Breaking a decade-long record of bad luck and near-misses Toyota has at last won the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans with two top spots
It was the No. 8 car of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima, and Sébastien Buemi that took the checkered flag. Nakajima, who set the fastest lap time during qualifying and put the team in pole position, was in the driver’s seat at the moment his Toyota crossed that finish line. His co-driver, Spain’s Fernando Alonso, gets one step closer to winning the racing world’s “triple crown.” Having now achieved championships in Formula 1 and Le Mans, only the Indy 500 remains.
The No. 7 Toyota followed in second place driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and José María López. Kobayashi qualified his car in second place, exactly two minutes behind Nakajima, but it should be noted that Kobayashi still holds the all-time qualifying lap record from his 2017 run. The car finished two laps behind, after a missed pit stop and minor penalty slowed down the sister car.
Toyota’s victory is particularly bittersweet, as this year they were the only factory effort in the top LMP1 class. Former rivals Porsche and Audi pulled out after last year in the wake of the parent company Volkswagen’s diesel scandal. However, as time has shown, having the fastest car is no guarantee of success.
In 1999, for example, Ukyo Katayama, Keiichi Tsuchiya and Toshio Suzuki’s Toyota GT-One was on pace to finish first, but blew a tyre in the final hour. In 2016, Nakajima himself was in the lead Toyota about to cross the finish line, but with five minutes to go in the race a small hardware failure brought the car to a dead stop in the final lap.
By 2017 Toyota had become the crowd favourite, and that support is what led to their downfall. Their fastest car was taken out when a driver from another team, whose suit happened to be in the same orange as the safety workers’, tried to show his support. A thumbs up to Kobayashi in the pits prompted the driver to begin take-off before the car was ready, blowing the clutch.
The heart-wrenching losses were addressed by team president Hisatake Murata. “I am so proud of everyone in the team for this result. It has been our dream to win Le Mans and finally we have achieved it,” he said. “Thank you so much to everyone for their incredible hard work, team spirit and never-give-up attitude. To win Le Mans for TOYOTA after so many frustrations and disappointments is a truly magical moment.”