Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon admitted it would have been “game over” had the team decided to take its Toyota GR010 Hybrids to the garage to fix a fuel pressure issue that impacted both of its Le Mans Hypercars.
The Japanese manufacturer scored a 1-2 finish in the 24 Hours of Le Mans after “managing” the fuel-related issue that developed in the final six hours of the race.
It resulted in both the No. 8 and eventual race-winning No. 7 Toyota completing reduced stints, sometimes as little as two laps according to runner-up finisher Brendon Hartley.
“We had some issues developing since this morning,” said Vasselon. “We had been working real hard. Many people on the team were quite creative to fix the problem which we never had before.
“It was a similar problem [to what we had in Monza] but in Monza we did not fix it. Here we could fix it [by taking the car to the garage].”
Vasselon admitted it would have taken “too long” to fix the problem, which would have resulted in replacing the fuel collector and filters inside each of the car’s tanks, something he estimated would have cost each car at least 25 minutes.
Such a stop would have handed the win to the No. 36 Alpine A480 Gibson, which finished four laps behind.
“This we knew it would have been game over for the race,” said Vasselon. “This is why we did everything we could to not do it.”
Hartley, who along with co-drivers Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima finished second, said it was a “big team effort” to help get both cars to the finish.
“We had this issue with the fuel pump, maybe even a fuel filter,” Hartley said. “We were struggling to get all the fuel so we started doing five-lap stints, sometimes six. I think Seb was even down to a two-lap stint at one point.
“We weren’t sure if we were going to get to the end of the race.
“I have to say it was an incredible job by the entire team. They found a workable solution for us to get to the end. Seb was the guinea pig, so to speak.
“He was doing the testing on the fly with great communication back with the pits and trying to manage it with some buttons and systems we have, which actually wasn’t easy for us.
“We had our hands full already and pushing all sort of buttons on the steering wheel on the braking phase of each corner of each lap.
“Ultimately also finding a workable solution meant that Car 7 could also get to the end.
“That’s Le Mans. There’s always these stories.”
Mike Conway, who claimed his first Le Mans victory alongside co-drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, said it made for a “really stressful” final quarter of the race.
While the gremlin first developed on the second-placed No. 8 Toyota, the No. 7 team ultimately encountered fuel pickup issues as well.
“It was hard,” said Conway. “The last six hours we knew we had something on the car that could have been a real big problem.
“Luckily the team came up with a solution to keep us going. All credit to the team for figuring that out and making sure we could get a 1-2 finish for the team is pretty special with all the circumstances.
“It was really stressful the last six or seven hours.
“This race is never easy, even if you’re out leading on your own in the front with many laps ahead, you’re still worried all the way to the end.”
Vasselon Pleased With Car’s Overall Reliability
The exact cause of the issue is still under investigation according to Vasselon, who indicated it was similar to the fuel contamination issue they encountered in last month’s 6 Hours of Monza.
“We have to investigate but really the big difference is that this time we found a way to work around it without stopping for one hour of the race,” he said.
“Apart from this stupid issue of fuel pressure, the car has been perfectly reliable and remarkably strong, even with an accident.
“At the start, Olivier Pla didn’t do us any favors. It was quite a big hit but fortunately it took the left-rear wheel and we had no damage.
“This was really a good surprise for us. Then Seb had contact with a LMP2 later, which did not result in any damage either.”
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report