Toyota claims elusive victory with Alonso on-board the winning crew

Toyota’s legendary bad luck at the world’s most famous long-distance endurance race has finally been broken on Sunday when the No. 8 Toyota TS050 of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, and Fernando Alonso crossed the line to score the Japanese manufacturer’s first overall win. Toyota Gazoo Racing virtually ran away with the victory after dominating in practice, qualifying and the entirety of the 24-hours-long race ahead of a fleet of brand-new non-hybrid prototypes that were pegged back from the word go by the rule book. Alonso brought in significant media attention, and Toyota’s marketing division is jubilant after the Spaniard ticked it all: fastest lap at the Test Day, pole position, and victory – all on attempt number 1.

Continue reading for the full story.

Toyota’s Long Awaited Win

24 Heures du Mans - Victoire Toyota !

🏁This is HISTORICAL : Toyota is the #LeMANS24 winner for the first time with the #8 ! 🏁C’est HISTORIQUE : Toyota remporte pour la 1ere fois les 24 Heures du Mans avec la Toyota TS050 #8 ! #LEMANS24 #EMOTION #PASSION FernandoAlonsoOficial Sébastien Buemi Kazuki Nakajima TOYOTA GAZOO Racing

Posted by 24 Heures du Mans on Sunday, June 17, 2018
After the most dismal of plot twists two years ago, Toyota got its revenge on the Great Race this weekend after a dominant run

After the most dismal of plot twists two years ago, Toyota got its revenge on the Great Race this weekend after a dominant run through-and-through which saw the two TS050s finish in grand style on first and second overall, one lap apart and a massive dozen laps ahead of anyone else. Was it easy? No. Will people still lament about how this win came about with the departure of Porsche and the tweaks in the rule book? Of course. Does it matter? Not really.

Toyota’s been trying to win Le Mans ever since the mid-‘80s when their assault was spearheaded by Team Tom’s and Dome. The Japanese edged closer and closer, bagging class wins by the early ‘90s, but it wasn’t until 1994 when they felt the big prize was finally in sight. Then, it went to Porsche. The situation repeated itself in 1998, 1999 – when a monstrous tire blowout offered the victory to BMW on a silver plate –, 2014 and, most famously, 2016, when Kazuki Nakajima’s car fell pray to electrical problems literally one lap away from the end.

Also, the way the now three-car Toyota foray dismembered itself and fell into pieces 12 months ago wasn’t much less impressive. But 12 months is a long gap of time and, since then, Porsche’s bid adieu to the top class, another victim of the ghosts of Dieselgate, which left Toyota as the sole works team. What this meant for the ACO, FIA, the World Endurance Championship and its blue ribbon event you will find out if you keep reading.

You’ll also find out how the other class faired, every one of them kneeling in front of one dominant crew in such a way that we basically could’ve bet on the winners after only four hours had elapsed. But it wasn’t as boring as that last sentence would lead you to believe.

Fighting for the Pole

We all came into this year’s Le Mans Week expecting a Toyota tour de force, and that’s exactly what was on order

We all came into this year’s Le Mans Week expecting a Toyota tour de force, and that’s exactly what was on order in the La Sarthe valley on Saturday and Sunday. The Cologne-built prototypes proved bulletproof, akin to the old Audi R8s or even more venerable Porsche 962s which seemed to run rather happily for hours and hours on end with no sign of issues. What is more, thanks to some favorable rules, they were also fast. Not blisteringly fast – it wasn’t the scope of the Japanese anyway -, but just enough to obliterate the already shaken rivals.

Toyota’s advantage was two-fold: they had the experience and a well-developed car on the one hand and a compliant ACO and FIA which would’ve gone as far as penalizing those privateers that would have the audacity to be faster than Toyota in the race. Or, at least, that’s what Neel Jani alluded to before the race. Anyway, it wasn’t the case of any such rebound acts and Toyota comfortably secured front row in spite of some highly confusing qualifying sessions, marred by many interruptions and some bad weather thrown in there for good measure.

