If you’ve been driving for 24 hours, chances are the only thing on your mind is to get the journey over and done with. But if you’ve been racing flat-out against somebody else for a full day, you’d probably want to make those hours count and win the damn thing. In the just-concluded 24 Hours of Le Mans race at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France, Toyota wanted to win so bad that it beat everyone else and finished in first and second places. Just like it did last year.
But the 1-2 finish isn’t merely a product of Toyota simply wanting to win the prestigious race. Both teams manning the No. 7 and No. 8 TS050 Hybrid race cars were really going at it until the final hour, with the latter taking the checkered flag just 16.972 seconds ahead of the former after a whole day of racing. That gap isn’t something one would normally write about during a track event lasting two hours (yes, we’re referring to Formula 1). But these Toyota Gazoo Racing guys were practically wheel-to-wheel for 24 freaking hours. No margin for error, in other words.
But as stressful as it may seem, the teams running both race cars just took it all in stride. They’re seasoned veterans, after all. The No. 7 car was driven by Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and ex-F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi. Piloting the No. 8 car to victory was an all-star cast made up of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso—all former F1 drivers. Yes, the two-time Formula 1 champion has worked his magic again and brought home the bacon for the Japanese automaker.
While it was the No. 8 car that crossed the finish line first, mechanical gremlins and driver mistakes found them switching places with the pole-sitting No. 7 car several times during the race. The latter took advantage of the clean track and set quick times (including the fastest lap of the race). However, Lopez wandered off the track in the eighth hour, which Nakajima took advantage of. Into the night, the No. 8 car had its own share of problems, which allowed the No. 7 car to take the lead. The former was already consigned to finishing second until sheer bad luck in the form of a tire puncture plagued the latter, and with less than an hour to go, they switched places again and stayed in this position until the checkered flag.
While dominating Le Mans for the second straight year is indeed a sweet triumph for Toyota, it is also a somber swan song for one of its drivers. Alonso will no longer race in the World Endurance Championship—at least not with Toyota—after having participated in the series for two success-filled years. He is only the second driver to secure championship titles in two different four-wheel racing disciplines. A question that begs to be asked now is whether he’ll be going for a triple crown by entering another form of racing. Like IndyCar, for instance.
But that’s a topic for another occasion. For now, let’s just raise a glass to Toyota Gazoo Racing.