Sebastien Buemi admitted that luck played into their hands yet again, with the No. 8 Toyota crew claiming their third consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans victory.
Despite not having the ultimate pace of pole-sitting No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, Buemi and co-driver Kazuki Nakajima became three-time Le Mans winners while Brendon Hartley picked up his second triumph in the French endurance classic in the last four years.
It came after both Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 hybrids faced mechanical issues, although a less severe brake cooling problem ultimately made the difference when an exhaust failure led to a turbo change on the No. 7 car just past the halfway point.
The 30-minute stop for the sister car handed victory again to the No. 8 crew.
“It feels once again that the luck here in Le Mans can turn at any point,” said Buemi.
“When we started the race everything was against us. Slow Zone, puncture, problem with the brakes.
“Then all of a sudden things started to go well and we found ourselves leading the race and winning by five laps.
“Once again you don’t know until the race is over.”
Hartley, who claimed his first Le Mans win with Toyota after replacing Fernando Alonso in the car’s lineup for the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship season, credited his team’s engineers for getting them through its early gremlins.
The No. 8 car lost two laps in the garage in the seventh hour when the team replaced the right-front brake duct after cooling-related issues.
“Today, other than a few little issues with the car in the beginning, with things that didn’t go our way, I think after [that] we did a perfect race,” said Hartley.
“We had an amazing group of engineers behind the scenes trying to help us get around the brake problem, trying to adapt, giving us settings changes to try and get the balance right.
“Everything was executed really well.”
Conway ‘Pretty Gutted’ to Miss Out on Win Again
Mike Conway admitted that he felt “gutted” to miss out on the win again due to issues out fo the No. 7 car’s control.
Conway and co-drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez lost a sure-fire win last year due to a tire sensor issue that took Lopez out of the lead in the final hour.
Sunday’s result marked Conway and Kobayashi’s fourth Le Mans podium finish, although neither have yet win the race.
“This place hasn’t been the kindest to us at times,” Conway said.
“Three wins on the trot for the team — we’ve to be happy for that. But on our side of the garage we feel like another one got away from us.
“We’re sad about that obviously. It will take some time to get over it. Especially for the championship it changes things around massively.
“Two big hits in one race. It’s pretty gutting. We come here and do a good job. It’s just some little things that stop us from getting the win.
“We keep saying it but we have to come back next year and try again.”
Turbo-Related Issue a “One Off” Problem
Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon joked post-race that will need to swap car numbers next year in order to break the No. 7 car’s unlucky streak at Le Mans.
“I’m running out of words [to say] to the drivers,” Vassleon said. “They did everything right. They prepared well. They were fast. They found good setups with their engineers and every time something goes wrong which is not in their hands.
“All of the team feels sorry for them.
“They were clearly a bit faster than Car 8 and again something happens which is not in their control.”
Vasselon explained that the exhaust issue for the No. 7 Toyota, which led to a turbo change was a “one off issue” that the manufacturer had not seen recently.
However, he said the team had prepared for the scenario of changing the turbo, which fell within its target completion time of 25-30 minutes.
“It’s one of the scenarios which had been practiced,” he told Sportscar365. “It’s very difficult to remove the hot exhausts, so definitely we were working to try to do that.
“We knew from the beginning that it would be a lengthy stop.”
Debris that damaged the floor of the No. 7 Toyota in the final eight hours led to a “massive” loss of downforce according to Vasselon, who elected not to bring the car in for further repairs.
Vasselon estimated the car was catching the No. 3 Rebellion R13 Gibson by three seconds per lap and would have overtaken the car had the damage not been sustained.
Ultimately it didn’t matter as late-race accident by Louis Deletraz and subsequent clutch issue sent the No. 3 Rebellion into the garage and gave Toyota a double podium finish.
“When the pace of the car dropped it was not possible anymore until Car 3 had its own problem,” Vasselon said. “Then it became possible for Car 7 to be there.
“Definitely in Le Mans we never stop pushing because you never know what will happen.”