2018 24 Hours of Le Mans - Race Report
- image 783926
The No. 8 car of Sebastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima started from pole thanks to a 3:15.337 done by the latter

The No. 8 car of Sebastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima started from pole thanks to a 3:15.337 done by the latter of the three. It proved to be an all-Japanese affair with Kamui Kobayashi putting the No. 7’s quickest time, precisely two seconds shy off pole. Bruno Senna was four seconds off in third, further confirming that Rebellion are those that will pick up the pieces if Toyota falters. SMP Racing and the sole ByKolles followed suite with only one of the two Ginettas managing to be quicker than the LMP2s in qualifying. The DragonSpeed BR Engineering car was also there in the mix.

IDEC Sport claimed a surprise pole in LMP2 after TDS Racing’s Loic Duval’s times were erased because the Frenchman failed to stop at the scrutineering lights after finishing his run. As such, Paul Loup-Chatin’s 3:28.842 was the benchmark time with the quickest of the Ligiers just 0,560-seconds away. Cetillar Villorba Corse suffered a huge shunt in qualifying, Giorgio Sernagiotto’s Dallara almost completely leaving the ground after a tire popped approaching the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight. Fortunately, Giorgio was ok, the car was repaired and the Italians were the fastest of those running the Dallara package. It was, though, a lackluster day for the three Dallaras in the big P2 field as the car’s joker update did not seem to provided the added pace that was required to catch up to ORECA.

24 HEURES DU MANS 2018 #48 IDEC SPORT (FRA) ORECA 07 GIBSON LMP2 PAUL LAFARGUE (FRA) PAUL LOUP CHATIN (FRA) MEMO ROJAS (MEX)

Posted by 24 Heures du Mans on Monday, June 11, 2018
IDEC Sport claimed a surprise pole in LMP2 after TDS Racing’s Loic Duval’s times were erased

Ligier was also allowed a joker update, but in their case it seems to have worked. This situation came about after ORECA comprehensively dominated at Le Mans last year which produced a plethora of long faces in the Dallara, Ligier and Riley-Multimatic garages. All of the three manufacturers kindly asked the FIA for a dispensation on the one-update-per-homologation rule which meant that you can only roll one significant update in the four-year-long lifespan of these cars. Sadly, the update isn’t enough for Dallara – at least not in its low-downforce spec. It’s even less so for Riley with the only Global spec car seen in competition having been sold after a troublesome outing at the Daytona 24 Hours this year.

Porsche came to Le Mans with four works cars in the 13-strong GTE-Pro class. Two were prepared by Manthey Racing and two by CORE Autosport, the FIA WEC cars wearing some historic threads for this race. The No. 91 was adorned with the Rothmans livery of the 1980s while the No. 92 had the colors of the 1971 Porsche 917/20 `Pink Pig.` The Rothmans car was the fastest of the lot after Gimmi Bruni managed a 1:47.504, a new record in the category. The Italian then went off and never did another fast lap in that session. It was a case of one and done!

The sister car No. 92 was second quickest, while Aston-Martin could barely keep up with the GTE-AM class cars, the brand-new Vantages running almost five seconds off pace. A post-qualy BoP change helped the BMWs but did nothing to peg back the Porsches or the Fords. The Astons were also left in everyone’s dust. Lastly, Porsche was first in GTE-Am.

LMP1 Class

2018 24 Hours of Le Mans - Race Report
- image 783930
First out, after five hours, was the No. 4 ByKolles ENSO CLM which retired after a sizable crash

Rafael Nadal waved the French flag to kick off the 86th 24 Hours of Le Mans, and drama was on the cards right away, Andre Lotterer’s front bodywork detaching after almost making contact with the No. 8 Toyota, which in turn meant that the German couldn’t slow fast enough for the approaching Dunlop Esses and he collected the innocent No. 10 DragonSpeed BR Engineering car. Lotterer then had to slowly make his way to the pits without any sort of front downforce which essentially sealed the deal for Toyota as that was their biggest rival – if it can even be called that.

