Porsche entered the 85th running of the famed 24 Hours of Le Man as an unquestionable underdog. The Toyota Gazoo racing team has had the competitive edge over Porsche since the 2017 WEC season started. Toyota claimed victory in Silverstone with Porsche second and third and claimed victory again at Spa with a one-two podium finish and a Porsche third place. The Toyota squad has undeniably been stronger and more prepared in 2017, but Le Mans is a very different race, and it’s a race that Porsche knows better than any other manufacturer.
Toyota arrived at the La Sarthe circuit looking to extend their dominance and finally claim their first overall Le Mans victory with a full 3-car assault that nearly locked out the front row (1,2 & 4). With images of the Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1 coming to a complete stop on the final lap, in the final minutes of the last year’s 24 hour race still burning bright in the minds of team Toyota, everyone couldn’t help but wonder, could Toyota be cursed here. The crown jewel of endurance racing takes no prisoners and plays no favorites, but too loose on the final lap, minutes from the checkered flag can only be described as devastating. When Porsche rounded the Ford Chicane to claim it’s 18th overall victory in 2016, the motorsport world was left breathless.
Toyota has harnessed last year’s brutal defeat into motivation and relentless focus. These year-long efforts put Toyota in a commanding lead of the race from the drop of the green flag. The Gazoo team’s chances of victory were further secured after the #2 Porsche was forced into the pits after 4 hours with loss of drive to the front axles. This extended pit stop put the #2 car in 52nd place when it finally re-entered the race. Meanwhile the Toyotas maintained a strong advantage going into the evening hours. That was until the Toyota #7 car lost power with a clutch issue that left it unable to return to the pits, 10 hours into the race. Moments later the sister Toyota # 9 car suffered a similar fate. This left the door wide open for the #1 Porsche which held the largest LMP1 lead seen in years, running trouble free and avoiding drama throughout most of the second half of the race. But with 3 hours on the clock, the leading Porsche suffered power loss forcing it into retirement. This left the podium wide open for the LMP2 category. But the #2 Porsche of Bernhard, Bamber and Hartley continued their relentless charge through the field and captured the overall lead with an hour to go.
This race of attrition saw 3 of the 5 LMP1 not even finish the race. When the Rolex clock ticked off the final seconds, it was the Porsche 919 LMP1 Hybrid that claimed Le Mans overall victory. This epic drive and team perseverance was the ultimate example of why you never give up at Le Mans. Porsche and Le Mans have defined each other for decades and this text book race re-wrote the history books of endurance racing.
They say, “You don’t win Le Mans, Le Mans lets you win”. And after this race, you knew how true these words really are. Congratulations to Porsche, Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley and the entire Porsche team for one of the greatest comeback victories in the history of Le Mans and claiming an unprecedented 19th overall victory at the holy grail of endurance races.