H-18: Everything going to plan for Toyota/Michelin
We’re a quarter of the way into the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours and, for the moment, nothing has spooked Toyota’s game plan. The Japanese make’s two cars are in fi...
Toyota will be partying hard tonight after winning the famous Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time since its debut attempt at the world famous race in 1985. This time around, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and the team’s star recruit Fernando Alonso delivered the necessary speed and reliability in their N°8 TS050-Hybrid/Michelin to spearhead a one-two finish for the Japanese carmaker, ahead of the N°7 sister car (+2 laps). Porsche/Michelin celebrated no-nonsense wins in LM GTE Pro and Am, while G-Drive Racing was unassailable in LMP2 with the N°26 Oreca07. True to its ‘Winning performance to the line’ claim, Michelin secured its 21st straight Le Mans success.
Six years after its return to Le Mans as a factory operation in 2012, and two years after having had victory snatched so cruelly from its grasp on the very last lap in 2016, Toyota Gazoo Racing/Michelin has finally achieved Le Mans glory – the holy grail it has been chasing since its debut in the classis endurance race in 1985.
True, with neither Porsche nor Audi in contention in 2018, its two-car entry didn’t face any real opposition this weekend. However, Le Mans being Le Mans, the Japanese team was aware that going it alone was always going to be a risky game: win and nobody would be surprised, fail and it would be a disaster…
“It’s a shame Le Mans only happens once a year,” enthused ex-F1 champ and Le Mans rookie Alonso. “They should hold this race every two or three weeks. I loved driving in the dark and my Michelin tyres got faster and faster!”
Prior to Saturday’s start, observers had debated exactly how big a threat to Toyota the other hybrid LMP1s were likely to be. But despite the best efforts of the N°17 SMP Racing prototype and the N°1 and N°3 Rebellions, the non-hybrid prototypes failed to make a mark. After the demise of the former due to accident damage on Saturday evening, the Rebellions were left to pick up third (N°3) and fourth (N°1) spots – 12 and 13 laps adrift – which, realistically, was the best they could have hoped for.
In the light of its performance in qualifying, Porsche stood out as the make to beat in LM GTE Pro and Am, but there were concerns that the late BoP (Balance of Performance) adjustments published on Friday might jeopardise its chances. In the end, it shrugged off this handicap to dominate both classes practically from flag to flag.
Porsche GT Team/Michelin secured a one-two finish in LM GTE Pro led by the N°92 911 RSR of Christensen/Estre/Vanthoor. The identical N°91 car withstood late pressure to defend second place (+1 lap) from Ford which filled the next two places with its N°68 and 67 cars. Meanwhile, Corvette, Aston Martin and BMW will be looking to learn from this year’s Le Mans to bounce back next June when the race will be the last round of the WEC’s 2018/2019 Super-Season.
The N°77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche/Michelin took the spoils in LM GTE Am thanks to a gritty drive by Campbell/Ried/Andlauer who took command on Saturday afternoon. Ferrari/Michelin didn’t leave empty-handed after the N°54 and N°85 488 GTEs finished on the Am podium’s second and third steps.
Finally, the top LMP2 prize was presented to Vergne/Rusinov/Pizzitola (G-Drive Racing Oreca07) whose assertive display kept them clear of their chasers for most of the race. The N°23 Ligier/Michelin tended by the team owned jointly by ex-F1 driver Olivier Panis and the 1998 soccer World Cup-winning goalkeeper Fabien Barthez was running a strong second until a clutch issue dropped it down the order early on Sunday morning. The class’s silver and bronze medals ended up in the hands of the N°36 Alpine and N°39 Oreca07 (Graff-SO24).