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

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