After trying 20 times and entering 47 cars in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, Toyota has finally reached the top of the podium. It is the second Japanese carmaker to ever win the event (the first being Mazda 27 years ago) and Kazuki Nakajima was given the honour of being designated the winning driver, making him the first Japanese driver to win the legendary endurance event.
F1 double world champion Fernando Alonso, a member of the 3-man crew in the winning car, was one of the few active F1 drivers to win a Le Mans race, the last one being Nico Hulkenberg in 2015. During the race, Alonso impressed with his ability to reduce the 2-minute gap to 30 seconds during the night.
The Toyota team of two TS050 HYBRID racing cars started the race with strong expectations of victory, especially with arch-rivals Porsche having withdrawn last year from official factory participation in the WEC. The past few years have seen Toyota having heart-breaking moments when it was so near winning and learning from lessons, the team was fully prepared this year. Even during practices, the superiority of their cars was evident and when the race started, they were dominant.
The winning car completed 388 laps during the 24 hours that started on Saturday afternoon and clocked the fastest lap of 3:17.658 around the 13.6-km long circuit. The lap time is close to the record of 3:17.475 set by an Audi R18 e-tron quattro in 2015 and an Audi R15 still holds the record for the longest distance raced – 397 laps in 2010. Toyota notes that, compared to its racing car in 2012 when it started WEC competition, the hybrid racing car this year used 35% less fuel.
Following Toyota’s 1-2 finish was the R13 of the Rebellion Racing Team which competed in the same LMP1 class but did not have a hybrid powertrain. Having been the best-performing private team in 2015 and 2016, the team was expected to present the strongest challenge to the Toyotas. A second Rebellion car finished 4th overall and in the LMP1 class, with the next LMP1 finisher being 39 places down.
The LMP2 class has 6 teams among the Top 10 finishers, of which 4 of the cars were from the 46-year old ORECA umbrella team. One of the cars run by the Jackie Chan DC Racing Team with an all-Malaysian team finished 10th overall. The drivers were Nabil Jeffri, Jazeman Jaafar and Weyron Tan.
Although Porsche had no works entry, many of its cars were still entered by private teams, with a 1-2 finish in the GTE-Pro class, led by the 911 RSR crewed by Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor.