Toyota Gazoo Racing has claimed its second consecutive victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, following a drama-filled closing hour of the race that saw the World Championship-winning No. 8 crew come out on top.
A sequence of two unscheduled stops for the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Jose Maria Lopez, who had enjoyed a two-minute plus advantage at the time, handed the lead and eventual win to the sister car of Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi.
Lopez, whose car had led from Hour 11, pitted with a suspected right-front puncture with 1 hour and 3 minutes to go, only for it to turn out to be an issue with the left-rear tire, in a suspected sensor issue.
It forced the Argentinean to limp around the track for a second stop, after the crew opted to initially change only the right-front.
Nakajima assumed the lead as Lopez made his second stop in as many laps, finishing 16.972 seconds ahead of the No. 7 car of Lopez, Mike Conway and pole-sitter Kamui Kobayashi.
The pair of Toyota TS050 Hybrids, as expected, dominated the twice-around-the-clock enduro, leading every lap in the incident-filled race, which saw no challenge from the LMP1 n0n-hybrids.
Nakajima finished six laps over the No. 11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 AER, which finished third overall and best of the non-hybrids.
Having exchanged the lead early, the No. 7 Toyota of Kobayashi retook the top spot from Buemi through a round of pit stops during the race’s fifth safety car period in the 11th hour.
The position didn’t change until the final hour drama for the No. 7 car.
It marked back-to-back Le Mans wins for the Japanese manufacturer as well as Alonso, Nakajima and Buemi, who have been crowned world driver champions.
While Alonso becomes a three-time FIA world champion, his co-driver Nakajima becomes the first Japanese driver to win a FIA-sanctioned world championship.
In addition to the sensor and tire issues, the No. 7 car had an off-course excursion by Lopez in Hour 8, which handed the lead to Nakajima at the time.
SMP Best of LMP1 Non-Hybrids, Scores First Le Mans Overall Podium
Stoffel Vandoorne, Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov completed the overall podium after a near-flawless run for the No. 11 Russian entry.
It came after a trouble-filled race for all of the other non-hybrid LMP1 cars.
The No. 1 Rebellion R13 Gibson of Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Bruno Senna came home fourth overall after an early race puncture, spin and trip to the garage, while the sister No. 3 car bounced back from an accident by Thomas Laurent in the seventh hour.
It was later handed a three-minute stop-and-hold penalty in the 17th hour for a rules infringement for not utilizing “re-introduced” tires prior to other tires of that specification in the race, which dropped it from third at the time.
Gustavo Menezes lost further ground after spin in the Porsche Curves one hour later.
The No. 17 SMP BR1 AER retired in the 11th hour after a heavy accident by Egor Orudzhev, who was running third overall at the time.
Shifting-related electrical issues forced the No. 4 ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01 Gibson out of the race early on, while gearbox failure halted DragonSpeed’s Gulf-liveried BR1 Gibson from DragonSpeed after completing just 76 laps.
RESULTS: 24 Hours of Le Mans