Sometimes things have a funny way of working out. Right now it is understandable that Toyota is bitterly disappointed with its Le Mans fortunes. The team hoped and craved for so much more. And clearly were capable of delivering, too.
Yet, at season’s end the podium place picked up by the #8 TS040 Hybrid (Buemi/Davidson/Lapierre) could prove crucial in deciding the 2014 World Endurance Championship.
Of course, that means little for the crew of the #7 car (Nakajima/Sarrazin/Wurz), who leave with nothing other than the memories of dominating the race for 14 hours.
This was Toyota’s best shot at winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans since its return to the LMP1 category. It’s a shame for them and motorsport that things didn’t go their way.
Toyota Racing luckless at Le Mans
TOYOTA Racing stood on the podium at the Le Mans 24 Hours but left the Circuit de la Sarthe with a sense of extreme disappointment after a frustrating race.
The #8 TS040 HYBRID of Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi finished third to extend their lead in the World Championship and record TOYOTA’s fifth podium finish at Le Mans.
That, however, did not tell the full story of a dramatic race which ended TOYOTA Racing’s 100% winning record in the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship.
The #7 TS040 HYBRID of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima started from pole position and held a 90-second lead with less than half the race remaining.
However, an unexpected electrical problem related to the wiring loom forced Kazuki to stop the car at Arnage corner. With no chance of returning to the pits, the #7 officially retired after 13 hours and 53 minutes.
The #8 TS040 HYBRID also had high expectations of fighting for victory but realistic hope was ended within 90 minutes. In a sudden downpour, and on slick tyres, Nicolas was involved in a multi-car accident on the Mulsanne Straight.
He nursed the badly damaged car back to the pits where the team worked quickly to replace front and rear bodywork, as well as replacing the suspension installation on the front left corner.
Around 50 minutes was lost to repairs, leaving the #8 eight laps down but determined to score as many points as possible having entered the third round of the FIA World Endurance Championship with a 16-point lead in the standings.
The early accident caused a further delay when, around eight hours in, aerodynamic balance issues prompted further bodywork repairs.
But Anthony, Nicolas and Sébastien kept up a consistent pace and moved into the top four, with an eye on the podium as technical issues affected several competitors.
Remarkably that goal, which looked so unlikely after just two hours of the race, was achieved within the last two hours and the #8 crossed the line for a bitter sweet third place.
Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Team President: “There is certainly a huge amount of disappointment in our team because both of our TS040 HYBRIDs had enough speed to win the race. But part of the magic of Le Mans is that it is so unpredictable and challenging; today we only needed to avoid misfortune. Sadly that wasn’t the case but that’s motorsport and we have to accept the result. We will come back stronger for this experience and we have a World Championship to fight for, starting at the next race. All team members, including the drivers, performed brilliantly in this race, not only to repair the damage but to stay positive and bring home third position. I am very proud of this and the whole team should be proud of their efforts too. Finally, I would like to congratulate both Audi and Porsche for their impressive performances. Everyone fought extremely hard today and showed great competitive spirit.”
TS040 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Kazuki Nakajima)
Race: DNF (electrical), 219 laps, 17 pit stops. Fastest lap: 3min 23.112secs
Alex Wurz: “There’s not much to say other than it is really disappointing. We were leading but we decided not to take too many risks in traffic. Depending on our luck in the traffic we were able to extend the lead in a very controlled manner which is exactly how you have to do it at Le Mans. We were looking forward to the morning sunlight, because our tyres worked very well during the day, but it didn’t come for us. I said earlier this week that you don’t win Le Mans, it lets you win and today it didn’t let us win.”
Stéphane Sarrazin: “I am very, very sad for all the team, the mechanics, engineers; everyone. Everybody did the maximum not only today but in all the preparation. We were leading the race since the start. The car was just amazing and we were not pushing too hard; we were taking no risks and managing it all quite well. But Le Mans decided against us and we stopped on track. It is a real pity. We did the maximum and we were in good shape to win this race. But Le Mans is long and anything can happen, as we saw unfortunately for us today.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “It is heartbreaking. I don’t know what to say. I really feel for the team and for all the people who support us. I think we were doing a great race until that moment. We were leading and showing great pace. Somehow I thought maybe we could make it this time and then this happens. That’s Le Mans and that’s why we come here to take on the challenge. We will try again.”
TS040 HYBRID #8 (Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre, Sébastien Buemi)
Race: 3rd, 374 laps, 31 pit stops. Fastest lap: 3min 23.117secs
Anthony Davidson: “It was definitely an eventful race. We had the speed all along but it didn’t go right in the tricky conditions and the car was heavily damaged; from there we were on the back foot. It could have happened to anyone, it was just one of those things. I was surprised to be standing on the podium. From not even being in the top 30 after the accident to end up on the podium just goes to show the speed. The win comes to you, not the other way around in this race.”
Nicolas Lapierre: “In the end it looks not too bad to be third at Le Mans considering what happened at the beginning of the race. The #8 crew even extended our lead in the World Championship. But it is a big disappointment. Car #7 did a great job all weekend and deserved much better than that. We deserved to be on the podium but it’s not the position we wanted. It is very frustrating for TOYOTA because we have been fighting for many years to win Le Mans and we had a great chance.”
Sébastien Buemi: “In a way I am disappointed because we came here strong favourites but we didn’t manage to win. On the other hand we were many laps behind and came back into it and got third place. We could not have hoped for a podium after the accident. We came back a long way and did a good job. But it’s clearly a tough day for us because we were hoping for more. We are still leading both championships so that is at least a positive.”