LE MANS, FRANCE – Toyota drivers Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Buemi claimed their second consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans victory Sunday, but only after some bad luck scuttled their sister car’s hopes of a win.
With their fifth win of the season, Nakajima, Spaniard Alonso and Swiss Buemi also clinched the World Endurance Championship LMP1 title on the famous circuit in Le Mans, France.
“This year the Le Mans win was decided by luck and not by performance,” said Nakajima, a former Formula One racer.
“It was a tough race and what happened to (the other) car is hard to believe. We experienced a similar situation in 2016 so we know how this feels and we feel for our teammates.”
The sister Toyota piloted by Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez looked most likely to win throughout the grueling 24-hour race, but with just 62 minutes remaining a tire sensor problem forced the car to slow and then twice visit the pits, leaving the door open for Nakajima and his team to drive to the win.
“To win Le Mans is extremely difficult and frustrating, we saw that again,” said Kobayashi, the team’s other Japanese driver. “I have tried four times, so maybe next year will be mine. The point is that we should never give up.
“This year I pushed really hard to win and it looked good until 23 hours, so this result is hard to take.”
In 2017, Kobayashi was hit by a gear box failure overnight while comfortably leading the race and had to abandon.
On Saturday, he secured pole position in about 3 minutes, 15 seconds on the 13.6-km (8.43-mile) track in northern France.
Kobayashi’s No. 7 car then led the first seven hours of the race, before Alonso’s No. 8 briefly took the lead in the next hour.
Although No. 8 re-took the lead in the 11th hour, No. 7 quickly regained it and looked like it might hold it the rest of the way.
Until the late incident undid 23 hours of hard toil.
The Toyota team quickly tweeted: “Dramatic and unexpected end to the race, but it’s a TOYOTA one-two nonetheless. We feel so sorry for our #7 crew, but big congratulations to our new @FIAWEC World Champions and two-time Le Mans winners.”
The winning car’s most high-profile driver, two-time Formula One world champion Alonso, said it was not the best way to win.
“We did not have the pace to win this race against (the other car) on track. Today luck was a big factor and this is part of motorsport” he said.
“I feel for my teammates who are actually more than teammates, they are friends. They would have deserved the victory, but the race chose us to win it.”
Alonso should know all about bad luck after his McLaren team failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 following a calamitous series of errors.
The 37-year-old Spaniard still needs to win the Indianapolis 500 in order to match British driver Graham Hill’s feat of completing the Triple Crown: winning Le Mans, the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500. He has won Monaco and Le Mans twice, both of them back to back.
A total of 252,500 spectators attended the 87th edition of Le Mans, which was first held in 1923.
With the Toyotas effectively in a race of their own due to no other cars using the same hybrid technology, there was never any real threat of another team winning.
Two people familiar to Alonso finished in third place in the No. 11 SMP Racing car.
One was Stoffel Vandoorne — his former F1 teammate at McLaren — and the other Vitaly Petrov.
In the deciding race of the 2010 F1 championship, Alonso had a very good chance to seal a third world title.
But despite starting third, his Ferrari got stuck behind Petrov’s Renault at the Abu Dhabi GP and he ended the race in seventh spot. It cost him dearly, as he finished second in the title race — only four points behind Sebastian Vettel.
This time, the luck went Alonso’s way as he celebrated becoming a double world champion across two motorsports.
He still found time to commiserate with Kobayashi, giving him a long hug.
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