RIVALS RALLY FOR TOYOTA
Japanese squad loses historic win in final moments
Porsche team principal Andreas Seidl has admitted “you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy” the way Toyota lost a victory that would have finally ended its 22-year Le Mans 24 Hours jinx in the dying minutes of the race.
The #5 Toyota, shared by Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima was cruising to victory on the penultimate lap when the car slowed with an engine problem, suspected to be related to the turbocharger. Nakajima stopped the car on the start/finish straight, with Neel Jani in the #2 Porsche he shared with Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas passing it for the lead with just 3m21s of the race remaining and on the final lap.
“To give away such a great race this way is something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy,” said Seidl. “But this is a sport with all its highs and lows, and that’s also why we love it.”
Mark Webber, who led the race in the #1 Porsche before dropping back with cooling problems, said it was “hard to take” for Toyota. This was echoed throughout the Le Mans paddock, with many teams and drivers across all classes reacting in a similar way.
The moment the car crossed the line, Davidson – who has yet to win Le Mans in nine attempts, tweeted “I literally have no words…” before revealing Nakajima said he was “ready to cry” as he finished the race.
Davidson had revealed in the build up to the race that he had never seen such focus on Le Mans from Toyota in his six years with the manufacturer. To some in the company, winning Le Mans has become an obsession after previous near-misses, most famously with the Toyota GT-ONE in 1998 and ’99. To have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in this way adds to the legend of the manufacturer’s Le Mans hoodoo.
Team president Toshio Sato reiterated Toyota’s commitment to the race amid suggestions from some that this might prove one disappointment too many despite its long-term commitment to LMP1 and Le Mans.
“I have no words to describe our emotions today,” he said. “It’s simply heartbreaking but we will return stronger and more determined to win.”
Even the winning drivers in the
#2 Porsche, who were naturally delighted by their victory, felt sorry for the winners.
“I feel heartbroken for the Toyota drivers,” said Neel Jani. “I think every racing driver knows how this feels. I still have no words to describe winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This is really surreal.”
The #8 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval also benefited from the fate of the leading Toyota. A Le Mans podium was about to take place without an Audi driver on it for the first time this century, only for them to move up from fourth when the troubled Toyota was not classified.
Although Nakajima did complete the final lap of the race on electrical power only, he did not do so fast enough to meet the regulation demanding all cars do so in a laptime ‘inferior’ to six minutes. Nakajima’s lap lasted almost twice that, meaning that it was not classified even though it was the only car to complete the full 384 laps other than the winning Porsche.
“Quite honestly, we’d much rather see the Toyota guys up here,” said Jarvis. “It’s not how we want to be standing on the podium. Yeah, we fought hard, we did our jobs, but everyone can agree that’s not how anyone wanted the race to finish.
“I don’t know the Toyota guys personally, I know the drivers and the team bosses, but I’m absolutely gutted for them. I would definitely give up my spot here to see them up here [as winners] and to see the reward for their hard work. This race can happen 1000 times and you will never see this again.
“My thoughts are with Toyota, not with our own performance. For now, we congratulate the Porsche guys, but I have a very heavy heart. I’m going to be leaving here with a very strange feeling, as a lot of people will.”
Porsche LMP1 vice president Fritz Enzinger paid tribute to Toyota’s performance even though that risked overshadowing Porsche’s record-extending 18th Le Mans win.
“I would like to express my respect for the sensational performance which Toyota gave in this race,” he said. “It was a great fight with them. Shortly before the finish we had settled for second.”
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