Toyota Gazoo Racing won the 87th Le Mans 24 Hours yesterday (Sunday) with a one-two finish for their cars in spite of a final hour drama that closed the 2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship season
Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso defended their Le Mans title in the No8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, securing them the drivers’ World Championship. They crossed the line with a 16.9-second advantage over their team-mates Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, who had looked set for victory in the No7 car.
On the 367th lap, López held a lead of more than two minutes, but had to pit when his car’s on-board sensors indicated a puncture. A sensor issue resulted in the wrong tyre being replaced and the car being sent back into the race still with a deflating tyre. A further slow lap back to the pits for another tyre change handed an unassailable lead to Nakajima.
The No7 crew had controlled much of the race, including setting a new record Le Mans race lap with a time of 3 min 17.297sec. Other motorsport records were rewritten, too: Nakajima became Japan’s first circuit racing world champion and Alonso became only the second driver to win four-wheel world titles in two different disciplines, having previously been crowned Formula 1 World Champion.
Kobayashi had put the No7 Toyota on pole position with the fastest qualifying lap, just ahead of the No8 car. That set the scene for an exciting and close battle between the two 1,000hp machines as the race progressed. After 12 hours the gap was still less than nine seconds, but during the night the No7 extended its advantage as its sister car encountered aerodynamic issues from bodywork damage. During the final hours the gap remained stable at around two minutes and the focus switched to bringing both cars home safely. All appeared to be going to plan until the final drama played out with less than an hour to run.
Hisatake Murata, Team President, said: “We have an unusual feeling because we have won our second Le Mans but everyone in the team is sorry for Mike, Kamui and José and the No7 crew, who would have been deserving winners. Nevertheless, I am proud of the overall performance as well as the team spirit which we showed throughout the race, also in the difficult moments in the final hour. Congratulations to the new World Champions Sébastien, Kazuki and Fernando, also on their second Le Mans victory. This was a dramatic end to an incredible season for Toyota Gazoo Racing and we look forward to defending our titles next season.”
FINAL CLASSIFICATION, LE MANS 24 HOURS 2019
1st No8 Toyota Gazoo Racing (Buemi/Nakajima/Alonso) 385 laps
2nd No7 Toyota Gazoo Racing (Conway/Kobayashi/ López) +16.972sec
3rd No11 SMP (Petrov/Aleshin/Vandoorne) +6 laps
4th No1 Rebellion (Jani/Lotterer/Senna) +9 laps
5th No3 Rebellion (Laurent/Berthon/Menezes) +15 laps
6th No36 Signatech Alpine (Lapierre/Negrao/Thiriet) +17 laps