Le Mans victory so close for Toyota
With film star Brad Pitt giving the official race start at the 24 Hours Le Mans endurance race, it fittingly ended with a Hollywood finish as Porsche defended its title in dramatic fashion after Toyota relinquished the lead minutes from the end.
Toyota had Kazuki Nakajima behind the wheel of the No. 5 TS050 Hybrid and was poised to clinch its first Le Mans victory only to lose power and halt on the pit straight with five minutes left — allowing Swiss driver Neel Jani to overtake in his Porsche No. 2.
Nakajima crossed the line second but his final lap of nearly 12 minutes was too slow to be classified, meaning Toyota’s No. 6 car — driven by Frenchman Stephane Sarrazin — took second place.
Audi moved up to third, maintaining its record of a podium every year since making its debut in 1999.
Frenchman Roland Dumas and Germany’s Marc Lieb were the other winning drivers for No. 2 Porsche, and ex-Formula 1 driver Sebastien Buemi of Switzerland and British driver Anthony Davidson were the others to taste bitter defeat for No. 5 Toyota.
It will feel particularly bad for Nakajima. Heading into the final hour, he was comfortably ahead of Jani and was leading by 1 minute, 24 seconds inside the last 10 minutes.
With five hours left, Toyota No. 5 — driven by Buemi — led from Mike Conway’s Toyota No. 6, with Dumas in third.
Conway handed the wheel to Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi — another former F1 driver — and he span into the gravel at Corvette Corner. Kobayashi got back on track, but following his near-miss he drifted behind in third and Porsche No. 2 moved into second.
By midday, and with three hours remaining, Toyota No. 5 — with Davidson replacing Buemi — had a slender lead over Porsche No. 2, now driven by Jani — who had secured pole position for the race.
Last year, with German Formula 1 driver Nico Hulkenberg behind the wheel, Porsche won to end Audi’s five-race winning run and clinch a record 17th victory. British driver Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber of New Zealand were the other drivers to win last year — but in a reversal of fortune, both pulled out during the night.
Driving in the GT category, Tandy’s Porsche No. 91 had an engine problem and Bamber’s No. 92 was undone by a connection problem between the suspension and the chassis. Hulkenberg was racing in F1 later Sunday at the inaugural European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan.