In a race that saw Toyota lead from start to finish, motorsports division, Toyota Gazoo Racing has followed up last year’s success with another one-two finish at the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans.
From the Thursday ahead of the race, Toyota secured first and second place starting positions during qualifying.
The Toyota TS050 hybrid racer (car 7) of Kamui Kobayashi turned in a 3:15.497 time during the second qualifying session, with driving duties during the race shared between Kobayashi, Mike Conway and José María López.
Toyota’s number 8 car qualified for a P2 start with Kazuki Nakajima at the helm, delivering a 3:15.908 lap. Nakajima, backed by Sébastien Buemi and Fernando Alonso, also delivered car 8 to victory in the 2018 race.
The number 17 SMP Racing car of Stephane Sarrazin, Egor Orudzhev and Sergey Sirotkin started from third place, the number 3 Rebellion Racing car driven by Thomas Laurent, Nathanaël Berthon and Gustavo Menezes began the race from fourth, while the number 11 SMP Racing car of Vitaly Petrov, Mikhail Aleshin and Stoffel Vandoorne began from fifth.
Toyota’s starting positions came from clear qualifying runs, in stark contrast to Wednesday’s preliminary qualifying where both cars suffered damage in seperate incidents.
The number 7 car, driven by Conway, made contact with an LMP2 competitor that drove into its path in the final chicane during the last 45 minutes of qualifying, requiring a 25 minute repair to correct damage to the front-left corner of the car.
The number 8 car required a less extensive repair to the floor and a new front end, after contact with a GT car under Buemi’s control.
Come race day, Toyota’s lead remained unchallenged from the very first lap, with Conway setting a race lap record of 3:17.297 on his fourth lap in the number 7, leading Buemi in the number 8 hybrid.
As night fell on Circuit de la Sarthe the number 7 car maintained its lead, with just 8.6 seconds between cars 7 and 8 at the 12 hour mark. Falling temperatures and light rainfall during the night required a change in tyre compound, but attempts to take advantage of slow zones fell in favour of the number 8 car, with the number 7 getting held in pit lane as the track returned to green flag conditions, costing it the lead.
Safety car conditions saw López in the number 7 car close the gap on Nakajima in the number 8 car, before overtaking. Soon, an excursion though the gravel at Mulsanne corner cost valuable seconds, handing the lead back over to Nakajima in car 8.
By the 12 hour mark of the race however Kobayashi in car 7 had returned to the lead ahead of Alonso in car 8.
A mostly uneventful morning saw little in the way of significant changes, however with just one hour of racing remaining López's car reported a deflating tyre, forcing a pit stop – in a crushing turn of events a sensor malfunction resulted in the wrong tyre being identified and replaced, resulting a slow return lap before pitting again to have all four tyres replaced – handing the lead to Nakajima in car 8 as a result.
Final fuelling pit stops made no change to the running order in the closing minutes of the race, which saw Nakajima in the number 8 car secure Toyota Gazoo Racing’ second first-placed finish in row, followed by López in car 7.
The final standing also sees Toyota secure the manufacturer’s championship for the 2018-2019 World Endurance Championship season. Third place in the LMP1 class went to the number 17 car of SMP racing.
In other classes car number 36, team Signatech Alpine Matmut finished first in the LPM2 category, while number 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo headed the GT Professional class coinciding with 70 years since the team’s first Le Mans win. Privateer team, Keating Motorsports, in the number 85 Ford GT finished first in the GT Amateur class.