Japan Wins!:Toyota Gazoo  Racing wins Le Mans

Japan Wins!:Toyota Gazoo Racing wins Le Mans

2ND OPINION - Manny N. de los Reyes (The Philippine Star) - June 20, 2018 - 12:00am

It’s the World Cup of automobile racing.

The legendary Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race has been around since 1923. As sporting events go, that’s an epically long time to make history — and makes for a staggering 86 times for a major annual event.

But for the recent stats, let’s go back just the last 30 years and see which countries have hoisted the overall winner’s trophy in this iconic race.

In 1988 and 1990, the British were the conquerors of Le Mans, with the sleek and incredibly fast Silk Cut Jaguars. Those two victories were split by Sauber Mercedes, before the German-powered Swiss team switched to Formula One.

The victorious Toyota Gazoo Racing team jubilantly hoist their trophies after winning the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans

The year 1991 will forever be remembered as the first — and heretofore the only — time a Japanese manufacturer would first take the checkered flag after 24 hours of racing. I still have a Matchbox model of the now-legendary Mazda 787B in its famous orange-and-green livery. The wail of its infamous turbocharged rotary engine would forever be etched in the minds (and ears) of all who were present.  

The next two years (‘92 and ‘93) would be the French teams’ turn, with the blistering fast (and surprisingly reliable) Peugeot Talbot.

All but one of the next nine years would be swept by the Germans, with four different Porsches in the earlier years, a BMW V12 LMR (in 1999), and the Audi R8 sweeping three races from 2000 to 2002. The only exception to this German stranglehold would be 1995, when the Brits’ incredible McLaren F1 GTR took the overall win. (That fabulous BMW V12-powered car would score numerous class wins in subsequent years.)

The year 2003 would be the next year the British would win Le Mans, when the Bentley boys triumphantly returned to their hunting grounds with the glorious Speed 8.

The next five years would be a five-peat for Audi with the R8, and then the R10, taking almost effortless overall victories. (Two of those victories, however, were with a Japanese and an American team racing privateer Audis.   

French carmaker Peugeot broke the German stranglehold in 2009, with the stunningly quick 908 HDi. It was driven by no less than two Formula One drivers.

The next five years (2010 to 2014) were again Audi-fests, with the R15 and then the R18 sweeping the French race.

The subsequent three years would be Porsche’s renaissance, with the brilliant 919 Hybrid conquering all from 2015 until 2017.

Which brings us to this year.

And it’s Japan! This time with Toyota — Toyota Gazoo Racing, to be exact.

This is Toyota’s 20th attempt at the legendary race, although it had a near miss last year and performed competitively the year before that until the very end.

Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and double world F1 champion Fernando Alonso in the 2.4-liter turbo V6 No. 8 TS050 Hybrid started from pole position and took the chequered flag after 388 tense and often dramatic laps at the Circuit de La Sarthe to extend their lead in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).

Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, who led for long periods in the No. 7 car, made it a perfect one-two finish for Toyota with in front of 256,900 fans.

Toyota, which had entered 47 cars at Le Mans prior to this weekend’s race and finished on the podium six times, becomes only the second Japanese manufacturer to win at La Sarthe, while Kazuki is the first Japanese driver to win in a Japanese car.

The result is a culmination of intense and determined efforts by Toyota Gazoo Racing from its Higashi-Fuji and Cologne shops to continually enhance its hybrid-electric technology, which won the race using 35-percent less fuel than in 2012, when it returned to endurance racing.

The two Toyota cars were evenly matched throughout the 5,286 kilometers and swapped places several times during a race, which featured its share of drama for the leaders.

Two stop-go penalties for the No. 8 car, compared to one for the sister car, required an impressive night time stint from Fernando to come back into contention on a day when all drivers performed exceptionally in a high-pressure environment.

A late fuel issue dropped the No. 7 car off the lead lap so Kazuki took the chequered flag for the No. 8 with a lead of two laps. The No. 3 Rebellion Team from Switzerland (in a 4.5-liter V8-powered prototype) finished third, 12 laps behind.

“Finally, we won 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. Of course this is another step towards the next challenge so I would like to ask your continuous support from now on too. Thank you very much. ‘Thank you for driving all out!’ Please let me direct these words to our drivers, who drove our cars for the longest distance at Le Mans, finally in our 20th challenge. At the same time, I would like to say the same to our cars, completing 388 laps, approximately 5,300 km. And ‘thank you very much for letting us and our drivers drive all out!’ I want to say this to all fans who have supported us for a long time, our partners and suppliers who have battled together with us, and all the team members and the people related to our team. I want to express my sincere appreciation to all,” exclaimed a jubilant Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corporation, with the victory.

“It has been amazing. We know how important and iconic Le Mans is in the world of motorsport and as a team we achieved an amazing result. Every moment was a reminder of how tough and long this race is, anything can happen so we tried to execute our race and stay calm. Happily everything worked well. The race was hard because the two cars were very close, within one minute after 23 hours, so it was tough competitive but fair and very sporting. We wanted a one-two and we achieved that so I am very happy,” said a victorious Fernando Alonso.  

After a nine-week break, Toyota Gazoo Racing will return to action from August 17 to 19 in the 6 Hours of Silverstone, the third round of the 2018–19 WEC season.

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