The #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso has won the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours after incredible final-hour drama at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The second works Toyota hybrid finished second, with the #11 SMP Racing BR01 in third.
The #7 car had led over 300 laps of the 384-lap race and maintained a commanding lead of around two minutes with just 60 minutes remaining. However, the TS050 Hybrid slowed on track and pitted twice in two laps due to a puncture. With no visible tyre deflation, it appears as if the car suffered a sensor-related issue.
The problems left a heartbroken #7 crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José-María López chasing the leading #8 car, with the Argentine cutting the gap to just 18 seconds but ultimately running out of time to regain the lead.
The 87th running of the French endurance classic began in dry but overcast conditions, with the #7 Toyota of Mike Conway leading Buemi in the #8 machine into the first lap. An outstanding first stint by the British driver set the #7 up for the remainder of the race. Conway handed over his works hybrid LMP1 car with a 45-second advantage over second place.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the works Toyotas, after a number of safety car periods repeatedly closed the field back up during Saturday evening and the early hours of Sunday. With three safety cars in use at Le Mans due to the length of the track, cars were separated and bunched up at random depending on the timing of the deployment.
A safety-car period at sunset brought the lead pair back together, and Nakajima in the #8 overtook López to lead for two stints into the night. However, the #8 crew had seemingly struggled with the balance on their LMP1 hybrid and were unable to match the #7 car in terms of pace throughout much of the race.
The final-hour drama handed Sébastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima their and Toyota Gazoo Racing’s second Le Mans win in consecutive years, as well as the FIA World Endurance Drivers’ Championship for the #8 crew.
Third was the #11 SMP Racing BR01 after an excellent run for the Russian-entered team. The early stages of the race were spent battling with the #3 Rebellion Racing R13 of Laurent/Berthon/Menezes, before a series of issues befell the Swiss squad. The #17 car was the better placed of the two SMP Racing cars going into night-time running, but driver Egor Orudzhev crashed heavily in the Porsche Curves at around the halfway stage.
Signatech Alpine Matmut take LMP2 victory and title
The #36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Alpine A470 secured victory in the LMP2 class after a faultless run by the French team. Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and André Negrão also secured the LMP2 teams’ and drivers’ championships.
The #36 machine began the race among the favourites for class victory, and it was the Rusinov/Vergne/van Uitert-driven #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 that made the early running against the Signatech Alpine crew.
The battle continued unabated throughout the night, before the G-Drive crew got a lucky break on safety-car deployment to establish a 90-second lead. It looked as if the Russian team were on course for class victory, before a starter motor issue on Sunday morning cost it 20 minutes in the pits.
Ho-Pin Tung, Stéphane Richelmi and Gabriel Aubry finished second in class in the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca, ahead of the pole-sitting #28 TDS Racing Oreca of Loic Duval, Francois Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxivière.
Images © WEC-Magazin (Walter Schruff / Ton Kerdijk)