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Toyotas Were “Extremely Tight” Until No. 7 Car Issue

Toyota GR technical chief says there was little to separate the GR010 Hybrids at Le Mans…

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe’s technical director said the manufacturer’s two LMH cars were “extremely tight” and “pushing like hell” to gain an edge on each other throughout the 24 Hours of Le Mans until an issue for the No. 7 determined the race outcome.

Pascal Vasselon said after Toyota sealed its fifth straight Le Mans victory that the duel between the two Toyota GR010 Hybrids was intense and evenly matched until an electric motor problem caused the No. 7 car to lose vital minutes to its No. 8 teammate.

The setback for Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway afforded Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa the space to turn down the heat slightly and ensure they kept clear of incidents to secure the win.

“The setups were slightly different, but in fact, the pace of the two cars was extremely close,” said Vasselon.

“At the beginning, Seb [Buemi] has maybe been pushing too hard in the first stint [of the No. 8 car] and paid in terms of tire degradation.

“But later in the race, when they took a bit more care with the tires, the two cars were extremely tight.

“It’s normal that our two cars are close because, usually, we bring the setups in the correct ballpark.

“And the six drivers are very close. All the ingredients are there to have a close race.

“But it has been very, very intense. They were pushing like hell. It was a bit worrying from the pit lane.

“It is true that it allowed the team to relax a bit when there was a gap between the two cars.”

Vasselon indicated that a more thorough analysis needs to be undertaken for Toyota to understand how the No. 7 crew’s issue unfolded with around eight hours to go.

It is unclear if the problem is related to a hybrid voltage converter failure that caused the No. 8 car to retire from the TotalEnergies 6 Hours of Spa in May.

“Because the two cars were so close, a small problem has decided the hierarchy,” Vasselon said.

“It was a very little electrical issue which has forced us to re-cycle the car. We knew what to do to get it going again, but we have not analyzed it.”

Hartley said that the two Toyota crews were “pushing each other so hard” until the No. 7 dropped back, and that he sympathized with his teammates for how they lost the race.

“I thought for the guys on the pit wall seeing us go flat out for 18 hours before they had a little issue,” Hartley reflected.

“There was nothing left. We were giving it everything. We were pushing each other.

“It was going back and forth with the slow zones. Also, one driver would have a good run in traffic, one driver wouldn’t. There were a couple of off-tracks from the other car, which we then got the jump on them.

“Honestly it was an amazing race up until when they had the issue. Then obviously we backed it right off and brought it home.

“We had the gap, but up until that moment it was an amazing fight.

“I do have a thought for them having a little technical issue that they had.”

Buemi added: “It was a tough one. I’m not sure you realize but the risk level was way too high. You don’t want to lose ground to the sister car so you have to keep up.

“But the level of pushing was impressive. I was kind of relieved to be able to take it a little bit easier at some point because it was really hard.”

Lopez, meanwhile, said that it ‘hurt’ to finish second at Le Mans the third time.

Out of the five Toyota victories, the No. 7 crew has only won the event once last year, with the No. 8 car and its different driver combinations prevailing four times.

“It hurts to miss the Le Mans win,” said Lopez.

“We are all competitive people and we want to win, but we also have to know how to take defeat and be happy for the team, particularly with this one-two result for Toyota Gazoo Racing.

“Congratulations to car No. 8; they did a great job. We did an almost perfect race and this explains the big gap to our Hypercar competitors, who all had some trouble.

“We managed everything to perfection. We showed we had the speed in the car and the will to win, so to face an issue is tough.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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