Late drama as #8 Toyota secures back-to-back Le Mans victories

The #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima took both Le Mans 24 Hour wins in the World Endurance Championship’s Superseason after final hour drama for the sister #7.

Heading into hour 24, the #7 of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez were seemingly comfortable with a two-minute lead over the #8. However, a sensor inside the cockpit suggested Lopez had picked up a front-right puncture. The Argentinian pitted to replace the wheel without much delay, but before he reached the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight he complained of a second puncture. Limping back to the pits, it was discovered a faulty sensor had given an incorrect reading and it was the rear tyre on the righthand-side which actually had a puncture. Those two trips to the pits allowed Nakajima to sweep into the lead with just 55 minutes remaining. The Japanese driver made no mistakes during his final stint – and final pitstop – to seal a second victory for himself, Alonso and Buemi, as well as securing the WEC LMP1 drivers’ title in what is set to be Alonso’s final race – for now – for Toyota.

Third went to the SMP Racing BR1 of Mikhail Aleshin, Stoffel Vandoorne and Vitaly Petrov after they kept their heads down and enjoyed a trouble-free run to the flag – capitalising on crashes, punctures and mechanical issues for its privateer rivals Rebellion Racing. The fastest of those Rebellions was the #1 of Bruno Senna, Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer which leaped ahead of the #3 as the race clock counted down to less than six hours to go as Nathaniel Berthon had to limp the car back suffering from a mechanical issue. Failing to finish was the #17 SMP Racing entry, after a crash at the Porsche Curves overnight while at the hands of Egor Orudzhev. Also failing to make the chequered flag after a gearbox issues was the ByKolles CLM P1/01 and the DragonSpeed BR1.

In LMP2, Signatech Alpine took its third win in four years after a mega stint from Andre Negaro, Pierre Thiriet and Nicolas Lapierre. Fighting throughout with the G-Drive Racing Aurus 01, the tooth-and-nail battle for victory was decided in Signatech’s favour after G-Drive had to be pushed into the garage in the 19th hour with a wiring problem in its car. That relegated it down the order, but had enough time to recover to sixth but it was scant reward after a faultless drive for Roman Rusinov, Job Van Uitert and Jean-Eric Vergne. Benefitting from G-Drive’s retirement was the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca. After fighting for the podium places for much of Sunday, the retirement elevated them to second, but missed the chance to secure the WEC LMP2 world title, as the drivers’ and teams’ titles both went to Signatech. Rounding out the podium, a lap down on the DC Racing entry, was the TDS Racing car of Loic Duval, Francois Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxiviere. That car had slipped to 13th in class, but double-stints through the night from Duval and Vaxiviere hauled it back up through the order and when Pastor Maldonado crashed the DragonSpeed Oreca in hour 17, the TDS car was well in the fight for a podium place. Fourth went to the United Autosports Ligier – the best of the non-Orecas – with Phil Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul Di Resta guiding that home with only one real incident of note on Sunday as the engine cover blew off on the way down to Indianapolis. The required trip to the garage to fit a replacement dropped it off the back of the TDS machine.

Ferrari secured its first GTE Pro triumph in five years as the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra took victory by almost 50 seconds over the GTE title winning #91 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR of Richard Lietz, Gianmaria Bruni and Fred Makowiecki. The Ferrari squad was battling closely with the #63 Corvette Racing C7.R in the second half of the race but the race was eventually decided in the Italian manufacturer’s favour after a risky pit strategy didn’t pay off for the American squad. After a safety car was called for to recover the Nyck De Vries-driven Racing Team Nederland Dallara LMP2 – who crashed into the barrier after running straight on at the kink heading into Indianapolis – the Corvette crew called in Antonio Garcia for a stop in the hopes of jumping the safety car train. Despite rapid pit work from the team, Jan Magnussen got the car to the end of pitlane only to be presented with a red light. The three-minute stop meant the #63 lost a lap, before losing more time after a spin and impact into the wall at the Porsche Curves for Magnussen. An extended stint in the pits to repair the front-end dropped the car down to 10th. Back up at the sharp end and the #93 Porsche GT Team entry of Patrick Pilet, Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy made it a double-podium for the German manufacturer as they finished a minute ahead of the #68 Ford GT of Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais. The #68 led a train of four Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs – in their final Le Mans as a factory-backed team – with the leading Ford in qualifying, the #67 of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Jonathan Bomarito finishing fifth.

Ford also came up trumps in GTE Am – but only just – as the Keating Motorsports car of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Felipe Fraga managed an extend stop for a nose change, and a stop/go penalty for wheel spinning out of the pitbox, to take class victory by 44 seconds. Having led by more than a lap earlier in the race, the team’s strategy of having bronze-rated Keating completing most of his mandatory time on Sunday afternoon almost looked like it hadn’t paid off as the Team Project 1 Porsche closed in on the Ford. But a late stop to hand back over to Bleekemolen allowed the Dutchman to slowly build back up an advantage over Jorg Bergmeister in the Porsche. Rounding out the podium was the JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Jeff Segal, Rodrigo Baptista and Wei Lu which had closed to within 40 seconds of the Team Project 1 entry after a rapid final stint from Baptista.