LONDON – Toyota suffered one of the most heartbreaking losses in 24 Hours of Le Mans history on Sunday, when, with three minutes to drive to an almost certain win, the No. 5 car of Kazuki Nakajima, Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi failed, allowing the No. 2 Porsche to steal the most unlikely of victories.
The LMP1 class-winning Porsche piloted by Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb completed 384 laps of the iconic 13.6-km circuit, ultimately finishing in front of the No. 6 Toyota TS050 of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin three laps behind in second.
With Nakajima at the wheel and a lead of more than a minute, the Toyota No. 5 lost power just three minutes short of the 24-hour mark, crawling to a stop in the finish straight, agonizingly close to the win. Nakajima did manage to get the car restarted and around the final lap, but it took almost 12 minutes, which was too slow for the car to be classified.
“It was tough to have Porsche No. 2 only 30 seconds behind me towards the end but we had the pace and we managed it very well. It was only two laps missing and it’s a pity we didn’t get the trophy, the team deserved to win,” Nakajima said after the race.
“When I was doing my last lap to the checkered flag, all the marshals and fans were really kind to me and that was very emotional. I want to say thank you for that. Let’s come back stronger and grab that trophy.”
Now in its 84th year, the race has long been a scene of frustration for Toyota with the manufacturer now finishing second five times since making its debut in 1985.
Had Nakajima managed to get the car across the line it would have been the first Le Mans win for a Japanese driver since 2004, and the first win for a Japanese manufacturer since 1991 when a rotary Mazda 787B took the overall victory. As it ended, it was Porsche’s 18th overall victory in Le Mans.
Jani joined a chorus expressing shock at the result, and despair for the Toyota team.
“I feel heartbroken for the Toyota drivers. I think every racing driver knows how this feels like. I still have no words to describe winning the 24 hours of Le Mans,” the Swiss said.
“This is really surreal. Still we drove a very good race with very few mistakes and pushed the car to the maximum. This win is really, really special.”