When Ray Charles sang if it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, he wasn't thinking of Le Mans or Toyota, of course. But he could have been.
TEXT BY: Dušan Lukič PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Manufacturers, Profimedia
Last year's story was depressing for the Japanese team (so depressing, that even winning Porsche was shocked): their hybrid racecar was leading until beginning of last lap – and then died. They only needed 3 minutes more, but it all ended in tears.
And this year: Toyota brought 3 cars to avoid repeat of 2016 disaster. Porsche only brought 2 of their 919 Hybrids, and Audi did not show up. And yet: Toyota failed again. First the clutch on #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid failed in the nigh after the car being in the lead for 10 hours. Then just minutes later #9 car, which inherited the lead, was hit from behind, destroying its hydraulics and putting it out of the race, too. And the third car was already way back, losing 2 hours in the pits to repair the hybrid system. Even the demise of leading Porsche during the last hours of the race from 11 lap lead could not bring Toyota the win: the other 919 inherited the lead (after being in the pits for a hour-long repair of its hybrid system, but still shorter than Toyota) and won comfortably, while Toyota came home ninth, with only the fastest lap of the race as a consolation. Le Mans can (and usually is) cruel, and for Toyota, the time for a win is long overdue.
This years' victory was Porsche's 19th victory in Le Mans and third in a row. Firs came in 1970, and exactly 40 years ago the famous 936/77 had the win similar to this year. #4 car broke down early in the running, was repaired and chased back to the lead, driven by Jacky Ickx. It broke again in the last hour and limped around on 5 instead of 6 cylinders (mechanics simply removed ignition and injection hardware of failed cylinder) for last laps, smoking heavily but still managing to win.
The moment of glory: Earl Bamber and Brandon Hartley celebrate Porsche's victory. The winning car completed 367 laps (5,001.23 kilometers) at an average speed of 208.2 km/h. It entered the pit lane a total of 29 times, once for a drive-through penalty. Including the long stop for repairs, it spent one hour 38 minutes and 5.211 seconds in the pits. And yet it won – which is only possible at Le Mans.
Computer sre integral part of racing. The team can detect impending trouble long before it becomes obvious to the driver. The engineers knew about problems with front electric motor early enough that the car managet to stop in the pits for repair fefore total failure, which could leave it stranded on the track. During the 2017 race, the winnig 919 Hybrid sent more than 25 GB data to the pits. It was refuleted 28 times and used 10 sets of tires.
It was a big celebration for Toyota after qualifying; they won their first pole since 2014. Kamui Kobayashi set blistering pace: his 3:14.791 lap was full two seconds faster than previous qualifying record, and Toyota not only got the pole but locked out the front row. Victory seemed very likely...
The world's biggest and toughest car race started with a one-two lead for Toyota and problems for #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid. Two hours into the race it was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop. It took one hour and five minutes to change the electric engine that drives the front axle. The car re-joined the race 19 laps down on the race leader – then still a Toyota.
Earl Bamber in his "race bed." Le Mans is a very long race. Drivers eat, sleep, and get a massage, race and repeat. Sometimes they are in the car for an hour, sometimes more. 14 hours is the maximum any driver can stay in the car in total during the race (6 is minimum), and not more than 4 hours during any 6-hour period. So everything is planned to the minute, from food to sleep. The drivers had 0.9 litres of drink on board for each stint between pitstops. The drink bottle was changed at every refuelling stop.