward to their support of our racing initiatives in 2016.”
According to Toshio Sato, Team President, “I am incredibly proud of our team effort, not just today but since Le Mans last year. 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. I have no words to describe our emotions today. It is simply heartbreaking but we will return stronger and more determined to win. ”
As a new car for 2016, the Toyota TS050 Hybrid with its powerful 2.4litre turbo engine, 8MJ hybrid system and redesigned chassis, did not start the race as favourite but demonstrated its potential by setting the pace throughout. Better fuel efficiency from the Toyota TS050 Hybrid allowed it to complete 14 laps per stint, while its rivals pitted one lap earlier. That reduced the number of stops required and contributed to a fascinating battle for the win.
After 20 hours of flat-out racing, the top three were covered by less than 30 seconds, but soon the Toyota Hybrid vehicle #6 dropped out of the battle for second, spending nine minutes in the garage to repair bodywork. Nevertheless, it resumed in a comfortable third place. There was no respite for the team in a nervous finale as the Toyota Hybrid vehicle #5 held off its rival until, with the race seemingly heading Toyota's way, 260,000 stunned fans witnessed one of the most dramatic finales in the history of Le Mans.
The team will analyse the cause of the problem as part of its preparations for the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours.
TS050 Hybrid #6
(Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi)
Race: 2nd (+3 laps), 381 laps, 28 pit stops. Fastest lap: 3min 21.445secs
TS050 Hybrid #5
(Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)
Race: Not classified, 384 laps, 28 pit stops. Fastest lap: 3min 22.495secs