Toyota’s Le Mans Effort Completely Fell Apart in the Span of About an Hour
2016’s last-lap heartbreak has nothing on 2017’s hour 8.
Toyota has not had the best luck at Le Mans. The team has been contesting the race here since 2012, and while they've managed to capture a second placed position on two separate occasions, they have not yet won the race. At the half-way point of the race this year, it seems like they'll fail to do so yet again. It's fair to say that Toyota was the favorite to win over Porsche this year, as they'd set the fastest ever lap at the circuit in qualifying on Thursday, and have completely dominated the first two rounds of the FIA WEC so far this year (Silverstone and Spa). In fairness to Toyota, if Le Mans had been a 6-hour race rather than a 24, they would have won again. At the beginning of the 8th hour of the race, everything began to fall apart for the three-car Toyota team.
What happened to #8?
About 7:20 into the race, reports began to pop up that the #8 was leaking oil and smoke was emanating from the car. About 30 minutes later, Seb Buemi is told that his car has a sticking caliper and temperatures are rising rapidly. Pitting from second overall, the car is wheeled into the garage and everything on the front of the car is disassembled and completely replaced. It is later determined that the car has suffered a hybrid motor failure as well, and that unit is also replaced. The repair takes more than 2 hours and the car continues to tumble down the time sheets as repairs are completed.
Anthony Davidson (TS050 HYBRID #8)
“It's a pity about the problem; we have to see how long it takes but we will not give up. Before that, it was a good stint for me in terms of the gap to the front. We got a bit lucky with slow zones which reduced the gap a lot. Then I had strong pace compared to the others.”
As of right now, the #8 is still running laps on circuit in 28th position overall, some 28 laps down to the overall leader. If they do not have any problems, there is a possibility that the team could finish reasonably well in the overall standings. Assuming they finish the race, they are guaranteed a position on the LMP1 podium. A small consolation, we know.
What happened to the #7?
This was perhaps the most heartbreaking failure of the year, as the #7 simply stopped running properly while it was leading over Porsche. Kamui Kobayashi called in over the radio that he had a failed gearbox and could not get the engine to supply drive to the wheels. The car limped around the course slowly on electric power only, but could not make it all the way back to the pits and was forced to abandon the car and walk back to the pits.
What happened to #9?
The 9 car didn't really see any major problems until the 9th hour. First, the car had a very lengthy pit stop to replace one of its backlit side number panels. While this was a minor problem, the later problems were not so minor.
Within minutes of the #7 having failed, the #9 ran into trouble. While there was no video of the initial hit, the aftermath is documented quite well. Apparently, there was contact between the #49 G-Drive LMP2 classed car of Simon Trummer and Nicolas Lapierre's #9 Toyota. This is what the result was for the #49.
And this is how that incident ended up for the Toyota. There was a rear left tire puncture that saw Lapierre run across the gravel and rejoin the circuit with a flailing rear tire. According to Lapierre, the car was then stuck in 5th gear, and he could not drive slowly enough to avoid the tire's carcass eating itself, and most of the car, in his attempts to return to the pits. In the tire's destructive path was an oil line of some kind that caught the rear of the car on fire. After the fire put itself out, Lapierre attempted to get back to the pit lane on electric power only, but could only make it as far as the exit of the Porsche curves. Within sight of the pit lane entrance.
While we hope that Toyota returns to battle at Le Mans again next year, nobody will have trouble understanding why if they decide not to.