What followed was a dominant run for both Toyotas while the others struggled to survive, in dry conditions no less. First out, after five hours, was the No. 4 ByKolles ENSO CLM which retired after a sizable crash in the Porsche Curve which occurred when Dominik Kraihamer tried to pass a GTE-Am Porsche on the outside and the GT car touched the Austrian prototype and sent it into the barriers. Even before that, though, both Ginettas hit their first mechanical hurdles as did the No. 11 SMP Racing BR car driven by Jenson Button. The Dallara-built prototype had an engine sensor failure which lost the team over two hours in the box. The car later returned to action but went out for good with less than three hours to go when the AER engine died.

Posted by 24 Heures du Mans on Sunday, June 17, 2018
Both Ginettas hit their first mechanical hurdles as did the No. 11 SMP Racing BR car driven by Jenson Button

Meanwhile, the two Ginettas were also able to return to the track, but only one managed to make it to the flag outside of the Top 40. Considering that this was the car’s first race owing to financial troubles in Belgium, it’s a respectable result but the team will want to up their game for the next round on home ground at Silverstone. The DragonSpeed car recovered from the contact with Lotterer’s No. 1 ORECA, but to no avail. The car was first halted with alternator issues, then the floor started to fall apart and then Ben Hanley crashed out in the newly updated Porsche Curves. The set of very fast left-right-left sequence of corners received some asphalt runoff as well as more gravel on the outside before this year’s race. The change prompted drivers to negociate the turns more bravely which didn’t end well: most of the race-ending shunts in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans took place there.

That’s also where the No. 17 SMP BR Engineering prototype ended up after Mateevos Isaakyan crashed it during the night. Finally, the two Rebellions didn’t run faultlessly. Both had problems with the floor, and the already delayed No. 1 was penalized towards the end of the race because it ran longer than it was allowed to on a tank of fuel. As per the regulations, the Hybrid P1 cars were only allowed to run 11-laps stints while the Non-Hybrid prototypes could do ten laps stints. It didn’t matter if the cars could actually go longer on fuel – bending strategy was out of the question in 2018.

The last minutes….. Is Toyota the new #LEMANS24 winner ?

The last minutes….. Is Toyota the new #LEMANS24 winner ?

Posted by 24 Heures du Mans on Sunday, June 17, 2018
You’d now think that Toyota had it all their own way, and you’d be right but it wasn’t all plain sailing

You’d now think that Toyota had it all their own way and you’d be right but it wasn’t all plain sailing. The No. 8 car received a stop-and-go penalty after Sebastien Buemi failed to slow down quick enough in a Slow Zone. A Slow Zone is an area of the track where you can’t go above 80 km/h (roughly 50 mph). Buemi gave the lead away to the No. 7, but the No. 8 was back out front at dawn. It wasn’t a matter of outright pace for Alonso’s Toyota as the Japanese orchestrated their pit stops in such a way to hamper the progress of the No. 7. In the end, it proved not to be needed as the car received some penalties for exceeding its stint length because Kobayashi forgot to stop late in the race. The reason? He was focused on putting in some quick lap times in an attempt to catch the sister car.

As it was, Toyota’s fairytale result became reality and their star, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, won on his debut alongside team-mates Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima which did the lion share of the work during the race. The No. 7 of Mike Conway, Jose-Maria Lopez, and Kamui Kobayashi finished second one lap behind. The No. 3 Rebellion was third with old hand Mathias Beche sharing the wheel with Gustavo Menezes and Thomas Laurent. The other Rebellion was fourth, and the surviving Ginetta was – amazingly – the only other P1 car which was classified. For the first time this year, the points finishers did not receive twice as many points as you’d get in a usual FIA WEC race, just 1,5x more.

LMP1 Class Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Buemi / Nakajima / Alonso Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 388
2 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Conway / Kobayashi / Lopez Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 368
3 3 Rebellion Racing Laurent / Beche / Menezes Rebellion R13 - Gibson 376
4 1 Rebellion Racing Lotterer / Jani / Senna Rebellion R13 - Gibson 375

LMP2 Class

24 HEURES DU MANS 2018 #40 G DRIVE RACING (RUS) ORECA 07 GIBSON LMP2 JAMES ALLEN (AUS) JOSE GUTIERREZ (MEX) ENZO GUIBBERT (FRA) Copyright : Guénolé TREHOREL (ACO)

Posted by 24 Heures du Mans on Saturday, June 16, 2018
G-Drive Racing’s impressive form in the opening race of the season at Spa was confirmed in France as well

G-Drive Racing’s impressive form in the opening race of the season at Spa was confirmed in France as well. Roman Rusinov, Jean-Eric Vergne, and Andrea Pizzitoal dominated the junior prototype division and won by two laps finishing fifth overall. The TDS-run No. 26 ORECA 07 P2 ran faultlessly while others ran into trouble.

