After their first victory in 2018, Toyota has once again scored a 1-2 finish with the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid first past the chequered flag ahead of the #7 sister car. Until the final hour, however, last year’s winners in the #7 car, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso were almost decided to settle for second place. Until the dramatic turn of events, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José-Maria had looked set to take a symbolic win. The #7 had topped most of the hourly time sheets and looked like comfortable winners after the two Toyota TS050 Hybrids started the race on pretty equal footing.
Mike Conway (Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid) made the most of the clean track to clock up some fast laps early on. With a time of 3:17.297, his fourth lap was the fastest of the whole race. An hour later there was a 15-second gap between the two cars, the gap gradually extending to a minute as the race progressed.
In the eighth hour, there were signs of a real battle between the two cars. In the #7, José-Maria Lopez went straight into the gravel at Mulsanne, giving Kazuki Nakajima in the #8 a chance to sneak past. The #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid moved back into the lead overnight, however, thanks to some very efficient pit stops and the car’s drivers scoring their fastest lap times. In 2018, it was the #8 car that had excelled on both fronts. However, the thunderbolt struck at 13:58. The #7 slowed right down with a puncture and José-Maria Lopez could only dawdle back to the pit lane. In the Porsche curves, Kazuki Nakajima moved out in front for the final hour until the chequered flag.
The battle amongst the non-hybrid LMP1 cars was equally enthralling. They all fell foul to punctures, technical issues and driver errors. The two Rebellion R-13 Gibsons suffered, especially the #3 driven by Thomas Laurent, Nathanaël Berthon and Gustavo Menezes. Thomas Laurent’s impact after a braking error in the second Mulsanne just after 21:00 was particularly memorable. The Rebels’ main rivals in the SMP Racing #11 BR1-AER ran a more consistent race and were thrilled to take the third spot on the podium. Mikhail Aleshin, Stoffel Vandoorne and Vitaly Petrov never dropped further back than P4. The AER engine and the beautifully designed BR Engineering BR1 have proven to be extremely reliable.
1 - #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, Toyota Gazoo Racing - Sébastien Buemi/Kazuki Nakajima/Fernando Alonso
2 - #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, Toyota Gazoo Racing - Mike Conway/Kamui Kobayashi/Jose-Maria Lopez
3 - #11 BR Engineering BR1, SMP Racing - Mikhail Aleshin/Stoffel Vandoorne/Vitaly Petrov