It was the Toyota TS050 Hybrid # 8 that crossed the finish line at this year's 24 Hours Le Mans. For the third year in a row, the Toyota TS050 Hybrid has won this endurance race and Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima thus accumulate three successes in Sarthe. Already victorious in 2017 with Porsche, Brendon Hartley signed his first victory in Le Mans driving for Japanese manufacturer.
But it wasn't a walk in the park for the drivers. It was at 2:30 am that everything changed. The hopes of victory for Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López crashed as the car had to return to its pit for an intervention on a turbo problem. The operation would cost them 30 minutes. They had to put pedal to the metal and get back on the two Rebellion R13-Gibsons from Rebellion Racing who had taken the opportunity to slip onto the provisional podium.
Mike Conway was able to run stints without the slightest mistake and built a comfortable lead lap after lap. This reached 40 seconds after an hour of racing. At the same time, a puncture forced the Toyota TS050 Hybrid # 8 to make an unscheduled stop. Nothing seemed to be able to stop # 7 when Kamui Kobayashi, the fastest man in Le Mans history, took the wheel. Faster in pure performance and untouched by the facts of the race, the # 7 crew seemed invincible. The long-awaited victory was beginning to take shape.
Sébastien Buemi said, It feels amazing to have won three times. I'm feeling great. I think my teammates did an amazing job. We spent a lot of time preparing. It wasn't easy, we started off with a puncture, then brake issues and everything seemed to be against us. We lost two laps changing faulty parts. At that point, we thought we'd lost our chance of winning. But we pushed hard and an hour later our luck changed; we ended up leading and then won the race. It just proves that anything can happen at Le Mans.”
The only car in the lead when passing the quarter of the test, the Toyota TS050 Hybrid # 8 seemed to play the role of bodyguard to perfection. Despite an alert at the start of the night because of a cooling problem in the front-right brake, which would lead to a 10-minute stop, they were going to replace the sister car to lead the race. New leaders at mid-race, they were no longer worried until the finish and won with five laps in advance.
Kazuki Nakajima praised the car and the crew and said “It was special to be in the TS050 Hybrid for its last race and to be in the car for the last victory at Le Mans three in a row. The race was up and down – or down and up! Everyone did a great job, the whole team. Somehow we had more luck than the other car. It was a very long race. Once the issues started, we only wanted to win. It was quite tough but I'm really happy to be a part of this team and am looking forward to the future.”