Leading into the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota GAZOO Racing had a near flawless weekend. Toyota TS050s were at the top of the charts for Free Practice and all three Qualifying Practice sessions, usually with quite a gap over the Porsches. Kamui Kobayashi set an all-time lap record to win the overall pole on Thursday afternoon.
Once the race started, the pole-sitting No. 7 shared by Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin seemed to have more speed than anyone. Conway basically ran away from the field as the rest of the challengers fell apart around them. The ByKolles entry was effectively done in by Tertre Rouge on the first lap. The No. 2 Porsche had issues with one of their hybrid motors, forcing a long stay in the garage. The No. 1 ran trouble-free, but didn’t have the pace.
Everything seemed great for Toyota until the sun went down. First, the No. 8 Toyota had front motor issues and spent a significant amount of time in the garage. The team would eventually continue, but they are well back in the field as of this writing.
The No. 7’s excellent form allowed them to open up a three-lap lead on the rest of the field. Then, the clutch broke in the tenth hour right after a safety car period. The clutch breaking left the car stuck in first gear. Kobayashi tried to nurse the car back to the pits, but he was unable to. It was a cruel way to end a dominant week.
After the No. 7’s retirement, the part-time No. 9 of Yuji Kunimoto, Nicolas Lapierre and Jose Maria Lopez was Toyota’s only hope for a decent finish. However, the No. 9 ended up out of the race as well, but for a different reason. Lapierre was hit by the No. 47 Cetilar Villorba Corsa Dallara right after pit out.
The contact damaged the left rear of the No. 9 Toyota. Lapierre was forced to try to drag the car around nearly the entire 8.469-mile course to get back to the pits. However, over that distance, the blown left rear tire ripped apart the bodywork. Eventually, the battery died on the car, leaving Lapierre dead in the water within sight of the pits.
Unlike in IMSA, you cannot be towed back to the pits and continue at Le Mans. Since Lapierre was unable to get the car back to the pits for service, he was forced to retire from the race.
With just over eight hours to go, the No. 8 Toyota is the sole remaining TS050 still running. The lineup of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima is currently third in LMP1, 28 laps out of the overall lead.