After years of trying and failing, the No. 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid has finally taken the Le Mans victory the team has so desperately wanted. In doing so, Toyota has become only the second Japanese manufacturer in history to win the race overall, following on from Mazda’s 1991 victory. While Audi and Porsche both quit FIA WEC series competition in the last couple of years, leaving Toyota with no credible combatants for the overall, the victory was still not a guarantee. Le Mans is a fickle race, and Toyota still needed to produce the result.
Le Mans has not been kind to Toyota in recent years. The team suffered several failures in the 2017 running, where three cars were entered. 2016 was heartbreak of the highest degree as the dominant Toyota runner popped a small hardware component, causing the car to slow on the final lap of the race. The Toyota Gazoo crew have brought fast cars to Le Mans frequently in their tenure at the track, but until this year could not find the checkered flag.
Some will say that this race carries an asterisk, being that Toyota ran essentially unmatched with no other LMP1 Hybrid runners. For me, that fact takes nothing away from the victory driven by Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima, and Sébastien Buemi.
It was Alonso who grabbed all of the headlines this weekend, but it was truly a team effort to get this car to the finish at the sharp end of the field. Alonso moved the 8 car into the lead at the close of hour 4. The race was really decided once and for all when Kamui Kobayashi failed to enter the pit lane for his scheduled stop and was forced to limp around the circuit at very slow speeds to avoid running out of fuel. While there were a few changes of lead with the No. 7 sister car on pit stop cycles, it was clear the Alonso/Nakajima/Buemi car was the favorite.
In the LMP2 class, the G-Drive No. 26 Oreca Gibson of Roman Rusinov, Andrea Pizzitola, and Jean-Eric Vergne absolutely dominated the proceedings. By running an inch-perfect race, the G-Drive team moved into the lead early on in the race. By staying out during the race’s first safety car, the team were able to gain the better part of a lap on the rest of their competitors. It wasn’t long after that the team gained a full lap on the LMP2 field.
In both prototype classes, the winners stretched and early lead and ran unencumbered to the finish. This is the kind of race that teams need to run in order to win here at Le Mans. It makes for a boring race from a spectator’s perspective, but the best teams will always take a boring win over an exciting loss. They say “Le Mans lets you win,” because there are so many things that can go so wrong. Congrats to both teams for taking their well deserved victories.