TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s winning streak at the Le Mans 24 Hours came to a valiant end after an epic day-long battle for an historic victory in the centenary edition of the legendary French race.
After five consecutive Le Mans wins, the World Champions took on the challenge of a record 16-car Hypercar field featuring competitors from Cadillac, Ferrari, Peugeot and Porsche. A sell-out 325,000 crowd witnessed an exceptionally close contest featuring drama and excitement until the very end.
Last year’s winners Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, saw off all competitors bar one. After 24 relentless hours of racing, the #8 crossed the line in second place, 1min 21.793secs behind the winning #51 Ferrari.
Only one GR010 HYBRID reached the chequered flag at the end of 342 laps. The #7 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López saw their victory hopes dashed through no fault of their own, by an accident after eight hours. Kamui was at the wheel when his car was hit from behind, causing terminal damage.
Both GR010 HYBRIDs had been at the front from the beginning when Sébastien led the early stages after starting third, with Mike fighting for the podium positions from fifth on the grid.
An exciting battle ignited immediately with spectacular wheel-to-wheel racing among the top 10 through the opening hours. Two rain showers added to the drama and positions changed as frequently as the conditions, with the GR010 HYBRIDs staying in contention during the first third of the race.
At that point, the #7 led the charge from second but their race ended at Tertre Rouge. Approaching a slow zone, where a maximum 80km/h speed applies and overtaking is forbidden, Kamui slowed to avoid passing another car and was hit from behind by two lapped cars. The impact caused driveshaft, tyre and bodywork damage meaning the car could not return to the pits.
In a show of team spirit and determination, the #7 crew of mechanics and engineers put that disappointment aside and immediately joined forces with their #8 counterparts to strengthen the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing challenge.
After the #94 Peugeot and #50 Ferrari dropped back, the #8 fought a titanic battle with the #51 Ferrari, initially leading in the early morning until it dropped to second when pitting to fix a damaged front splitter and right rear tyre puncture.
The leading pair kept up a relentless pace as the momentum swung back and forth. After 20 hours of racing, only three seconds separated the two leaders and there was no respite in the closing stages.
When Ryo took over with two hours to go following an impressive quadruple stint from Brendon, he was 16secs behind. He set about closing the gap but moments later the #8 went off at Arnage, hitting the barriers and damaging the front and rear bodywork. The #8 retained second place despite losing three minutes.
After those repairs, Ryo returned to the track but the contest with the leading Ferrari was over, with the priority now on reaching the chequered flag safely in a second place which, despite the disappointment, extends their drivers’ World Championship lead to 25 points.
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s advantage in the manufacturers’ World Championship has been cut to 18 points over Ferrari, with three races remaining. The next race, the 6 Hours of Monza, takes place in four weeks, on 9 July.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “Unfortunately, the centenary Le Mans was not our race. We had bad luck on car #7 when I was driving. It’s hard to believe what happened. During a slow zone procedure, a car ahead braked and I reacted to avoid a penalty, but I was hit from behind. It damaged the car and there was no solution to get back to the garage. That was tough for us because I think we had done a strong job up to then. Car #8 fought as hard as possible until the end and finished second. As a team we did everything we could, we got the maximum performance from the car and the drivers gave everything. We really fought hard to win this centenary Le Mans and everyone enjoyed working together to try to get the victory. We need to come back stronger; that’s how we deal with disappointments. Thank you to everyone who has supported. We will fight again together soon.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “Car #8 drove a great race, they gave 100% and that’s all you can ask for. Thanks to the whole team for doing a stellar job all week. Unfortunately, it was a short race for our car. We were hanging in there in the difficult conditions, we didn’t make any mistakes and stayed in the fight. Maybe we were not the quickest, but we were doing our job. It’s a pity we got taken out in those circumstances but there were so many incidents in those slow zones. That’s just the way it went for us here, sadly. It’s a dent in the World Championship chances but we will try to win some races before the season ends. We move on to the next race.”
José María López (Driver, car #7): “That was another disappointing Le Mans for our car. I can look back and be happy with my stint because when I got in the car, we were at the bottom of the top 10 and I came back to the pits in third. I needed to manage the risk on slicks in the rain, I was just surviving. It was a tough race; we tried everything. What happened wasn’t Kamui’s fault because he did everything correctly. It is disappointing of course but we all stayed at the track to give our support to the #8 car. They gave it their all and made us proud. Again, Le Mans teaches us that we need to be there until the end because you never know what can happen. I am looking forward to coming back.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “It was a tough race. At some point it was not easy just to stay on track due to the changing conditions early in the race. We didn’t have the ultimate pace to win but we gave it our best shot and we pushed them all the way. Ferrari were faster than us, so we had to push very hard to stay with them and that meant taking no margin. We tried everything to win so we have no regrets. Congratulations to Ferrari for their victory. They were very impressive from qualifying onwards. Now we will look towards the World Championship and work hard to come back stronger in the next races.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “I’m feeling a lot of emotions right now. We gave it our all and we had nothing left. We didn’t have the outright performance, but we were still there, putting pressure on Ferrari all the way through. For a moment it was getting exciting at the end when the conditions came back to us a bit and we started to close the gap. Ryo was in the most difficult situation. He was told to do go full risk and try to close the gap so there’s no blame. Right now, it feels like we came so close but were so far away. Big congratulations to Ferrari. They were quicker, and they didn’t make mistakes, so well done to them.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8): “First of all thanks to Sébastien and Brendon for their hard work and big effort. Thank you also for the team who did a fantastic job all week, and to all our supporters for their encouragement. It was very hard to challenge Ferrari but we never gave up hope and we tried everything to win Le Mans again. We need to analyse this race and find areas to improve. Personally, I will learn from my mistake and come back stronger. There are three races remaining in the season so we will focus on the World Championship, that’s all we can do right now.”
Le Mans 24 Hours - Result
#51 Ferrari AF Corse (Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi)