With a little over an hour and a half to go, the No. 7 Toyota TS050 slowed abruptly from second place. Sure, 13 laps separated it from the next car given that the Toyotas are that much quicker than the privateer LMP1 teams, but you have to finish the race to be classified—as Toyota knows painfully after their leading car broke with just ten minutes to go in 2016.
Turns out, driver Kamui Kobayashi missed pit-in and didn’t come in for a pit stop. The confusion caused him to slow and flip through a number of fuel-saving settings on the car to run on internal combustion only briefly only to charge the hybrid system and avoid stopping on the track, but it certainly scared everyone who remembers Toyota’s heartbreak from previous years before we heard what was going on.
This is particularly concerning as Toyota is limited to around 11 laps per stint—limited by a maximum energy usage per stint, not by —in the rules. It received a 10-second stop and go penalty for exceeding the maximum amount of allowed fuel used in a stint. Not that it matters much—the No. 7 is behind a bit from the leading No. 8 Toyota, and far ahead of the next-fastest No. 3 Rebellion Racing non-hybrid LMP1.
Fortunately, after a stop back in the pits, the No. 7 seems to be running normally again. Relax, everybody: the Toyotas aren’t “finally breaking.” (At least for now. Hey, I’m not going to jinx that long-suffering, Le Mans-winless squad. To be clear, both of their cars could still break in the last hour and I’m saying this so you don’t blame me for cursing them.)
The No. 7 is a couple laps behind its sister No. 8 car, in part due to a few brief oopses from driver José María López. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, the fix is totally in for Fernando Alonso to tick off another win in the international Triple Crown of motorsport. Alonso was recently swapped out for polesetter Kazuki Nakajima to drive to the finish the race.
If you’re really curious to keep up with the Toyotas as they try to become the second Japanese manufacturer ever to win Le Mans, you can ride along with their cars thanks to their onboard cameras here.
Sadly, another Formula One favorite and veteran of recent lovable F1 failsons McLaren Jenson Button just pulled over the No. 11 SMP Racing LMP2 with an engine failure with about 55 minutes left in the race, so his team won’t be finishing the race.
UPDATE [8:15 a.m. ET] : The text above was updated with more details about Toyota’s problem and penalty.
UPDATE [8:27 a.m. ET]: Kobayashi has been ordered back into the pits for another 10-second stop and go penalty related to this, as the stewards determined that the No. 7 also exceeded the maximum number of laps per stint. It isn’t just Toyota affected by these maximums—the No. 1 Rebellion LMP1 was also brought in for exceeding their maximum number of laps per stint.
These limits might be the most annoying rules of the race, as violations are near-invisible to fans, and only noticeable if you’re keeping close watch over lap counts and the commentary feed. If they can go longer, I don’t care—even if it gives the hybrid even more of an advantage. All but three privateer LMP1s are out of the race anyway, so it’s not like Toyota really has much of a competitor this year.