Since 2000, Audi has won at Le Mans all but two years. The two times Audi failed to take the overall win in the 24-hour endurance classic came in 2003 and 2009, as the Bentley Speed 8 and Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, respectively, took them down.
Both Bentley and Peugeot were in the third years of their programs.
So this is a good time to mention that Toyota Racing is in the third year of its new program. To most serious observers, 2014 marks the Japanese manufacturer’s best chance to win overall, and take down Audi.
A Toyota win could be on the cards on the basis of its performance thus far in the FIA World Endurance Championship. The No. 8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid is two-for-two to open the year, with wins at Silverstone and Spa.
None of the drivers in the No. 8, Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre nor Sebastien Buemi, has a Le Mans victory on their records.
Davidson’s 2012 flight at the end of the Mulsanne Straight, after Piergiuseppe Perazzini’s Ferrari F458 Italia contacted him, is probably the enduring memory most have of him at Le Mans. He’d be keen to erase that and exploit the pace over 24 hours.
“We had a good testing program, and we had confidence the car would feel good with a nice balance,” he said. “But it was always a nice surprise to see you’re not just as fast as your competition, but sometimes have the edge as well. We have to take it as it comes. It’s been really great.”
Davidson said he’s getting on great with his teammates, but joked because Lapierre and Buemi often speak French they “leave me out of the party.”
Meanwhile the No. 7 trio of Alexander Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima features only one past winner, in Wurz.
A win for three-time runner-up Sarrazin would delight the local crowd; for polesitter Nakajima, it would be the first time a Japanese driver has won in a Japanese car at Le Mans.
For Wurz, renowned for his setup and development ability and paddock leadership during his decade-plus in Formula One before he shifted fully to sports cars, the new-for-2014 regulations have required a big adaption behind the wheel.
“It’s quite a severe adjustment to be honest,” Wurz told Sportscar365. “You’re not just driving different for fuel saving, but also for energy recovery. It changes the way you’re braking and entering corners. It’s quite different.”
Meanwhile, Wurz has a unique opportunity to win his third Le Mans with a third different manufacturer, and in a third different decade (1996 TWR Porsche, 2009 Peugeot).
“It would be pretty cool. This race is only cool if you win it,” Wurz said.
If they do pull through, Toyota will join Mazda (1991) as Japanese manufacturers to win overall at Le Mans.