The No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid lost the 24 Hours of Le Mans when it was struck by a sensor issue made its team leave on a punctured tire, according to the Toyota Gazoo Racing technical director Pascal Vasselon.
Jose Maria Lopez was leading his teammate Kazuki Nakajima by around two minutes when he came in for an unexpected stop just before the start of the final hour.
The Argentinian was sent on his way with a new right-front Michelin tire, but it transpired that the puncture was actually located on the car’s left-rear.
Speculation at the time suggested that a sensor issue had resulted in the wrong tire being changed; this suggestion was later confirmed by Vasselon after the race.
“They picked up a puncture which the sensors in the car have already detected,” he told Sportscar365.
“They have detected the wrong tire, so it told the team that it was the front-right, but it was the rear-left.
“So we changed only the front-right, and then when they restarted, we realized immediately that the puncture tire was still on the car. This is why he did the second lap slow.”
Vasselon wouldn’t elaborate on the possible cause of the puncture, and suggested that further analysis will be needed to determine what went wrong.
Nakajima took the lead when Lopez came in for his second pit stop, having crawled around the 8.5-mile circuit locked in third gear and with his right-rear still deflating.
From there, Nakajima went on to win by 16 seconds from the sister Toyota, earning a second straight Le Mans victory for himself, Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi.
“We have to look at it because it’s a slow puncture, and it is difficult to detect when a slow puncture starts,” said Vasselon.
“We still have to find out, but it was really slow, so we did not take time. We have to trace where it started.”
When asked if such an issue had struck one of the Toyotas before in testing, Vasselon said: “it has happened, probably, but it’s not been frequent.”
No. 7 Crew “Fully Deserved” Victory
Vasselon acknowledged the No. 7 crew’s disappointment at missing out on Le Mans victory in the final hour, but denied any thoughts of switching the Toyotas around at the end.
“They fully deserved it,” he said. “The problem is that when the race decides these kinds of things, it is extremely difficult to reverse it.
“You can always say, ‘he got a puncture, that was the reason, he has taken risks, it’s a race incident’. But to go against that? [It’s] difficult.
“The No. 8 crew came with a different target. They wanted to win Le Mans, but they also wanted to secure the championship.
“They have managed a different approach and a different risk level. Even if car No. 7 drivers did not take risks, they did very well. But car No. 8 I think wanted to be super safe.”