The pole-sitting IDEC Sport car retired after its gearbox failed. Another strong car, the red DragonSpeed ORECA, lost a wheel and last year’s winners were featured many times on TV due to various problems. Jackie Chan DC Racing entered four cars – two ORECAs and two Ligiers – and all had bad luck. The all-Malaysian-crewed car faired the best although even that one lost time in the garage early in the race.

LMP2 class

Posted by 24 Heures du Mans on Sunday, June 10, 2018
Jackie Chan DC Racing entered four cars – two ORECAs and two Ligiers – and all had bad luck

United Autosports, the team of Richard Dean and McLaren boss Zak Brown came home with a fifth in class thanks to the No. 32 United Autosports entry which featured Juan-Pablo Montoya. The Colombian was the one who went off into the gravel at Indianapolis, the car later rebounding to fight for a podium before a puncture slowed it down. Other retirees were the No. 40 G-Drive car which crashed in the Porsche Curves and the Algarve-Pro Racing Ligier. Paul Di Resta also crashed there to retire the No. 22 United Ligier.

The G-Drive No. 26 ORECA was trailed at the end by the No. 36 Signatech-Alpine car and the Graff-SO24 ORECA. The TDS Racing ORECA finished fourth despite Loic Duval’s best efforts to catch and pass the Graff car. Panis-Barthez could’ve finished fourth but for clutch problems which put the car in the garage for over an hour.

Top 5 LMP2 Class Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 26 G-Drive Racing Rusinov / Pizzitola / Vergne Oreca 07 - Gibson 369
2 36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Lapierre / Negrao / Thiriet Alpine A470 - Gibson 367
3 39 Graff-SO24 Capillaire / Hirschi / Gommendy Oreca 07 - Gibson 366
4 28 TDS Racing Perrodo / Vaxiviere / Duval Oreca 07 - Gibson 365
5 32 United Autosports De Sadeleer / Owen / Montoya Ligier JSP217 - Gibson 365

GTE-Pro Class

Bataille GTE Pro Ford- Porsche

What a battle between #Ford and #Porsche in GTE Pro class for the 2nd position ! Mais quelle bataille en GTE Pro entre Ford et Porsche pour la 2nde place! Ford Performance Chip Ganassi Racing Porsche #LEMANS24

Posted by 24 Heures du Mans on Sunday, June 17, 2018
In the end, the No. 91 Rothmans Porsche 991 GTE finished second after Bamber diced down towards Arnage

There was one key moment in GTE-Pro and it happened four hours in. At that point, the No. 92 Porsche pitted from the top of the class one lap earlier than it could (the GTE-Pro cars could do no more than 14 laps on a tank of fuel, another hard-written rule just like in P1). The decision turned to be the race’s master stroke as a safety car was later called due to debris on the Mulsanne Straight being scattered by the No. 38 ORECA which had a blow out.

The bulk of the leading GTE cars pitted on their 14th lap but were then held stationary at pit exit as you can’t rejoin until the next safety car line comes around to pick you up (there are two safety cars at Le Mans, and you can’t rejoin if there’s no safety car line to get in, the rule being in place to stop cars from dashing on the empty track to catch a safety car). This seemingly insignificant moment gave Kevin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor, and Michael Christensen a two-minutes lead that they would never relinquish.

2018 24 Hours of Le Mans - Race Report
- image 783956
Ferraris also failed to deliver and the highest placed 488 GTE Evo was sixth in class

In the end, the No. 91 Rothmans Porsche 991 GTE finished second after Bamber diced down towards Arnage with the No. 68 Ford of Sebastien Bourdais. That proved to be the best of the rest (and best of the Fords, obviously) with its third-place finish. The No. 69 Ford was fourth and the lone surviving Corvette was fifth. The other two Fords both had a number of problems and the No. 64 Corvette suffered a suspension failure and then was retired due to overheating.

