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Dramatic One-Two Victory for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing

“Our main goal was to win the World Championship. We’re very proud to have won.”

 

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing won the 87th Le Mans 24 Hours with a one-two finish at the Circuit de la Sarthe following a dramatic final hour of the 2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.

Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso, in the #8 TS050 HYBRID, defended their Le Mans crown and secured the drivers’ World Championship in the process, winning by 16.9secs from team-mates Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the #7.

But those bare facts do not reflect the true drama of the closing stages, which denied the #7 what seemed a certain victory in front of 252,500 spectators.

On the 367th lap, with a lead of over two minutes, data on the #7 car indicated a puncture and José pitted to replace the tyre. A sensor issue resulted in the wrong tyre being identified, meaning José left the pits still with a deflating tyre. That necessitated a slow lap back to the pits when all four tyres were changed, handing an unassailable lead to Kazuki in the #8.

The #7 crew had controlled much of the contest, having set the fastest-ever Le Mans race lap of 3mins 17.297secs. Other motorsport records were rewritten too; Kazuki became the first circuit-racing World Champion from Japan and Fernando is the second driver to win four-wheel world titles in two different disciplines, having previously been crowned Formula 1 champion.

On the 367th lap, with a lead of over two minutes, data on the #7 car indicated a puncture and José pitted to replace the tyre. A sensor issue resulted in the wrong tyre being identified, meaning José left the pits still with a deflating tyre. That necessitated a slow lap back to the pits when all four tyres were changed, handing an unassailable lead to Kazuki in the #8.

 

The #7 crew had controlled much of the contest, having set the fastest-ever Le Mans race lap of 3mins 17.297secs. Other motorsport records were rewritten too; Kazuki became the first circuit-racing World Champion from Japan and Fernando is the second driver to win four-wheel world titles in two different disciplines, having previously been crowned Formula 1 champion.

The #7 car had started the race from pole position following Kamui’s fastest qualifying lap, with the #8 starting just behind. That set the scene for an exciting and close battle for overall victory between the two 1,000PS TS050 HYBRIDs, with momentum swinging one way and then the other.

After 12 hours the two TOYOTAs were separated by only 8.6secs. In the night, the #7 seized a decisive advantage as the sister car faced an aerodynamic imbalance. That was caused by bodywork damage due to the rigours of a tough, flat-out contest although the cars were always on the same lap.

As the final hours approached, the gap remained relatively stable around two minutes and the focus switched to bringing the cars home safely. All appeared to be going to plan until the #7 experienced its dramas and Kazuki took the lead with less than an hour to go.

Shigeki Tomoyama, GAZOO Racing Company President
“I would like to truly thank all fans, supporting companies and all team members who fought with one heart. In order to win Le Mans, a fast car alone is not enough. We also need a strong car and team. We wanted to improve on the victory last year; we made a continuous effort to improve everything and I believe this was clear in this year’s victory. I was really impressed with the podium celebration when you see the many TOYOTA GAZOO Racing flags and two Japanese flags flying in the air. I am very happy to create a new page in the history of Le Mans.

But we cannot be fully happy if we consider the trouble which occurred on car #7, which lead most of the race, in the last hour. A slow puncture was accompanied by sensor trouble and this lost a lot of time. We can feel there is still room to improve in the car and team operation. For Le Mans in 2020, and for the hypercar class from autumn 2020, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will continue to make a strong today, and even more tomorrow, always creating better sprit. The continued support of the fans is really appreciated.

Hisatake Murata, Team President
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 #7 crew, who would have been deserving winners. We will investigate the exact cause of this issue in the coming days to avoid a repeat. 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.”

 

Le Mans 24 Hours results

1st #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 385 laps
2nd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +16.972secs
3rd #11 SMP (Petrov / Aleshin / Vandoorne). +6 laps
4th #1 Rebellion (Jani / Lotterer / Senna). +9 laps
5th #3 Rebellion (Laurent / Berthon / Menezes). +15 laps
6th #36 Signatech Alpine (Lapierre / Negrao / Thiriet). +17 laps

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