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Le Mans 2016, heartbreak for Toyota

If I had written this on Sunday it would literally have consisted of 2 words:

Toyota: heartbreaking!

No doubt like many a race fan, whether a Toyota supporter or not, you will have been astounded, gobsmacked, distraught, amazed, shocked and saddened (I could go on) by how the Japanese outfits race came to an end.

Picture credit Toyota Hybrid Racing

The 84th running of the Le Mans 24 Heures, which started under a safety car for the first time in its history due to the treacherous conditions, was not all about Porsche v. Audi, it will not be remembered as the 18th win for Porsche, it will be remembered and owned by Toyota – the race was theirs, the win was theirs, but in a cruel cruel twist of fate with under 2 laps to go Kazuki Nakajima came over the radio to report ‘loss of power’ in the second chicane down the Mulsanne. With the #2 Porsche of Neel Jani only 1 minute behind, there was little Kazuki could do. He managed to nurse the TS050 Hybrid round but came to a stop on the start finish line. The struggling #5 managed to restart and limped round to complete the final lap but was too slow to be classified. The #2 Porsche of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb took the lead, and took the win! The car completed 384 laps, equalling 5,233.54 kilometres, some 150 kilometres shorter than was covered in 2015.

Whilst Audi uncharacteristically faltered during the 24 Heures, they still maintained their string of podium finishes with the #8 of Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval and Oliver Jarvis finishing third. Just two hours in the #7 suffered a turbo failure which put them out of contention. The #8 ran with the leading pack until 4 hours from the end when they suffered a brake issue, and after extensive repairs trailed the leaders by some 12 laps.

Picture credit Porsche Motorsport

Toshio Sato, Team President: “I am incredibly proud of our team effort, not just today but since Le Mans last year. Thank you to the team in Higashi-Fuji and Cologne, as well as our partners Oreca. 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. Congratulations to Porsche on its victory. I have no words to describe our emotions today. It is simply heartbreaking but we will return stronger and more determined to win.”

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal LMP1: “First of all we certainly feel for our colleagues and friends from Cologne. To give away such a great race this way on the last lap is something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. But this is the sport with all its highs and lows and that’s also why we love it for. It was a strong fought victory. We had to put Toyota under pressure and went flat out for the entire race. Also our drivers were on the edge. The frequency with which the leader changed was extreme. Since we have started development and preparation for the 919 Hybrid we have delivered a strong performance. This goes for our colleagues at home in Weissach as well as for the race team. As happy as I am for the number 2 crew, I feel sorry for the guys from the number 1 car. Without the failure and the long repair they would have been able to fight for the win as well. To win Le Mans is the highlight of the season and it is difficult to believe we have managed it twice now in what is only our third year. Now we look forward. We take a lot of points from here and now we want to defend both world championship titles as well.“

Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport: “Unfortunately, neither of our two cars made it over the distance without issues. This weekend once more showed why Le Mans is regarded as the world’s toughest endurance race. I’m proud of our squad having managed to bring both cars home. But, obviously, this is not the result we were hoping for. Congratulations to Porsche on their second victory in succession. Following a tremendous race, Toyota, on making their 18th attempt, again just barely missed finally winning Le Mans – that speaks volumes about how incredibly difficult this race is.”

LMP2 was dominated by the #36 Signatech Alpine, with Nicolas Lapierre securing his second consecutive win at the Circuit de la Sarthe, with co-drivers Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi taking their first. The Signatech finished 2:40.640 ahead of the #26 G-Drive of Romain Rusinov, Rene Rast and Britain’s Will Stevens, who was probably quite thankful that Manor decided to only run one car, allowing him to join the G-Drive outfit! The all Russian crew of Vitaly Petrov, Victor Shaytar and Kirill Ladygin brought the #37 SMP Racing BR01 home in third with the ever popular Stakka Racing finishing in fourth.

The shenanigans that overshadowed qualifying in the GTE Pro class followed the manufacturers into the race, with protests being lodged during and after the race between Risi Competitizone and the US Chip Ganassi Ford GT teams. The much anticipated Ford v. Ferrari battle did not disappoint, with the #82 Ferrari 488 finishing sandwiched between the two US entered Ford GT’s, all finishing on the same lap with only 1:24.794 separating them, with the #68 taking the win.

However, with only 20 minutes to go before the chequered flag a black and orange was shown to the #82 for a fault with his leader position lighting. This later turned into a stop and go penalty for Toni Vilandar as he was ordered by the team to stay out. The Ferrari was posted as finishing second, provisionally.

Picture Credit Ford Performance

After the race the two teams kept the stewards engaged into the evening. The #68 Ford was handed two time penalties, 50 seconds for speeding in a slow zone, and 20 seconds for a failed wheel speed sensor, while the #82 Ferrari had imposed on it a 20 second time penalty for the failed light repair – along with a €5,000 fine for ignoring the stewards instructions.

Even with these penalties applied, the final results remained unchanged.

And finally, in GTE Am, the #62 Scuderia Corse Ferrari 458 of Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell and Jeff Segal took top spot on the podium, with an almost 3 minute lead over the second placed #83 Ferrari 458 of AF Corse. The Abu-Dhabi Proton Racing Porsche of Hansson, Long and al Qubaisi finished third having led for much of the race.

Picture credit Scuderia Corse

So…as of today, there are 360 days to go until the 85th running of the best endurance race in the world...we cannot wait!

Full results of Le Mans race can be found HERE


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