BMW ran well early on before the No. 81 needed mending of its dampers and later suspension. The No. 82 crashed out in the Porsche Curves. Ferraris also failed to deliver and the highest placed 488 GTE Evo was sixth in class and it was the one-off entry of Antonio Giovinazzi, Pipo Derani and Toni Vilander. Finally, the new Vantages endured an agonizing Le Mans race, both cars being roughly two seconds off pace. BoP changes are clearly on order before Silverstone although this could be quite a handful as for the `normal’ WEC rounds, an automated BoP system is in place.

Top 5 GTE-Pro Class Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 92 Porsche GT Team Christensen / Estre / Vanthoor Porsche 911 RSR 344
2 91 Porsche GT Team Lietz / Bruni / Makowiecki Porsche 911 RSR 343
3 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Hand / Muller / Bourdais Ford GT 343
4 63 Corvette Racing Magnussen / Garcia / Rockenfeller Chevrolet Corvette C7.R 342
5 52 AF Corse Vilander / Giovinazzi / Derani Ferrari 488 GTE EVO 341

GTE-Am Class

Posted by 24 Heures du Mans on Sunday, June 17, 2018
The No. 77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche 991 GTE took over the lead from Fisichella’s No. 54 Ferrari and was never to be headed

The No. 77 GTE-Am-entered Dempsey-Proton Porsche 991 GTE took over the lead from Giancarlo Fisichella’s No. 54 Ferrari and was never to be headed. Christian Ried, Matt Campbell and Julien Andlauer started from the second row but rose to the occasion and ticked off a brilliant race. The No. 54 Ferrari was second, making the best out of the Risi/Keating Motorsports’ mishaps. The American team had a good run, but an off for Jeroen Bleekemolen and another one for Ben Keating meant that the No. 85 finished third, just ahead of the No. 99 All-American crew of Tim Pappas, Spencer Pumpelly and Patrick Long.

Fifth in class went the way of JMW/Weathertech Racing while the Christina Nielsen Porsche (entered by Ebimotors) finished sixth. Aston-Martin’s poor showing continued in GTE-Am where the No. 98 car went off the track and into the barriers while running fourth. Paul Dalla-Lana was the culprit, the Canadian stuffing it in the same place as everyone else whine on an in-lap.

Top 5 GTE-Am Class Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 77 Dempsey - Proton Racing Campbell / Ried / Andlauer Porsche 911 RSR 335
2 54 Spirit of Race Flohr / Castellacci / Fisichella Ferrari 488 GTE 335
3 85 Keating Motorsports Keating / Bleekemolen / Stolz Ferrari 488 GTE 334
4 99 Proton Competition Long / Pappas / Pumpelly Porsche 911 RSR 334
5 84 JMW Motorsport Griffin / MacNeil / Segal Ferrari 488 GTE 332

Final Thoughts

2018 24 Hours of Le Mans - Race Report
- image 783933

By and large, this was an underwhelming Le Mans. Yes, everyone expected Toyota to finally win it – the first Japanese win since Mazda’s shock victory ahead of Mercedes in 1991 – but there wasn’t much on offer elsewhere either. Yes, we’ve had some exciting battles in GTE-Pro in the first three hours as well as later in the race (that Bamber vs. Bourdais fight), but I’m talking about the fact that the fate of the winners in all four of the classes were sealed by the fourth hour – in a 24-hours-long race!

This is a testament to the reliability of both the drivers and the cars (and the crews no less). It made, though, for a rather dull race although very much was poised to happen with a bigger-than-ever GTE-Pro field and a 20-strong P2 field. Sadly, ORECA are still faster than anyone and Porsche and Ford made it their own personal affair in the top GT division. Point in hand being Corvette which ran a faultless race with the No. 63 but could finish no better than fifth, one lap down on the winner. Roll on Silverstone in August, please!

Full Results

See the full results from this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race: http://fiawec.alkamelsystems.com/Results/08_2018/02_LE%20MANS/231_FIA%20WEC/201806161500_Race/Hour%2024/05_Classification_Race_Hour%2024.PDF

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