Toyota Gazoo Racing’s hopes of a maiden victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans look to be all-but-over after the No. 9 Toyota TS050 Hybrid retired during the 11th hour of the race.
After the No. 8 Toyota dropped out of the battle at the head of the pack due to a front motor problem that forced it into the garage, the race-leading No. 7 Toyota was resigned to retirement during Hour 10 when Kamui Kobayashi lost power and ground to a halt on-track.
Toyota’s sole chance of taking a maiden victory, the No. 9 car shared by Nicolas Lapierre, Jose Maria Lopez and Yuji Kunimoto, was left in second place, one lap down on the leading No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid.
But less than 20 minutes after Kobayashi hopped out of his No. 7 Toyota, the No. 9 hit trouble when it sustained a left-rear puncture that appeared to follow contact with the No. 47 Cetilar Villorba Corse Dallara P217 as it exited the pits.
The clash left Lapierre nursing his car in an attempt to bring the car back to the pits, but his efforts were in vain as the flailing tire only caused more damage to the rear bodywork and sparked a small fire at one stage, ultimately forcing him to come to a stop.
Lapierre managed to recycle the power on the No. 9 Toyota and got within sight of pit entry, only to be told to park up and bring the car to a halt by the team’s pit wall.
While the No. 8 Toyota is still running in the race, the two hours spent in the pits fitting a replacement MGU unit mean it currently runs 54th overall, 29 laps off the lead.
The turn of events in the space of less than half an hour sparked emotional scenes up and down the pit lane, but most visibly in the Toyota garage, where team members appeared to be on the verge of tears.
With a little over 13 hours remaining in the race, the safety car is still out on-track to allow marshals to clear debris off the circuit following the incidents.
Nick Tandy currently leads in the No. 1 Porsche, enjoying an eight-lap buffer over the No. 31 Vaillante Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibson, which could be in contention to claim an overall podium for an LMP2 car.
The sister No. 13 Rebellion Oreca is third, with Earl Bamber currently running 20th for Porsche in the next active LMP1 entry, currently 20th overall, with 10 laps to make up to the No. 31 Rebellion.