Toyota continued their dominance in the Le Mans 24-hour race, as the No. 8 team of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima earned a dramatic victory for the second year in succession.
In the historic endurance event, the Toyota No. 7 looked poised to outlast the No. 8 after building up a lead in excess of two minutes. However, as the race moved into the final hour, the No. 7—consisting of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez—suffered two punctures, allowing the No. 8 to move in front.
SMP Racing No. 11 were a long way back in third position, although Mikhail Aleshin, Vitaly Petrov and Stoffel Vandoorne would have been able to reflect on a job well done at the iconic French circuit.
Toyota were always going to be a difficult outfit to beat at Le Mans and it was unsurprising to see them build an early lead.
Further back in the pack there was a little more action, as drivers started to make errors on Saturday when the light started to fade. The No. 88 for Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche was involved in four incidents in the space of four hours.
It was a particularly testing time for Satoshi Hoshino, who was in the driver's seat for all of the smashes mentioned; this collision prompted the retirement from the race of Marcel Fassler in the No. 64 Corvette:
A number of safety cars had an influence on the lead through the night, with the two Toyotas trading places at the front on a number of occasions. Motorsport journalist Luke Smith commented on how the No. 7 capitalised on one of them:
However, on Sunday morning Conway settled in for an excellent stint in the No. 7, pulling away from Buemi in the No. 8.
When Conway handed over to Lopez for the final stint of the 24 hours, the team were in a strong position and with just two hours left of racing, they had a sizeable margin in hand:
However, disaster struck for No. 7 late on. Lopez suffered two punctures in successive laps, prompting two separate pitstops:
24 Hours of Le Mans @24hoursoflemans
@AFCorse @FordPerformance @GDrive_Racing @RebellionRacing @UnitedAutosport @Wowen23 @alo_oficial @Toyota_Hybrid @RacingTeamNL @CorvetteRacing @janmagnussen @NegraoAndre @SignatechAlpine @BMWMotorsport @GvanderGarde 😱 #7 @Toyota_Hybrid has slowed down, before heading to the pit! The battle for the first position is back ON! #WEC #SuperFinale #LeMans24 https://t.co/3wPl1GJA6j
As Smith noted, it was hard luck on the No. 8 team, who had performed brilliantly throughout the course of the race:
In the meantime, Nakajima was able to overtake the other Toyota team and put his crew in control of the race with the minutes ticking down.
The No. 7 did take the lead on the track again late on, albeit only temporarily, as both cars had to come into the pits. However, when Lopez was told by his engineers to concentrate on getting the car to the finish in the final stages, the scrap for the win was all but called off.