Getty Images | Ker Robertson
Race leader Kazuki Nakajima of Toyota Gazoo Racing suffers engine problems with less than 3 minutes to run of the Le Mans 24 Hour race handing victory to the Porsche Team.
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The 24 Hours of Le Mans holds a special place in our hearts. More than any other race, it’s a crucible in which new technology is forged, technology that’s directly relevant to the cars you or I drive on the road. And for 23 hours and 57 minutes, this year’s race belonged to Toyota Gazoo Racing, which put on a fine show with its pair of TS050 hybrid race cars. But racing can be a cruel, cruel sport—something I know all too well—and this year was crueler than most.
The race got underway on Saturday during torrential rain, with the first 50 minutes or so conducted under a safety car as the ACO (the race organizers) waited for the track to dry sufficiently for things to get going properly. At the front of the field the battle for the overall win was one fought between Porsche and Toyota with their hybrid LMP1 prototypes. Both of Audi Sport Team Joest’s R18 hybrids faltered early on, as did the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid, but the remaining three cars (the #5 and #6 Toyota TS050s and the #2 Porsche) stayed in close contention with multiple lead changes between them throughout the course of the race.
The #5 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, and Kazuki Nakajima looked set for victory after a strong performance in the final quarter of the race. The Toyotas were able to run for 14 laps between fuel stops—one more than either the Audis or Porsches, and the #5 stretched a lead over the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid (Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, and Marc Lieb) and its sister TS050 (Mike Conway, Stéphane Sarrazin, and Kamui Kobayashi) until it all went tragically wrong halfway around the penultimate lap. A third of the way down the Mulsanne Straight, with Nakajima at the wheel, the #5 Toyota started losing power. In short order, its 50-second lead over the Porsche evaporated, and the car came to a halt just past the finish line—with three minutes still on the clock.