24h Le Mans: Toyota’s race falls apart in astonishing half hour

posted in: Homepage, Le Mans, LMGTE-Am, LMGTE-Pro, LMP1, LMP2 | 0

Le Mans has nev­er been a race short on dra­ma, espe­cial­ly after the con­clu­sion to last year’s 24 hours, but the 2017 run­ning looks to have deliv­ered yet anoth­er chap­ter of Le Mans his­to­ry. The #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid of André Lot­ter­er, Nick Tandy and Neel Jani leads at the halfway point, but that only tells half the sto­ry.

Prob­lems ini­tial­ly struck the #8 Toy­ota of Sébastien Bue­mi, Kazu­ki Naka­ji­ma and Antho­ny David­son, who were forced to pit in the evening due to mechan­i­cal issues. The car spent almost two hours in the pits whilst the Toy­ota mechan­ics fran­ti­cal­ly looked to resolve the issue and fell out of con­tention for the over­all vic­to­ry.

Then, at mid­night, the #7 Toy­ota of Kamui Kobayashi, Stéphane Sar­razin and Mike Con­way had held a rel­a­tive­ly com­fort­ably lead for the Japan­ese man­u­fac­tur­er. How­ev­er, after a safe­ty car peri­od called to clear up rub­bish from the track sur­face, Kobayashi was unable to engage his gears due to a faulty clutch and slowed to a crawl on the start/finish straight. The Japan­ese dri­ver couldn’t make it around the 14km cir­cuit and even­tu­al­ly came to a halt – and retired – at the Porsche Curves.

This hand­ed the lead to the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid and sec­ond place to the slight­ly delayed #9 Toy­ota of José-Maria Lópéz, Nico­las Lapierre, and Yuji Kuni­mo­to. Then, just thir­ty min­utes after Kobyashi’s dra­mat­ic retire­ment, Lapierre made con­tact with the CEFC Manor Rac­ing car of Simon Trum­mer and suf­fered dam­age to the left rear tyre. The dam­age affect­ed the car’s body­work, and Lapierre strug­gled to return his TS050 to the pits. His attempts were in vain, with Lapierre cru­el­ly com­ing to a halt with­in sight of the pit lane.

The litany of prob­lems affect­ing the LMP1 field means that, at the halfway point, the #13 and #31 Vail­lante Rebel­lions hold sec­ond and third places over­all and lead the LMP2 cat­e­go­ry.

The GTE Pro bat­tle is just as excit­ing, with the #71 AF Corse Fer­rari 488 lead­ing the field at the halfway point from the #92 Porsche 911 RSR of Kévin Estre and the #51 AF Corse car by just a hand­ful of sec­onds. The #84 JMW Fer­rari con­tin­ues to lead GTE Am, hav­ing extend­ed its class to around one lap.

Images © WEC-Mag­a­zin / Wal­ter Schruff