For the past three years, Toyota has practically been unrivaled in the World Endurance Championship. This year is no exception as they bagged yet another win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But while it looked like a walk in the park for the only factory-backed prototype in the field, it wasn't easy for the team.
At the start, it was the number 7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and Jose Maria Lopez that took the early lead. The number 8 car of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, and Kazuki Nakajima followed closely. For a big part of the 24-hour race, it seemed that Toyota was poised for another 1-2 finished in Le Mans.
By the six-hour mark, the number 7 has a big distance from its sister car. By the 12-hour mark, that lead had increased by one full lap. However, troubles struck the lead Toyota at around 3:00 AM. Exhaust problems began to develop, and the leading Toyota began suffering power loss. The driver at the time, Kamui Kobayashi, was forced to enter the pits to find the source of the problem. As it turned out, a damaged exhaust manifold was the source of the power loss.
The team swiftly sprung into action, repairing the major part as quickly as they can. But while the number 7 Toyota was in the garage, the number 8 team quickly grabbed the lead. Toyota did their best to bring back the 7 car on the road, completing the repair in less than 30 minutes. However, the time in the garage cost them dearly as they were now down by several laps from the lead.
Car number 8 wasn't spared from any issues either. When darkness fell on the track, the team suffered a puncture that cost them 10 minutes. After that, a piece of debris got lodged in one of the brake ducts. Still, the trio of Buemi, Hartley, and Nakajima pressed on and took the lead when their teammates encountered troubles.
By dawn, the number 8 was still going strong with no issues to report. Car number 7 would see its fair share of troubles by daybreak. Debris had struck the car, compromising aero, and slowed them down yet again. Because of that, they dropped down to fourth. But this is Le Mans and it's a race that's known to throw surprises before the end. That happened an hour before the finish when the Rebellion race car in third crashed out. This allowed can number 7 to clinch the final podium spot, six laps behind its sister car which had won the race.
From an outsider's point of view, Toyota made the whole thing look easy. But in 24 hours, both cars logged over 7,000 kilometers combined. Each of the drivers at least six hours of driving too, and that's a quarter of a day running at maximum pace and concentration. So, yes, Toyota won again, but this year's win was one of the more challenging ones by the team. That's all the more reason why some would say Le Mans is the greatest single motorsport event in the year.