After a number of near misses in the past few years, Toyota finally claimed a victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its TS050 Hybrid. It went one better and managed a 1-2 finish, with the No. 8 car leading home the No. 7 car driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez.
Being the only hybrid cars in the LMP1 class, the Toyotas were a cut above everyone else in the field; it soon turned into a two-horse race for the win. Both cars swapped the lead multiple times and suffered various penalties and other issues. Sebastian Buemi earned the No. 8 car a 60sec stop-and-go penalty for speeding in a slow-zone, but Alonso managed to mitigate the damage during his quick night stint. Nakajima then took over and moved the car back into the lead.
Meanwhile, Toyota’s second car struggled. Lopez had a spin at the Dunlop chicane, followed by Kobayashi missing his refuelling pit stop. This handed the No. 7 a penalty for exceeding the mandated 11-lap stint length. All this allowed Nakajima to bring the No. 8 car home two laps ahead of Kobayashi, much to the delight of his team.
In a race of high attrition, only three other LMP1 cars made it to the finish. The Rebellion R13 Gibsons were best of the rest, coming home in 3rd and 4th. No. 5 Manor came home in 42nd place overall, 99 laps down on the leader; making it one of the thinnest and least competitive grids in the history of the LMP1 class.
The LMP2 class was a similarly straightforward affair, with the No. 26 G-Drive car of Jean-Eric Vergne, Andrea Pizzitola and Romain Rusinov leading virtually the entire race. Their strong on-track pace (coupled with good fortune and no unscheduled pit stops) helped them came home two laps ahead of their closest competitors – the No. 36 Signatech-Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet.
The battle for 3rd place was a closely fought affair, with the No. 39 Graff-SO24 Racing Oreca of Tristan Gommendy, Jonathan Hirschi and Vincent Capillaire edging out the No. 28 TDS Racing Oreca of Loic Duval, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Francois Perrodo by just 2.5sec.
In the GTE Pro class, Porsche claimed a 1-2 with their 911 RSRs, while the GTE Am class was also won by a 911 RSR run by the Dempsey-Proton crew.
With a victory at Le Mans, Fernando Alonso is now one step closer to the famous triple-crown – the Indy 500, the Monaco GP and the Le Mans 24 Hours. He’s two-thirds of the way there, with only the Indy 500 remaining. He took part in the race last year, and was fighting for the victory when his engine failed him. Since then, he has shown a keen interest in returning to ‘The Brickyard’ in the future, though no deal has been struck so far.
Toyota returned to the LMP1 class in 2012 with the TS030 hybrid, and took 2nd and 4th places at the 2013 edition of the event. Their quest for victory continued over the following years, but failed to yield the desired result. They came very close, but their dominant 2016 charge was halted by a technical issue on the very last lap of the race, with the victory eventually going to Porsche. For 2017, they upped the ante and entered three cars, but still failed to secure the victory. Redemption was delivered this year, though, and Toyota became one of the two Japanese manufacturers to win the race after Mazda’s legendary victory in 1991.