Motor Sport News - - Le Mans Preview: Retro -

BEST RE­SULT: 2nd (1999) Sev­eral Toy­otas could make it onto this list: the 1992 TS010; 1994 94C; or even the TS040 Hy­brid, which would surely have won had it not been for a dra­matic in­ci­dent af­ter a rain shower and bizarre wiring loom fail­ure in 2014. The Gt-one’s Nis­san R390 ri­val was also a can­di­date, but it is the 1998-99 Toy­ota that re­ally cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion.

Push­ing the GT1 reg­u­la­tions to the limit, the GT-ONE qual­i­fied sec­ond on its Le Mans de­but in 1998, but its gear­box would be Toy­ota Team Europe’s un­do­ing first time out.

When the rapid Mercedes CLK-LMS wilted early, the Martin Brun­dle/eric He­lary/em­manuel Col­lard Toy­ota took com­mand. A series of set­backs – in­clud­ing gear­box prob­lems and two ac­ci­dents – even­tu­ally put it out, al­low­ing the Thierry Bout­sen/ralf Kel­len­ers/ge­off Lees GT-ONE to move to the front.

Gear­box is­sues plunged Toy­ota into a bat­tle with Porsche, but the #29 car still looked like a po­ten­tial win­ner be­fore the dreaded trans­mis­sion woes struck with less than two hours to go.

Al­lan Mc­nish, who won Le Mans for Porsche in 1998 be­fore join­ing Toy­ota the fol­low­ing year, has no doubts about the car’s pace. “In terms of pure one lap per­for­mance it was the quick­est car,” he says. “At the pre-le Mans test in ’98 I was the fastest [for Porsche] but I hung ev­ery­thing out.”

Toy­ota ar­rived as favourite in 1999 and duly lined up first and sec­ond. All three en­tries were in con­tention, with the fru­gal and ef­fi­cient BMW squad emerg­ing as the main threat.

“Thierry got into the lead and bug­gered off, but our pit­stops were very slow,” re­calls Mc­nish. “The last time they had raced was the year be­fore; they weren’t to­tally up to speed and got faster as the race went on.

“I re­mem­ber three or four hours into the race that we were fight­ing with the BMW so we could pull enough of a gap to be ahead af­ter the stops. It was nip and tuck.”

As it was, the fastest cars from both squads re­tired. Brun­dle’s pole­sit­ting GT-ONE had a trou­bled event be­fore crash­ing out thanks to a punc­ture, while the Mc­nish/bout­sen/kel­len­ers car was taken out by an er­rant back­marker early on Sun­day morn­ing. BMW then lost its lead Tom Kris­tensen/jj Le­hto/jorg Muller V12 LMR when the throt­tle stuck open and Le­hto crashed.

All that left the Yan­nick Dal­mas/ Joachim Winkel­hock/ Pier­luigi Mar­tini BMW lead­ing, chased by the all-ja­panese Toy­ota crew of Ukyo Katayama, Kei­ichi Tsuchiya and Toshio Suzuki. For­mer F1 driver Katayama re­sponded to the chal­lenge and set the race’s fastest lap. He was still charg­ing when the Toy­ota was forced onto kerbs while lap­ping a pri­va­teer BMW and suf­fered a punc­ture. For the third time in the decade, Toy­ota had to set­tle for sec­ond.

Mc­nish be­lieves his GT-ONE could have beaten BMW without the traf­fic mishap. “I think in a straight fight we would have won,” he says. “We had the speed to do it and we had the re­li­a­bil­ity – we showed that with the Ja­panese car.”

Mc­nish: rapid in 1999 race

Trans­mis­sion prob­lems hin­dered Toy­ota’s ’98 bid

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