THE MOTORSPORT LAP
Toyota triumphs in Le Mans at last
It has taken more than two decades but Toyota has finally won the 24-hour race
Toyota has won the famous Le Mans 24 Hours race — a feat that has taken much longer than 24 hours for the Japanese manufacturer. In total the company has entered 49 cars in the legendary race over more than 20 years, but only in 2018 did it take the chequered flag.
Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso in the Toyota TS050 hybrid crossed the line victorious after 24 hours and 388 laps of the Circuit de la Sarthe in northern France. They started on pole and had a relatively uneventful race.
They were followed home by teammates Mike Conway, José María López and Kamui Kobayashi who led the race at various stages. They even provided late drama when the car suddenly slowed and crawled around the circuit back to the pits.
A bizarre radio message seemed to indicate that the team had forgotten to fuel the car on its last pit stop, leading to it coasting to avoid running out of fuel. It was then refuelled only to be given a penalty for overfuelling, but better to be safe than sorry given the huge anticipation for the team.
It would be easy to say that Toyota faced little rivalry on track, with Porsche having pulled out in 2017 and no factory teams in the top LMP1 class.
But it was Le Mans and racing against rivals is only one part of it.
The biggest challenge is racing against the clock and the huge demands placed on car and drivers over 24 hours of nonstop racing. Few will forget the moment that Toyota was within four minutes of victory when the car cruelly failed.
One of the big names who will be ecstatic to experience a victory for the first time in ages, was Fernando Alonso, who has not seen silverware at McLaren for some time.
"It has been amazing," he said. "We know how important and iconic Le Mans is in the world of motorsport and as a team we achieved an amazing result. Every moment was a reminder of how tough and long this race is.
"Anything can happen so we tried to execute our race and stay calm. Happily everything worked well.
"The race was hard because the two cars were very close, within one minute after 23 hours. We wanted a one-two and we achieved that so I am very happy."
Alonso signed a two-year contract with Toyota so the expectation is that he and the team will back again in 2019.
The battle was more fierce in LMP2, with the G-Drive Racing entry winning the class after leading from start to finish.
The closest battles took place in the production car categories, GTE Pro and GTE Am. The Porsche Team entry took the win in GTE Pro. The car was a favourite with fans as it was wearing the historic "Pink Pig" livery that adorned the Porsche 917 at Le Mans in 1971 in honour of the 70th anniversary of the Stuttgart marque.
Porsche also took the top honours in GTE Am, although not with a factory team. The win went to the car of Dempsey-Proton Racing, a team managed by actor Patrick Dempsey.