Porsche staged a remarkable come-back to grasp victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with just laps remaining in the race leaving Toyota heartbroken again.
Five major full-house LMP1 cars took to the iconic Circuit de la Sarthe this year and all encountered major problems during the race. Only the #2 Porsche – which was also off the circuit for hours with repairs – could last the 24 hours with drivers Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bambe working their way through the field to take a narrow win ahead of the #38 LMP2 Jackie Chan DC Oreca-Gibson driven by Ho-Pin Tung, Thomas Laurent and Oliver Jarvis.
Third was the the #13 LMP2 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca-Gibson driven by Piquet Jr, Heinemeier Hansson and Beche.
Another Le Mans Heartbreak for Toyota
The 85th edition of the epic 24 Hours of Le Mans fulfilled all expectations pushing the drivers to their limits and testing the endurance of the cars.
Problems hit early for the privateer team of ByKolles Racing with its LMP1 entry picking up damage on the opening lap and being forced to retire.
Toyota had three entries in the LMP1 category and started the race clear favourites after Kamui Kobayashi smashed the lap record in qualifying.
And Toyota indeed dominated the early stages to lead every lap for the first ten hours. The Japanese team were then ravaged by a series of mechanical problems that ruined their chances.
It started with the #7 Toyota suffering a driveline failure forcing Kobayashi to stop on the Porsche Curves. Only minutes later the #9 Toyota also retired when it picked-up a fuel cut on the first corner.
Porsche Stun With Late Win
The #1 Porsche then inherited an 11 lap lead and the German manufacturer seemed to have it all their way before they too faced problems.
Andre Lotterer was forced to abandon the #1 Porsche on the circuit after 20 hours of racing following a driveline failure.
It left the #2 Porsche as the only LMP1 with any chance of finishing on the podium and even that was uncertain because of a front axle drive problem costing the team over an hour in the pits.
In a fascinating turn of events it put the #38 LMP2 Oreca-Gibson in front – the first time in Le Mans history that an LMP2 car had led the race outright.
But the #2 Porsche made a charging run through the pack and overtook the Oreca-Gibson with only 66 minutes remaining on the clock.
Fritz Enzinger, head of Porsche’s prototype program, says the win was beyond their “wildest dreams”.
“This 24-hour race just pushed everything and everyone to the limit.”
“It is unbelievable what you can achieve in a focused team effort. Sometimes it is not the fastest car but the best team performance that makes the difference.”
Team principal Andreas Seidl said Toyota was “a very strong competitor” for Porsche.
“They pushed us to the limits and beyond and we both paid the price.”
But that will be little comfort for Toyota who have invested heavily in their endurance program with little reward at Le Mans.
Toyota president Akio Toyoda apologized to their fans saying that he was “truly sorry that we were not able to meet your expectations.”
“This time, both Porsche and we, Toyota, were not able to complete without incident 24 hours of driving in the hybrid cars that we put to the challenge on the roads of Le Mans.”
“While the hybrid technology that has advanced through competition in the FIA World Endurance Championship puts its abilities on display in six-hour races, it might be that it is not yet ready for the long distance of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”