Curious late-night incident may have cost Kobayashi

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Once again Toy­ota retired from the 24 Hours of Le Mans while hold­ing a strong lead – just like 2014. This time, the clutch failed on the #7 TS050 of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Con­way and Stéphane Sar­razin while it was lead­ing after 10 hours of the race. How­ev­er, a curi­ous inci­dent – bare­ly believ­able had it not been caught on TV – may have led to the fail­ure on the part and ulti­mate retire­ment.

When Kamui Kobayashi pit­ted dur­ing the first safe­ty car phase of the race, the race was just about to go green again and the safe­ty car came in our Kobayashi’s out lap. How­ev­er, when the Japan­ese dri­ver floored the throt­tle com­ing over the start/finish straight, he got noth­ing – or at least very lit­tle – in return. The car appeared to be stuck in gear. Kobayashi attempt­ed to com­plete the lap and return to the pits on elec­tric pow­er, but he even­tu­al­ly crawled to a halt at the Porsche Curves, arguably cost­ing Toy­ota yet anoth­er Le Mans win.

Anoth­er look at the Kobayashi stop may reveal the unbe­liev­able rea­son for the fail­ure. As the Toy­ota dri­ver neared the end of the pit lane, a mar­shal stopped him at pit out as per the reg­u­la­tions. Cars are only per­mit­ted to leave the pit once one of the three safe­ty car “trains” have passed pit out.

Then, from driver’s right, some­one appears in orange over­alls sim­i­lar to that of a mar­shal and gives Kobayashi the thumbs up sign. Kobayashi, think­ing that this gives him clear­ance to return to the track, begins to move – but then stops abrupt­ly, per­haps after being remind­ed by the team that he wasn’t per­mit­ted to enter the track.

Even more unbe­liev­ably, the man in the orange over­alls appears to bear on his over­alls the logo of SO24!, a rac­ing team who had part­nered up with Algarve Pro Rac­ing to enter the #45 Algarve Pro Rac­ing Ligi­er JSP217. It’s unclear whether there is a link between the inci­dents. Did an ill-advised inter­ven­tion by a mem­ber of anoth­er team lead to yet anoth­er high-pro­file Toy­ota fail­ure?

Three years ago, the Toy­ota TS040 of Kazu­ki Naka­ji­ma, Antho­ny David­son and Sébastien Bue­mi retired from a con­vinc­ing lead after 13 hours of the race as a scru­ti­neer­ing log­ger melt­ed and cut through one of the car’s crit­i­cal sys­tems, as well as the radio link, mean­ing that the team were unable to even inform dri­ver Naka­ji­ma of the impend­ing issue.

EDIT:

Fol­low­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of this arti­cle, Algarve Pro dri­ver Vin­cent Capil­laire has issued a state­ment on his Face­book page admit­ting that it was he who was caught on video ges­tur­ing to the Toy­ota and that he mere­ly want­ed to wish Kobayashi well on his way out of the pits. Accord­ing to Capil­laire, he was fined by the ACO for this indis­cre­tion.

Images © WEC-Mag­a­zin