TOYOTA GAZOO Racing repeated its 2018 victory at the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours race with a 1-2 finish following a dramatic final hour of the 2018-2019 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season. Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso, in the #8 TS050 HYBRID, won by 16.9 seconds from team-mates Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose María Lopez in the #7 racing car.
But those bare facts do not reflect the true drama of the closing stages, which denied the #7 what seemed a certain victory in front of the 252,500 spectators around the 13.6-km long Circuit de la Sarthe.
How the #8 car won instead
On the 367th lap, with a lead of over 2 minutes, data on the #7 car indicated a puncture and Jose pitted to replace the tyre. A sensor issue resulted in the wrong tyre being identified, and this meant he left the pits still with a deflating tyre. That necessitated a slow lap back to the pits when all 4 tyres were quickly changed. By the time he returned to the track, Kazuki in the #8 car was already speeding ahead to cross the finish line first.
The #7 crew had controlled much of the 24-hour race, having set the fastest-ever Le Mans race lap of 3:17.297. Other motorsport records were rewritten too; Kazuki became the first circuit-racing World Champion from Japan and Fernando is the second driver to win 4-wheel world titles in two different disciplines, having previously been crowned Formula 1 champion.
Toyota TS050 HYBRIDS dominant from start
The #7 car had started the race from pole position following Kamui’s fastest qualifying lap, with the #8 starting just behind. That set the scene for an exciting and close battle for overall victory between the two 1,000-ps TS050 HYBRIDs, with momentum swinging one way and then the other.
After 12 hours, the two Toyotas were separated by only 8.6 seconds. In the night, the #7 seized a decisive advantage as the sister car faced an aerodynamic imbalance. That was caused by bodywork damage due to the rigours of a tough, flat-out contest although the cars were always on the same lap.
As the final hours approached, the gap remained relatively stable around 2 minutes and the focus switched to bringing the cars home safely. All appeared to be going to plan until the #7 experienced its dramas and Kazuki took the lead with less than an hour to go.
The results at Le Mans see Buemi, Alonso and Nakajima take the FIA World Endurance Drivers’ Championship to add to the Manufacturers’ Championship title that the team already confirmed at Spa.