TOYOTA GAZOO Racing #8 team completes historic Le Mans hat-trick

The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing team, partnered by Acronis, completed a historic hat-trick of LMP1 victories with home team Japanese driver Kazuki Nakajima piloting home the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid as teammates Brendon Hartley and Sebastien Buemi cheered on from the pit wall.

In winning the class 1 race, Nakajima and Buemi achieved a third successive win after also enjoying success with Fernando Alonso in 2018 and 2019, whilst for New Zealander Hartley, it was a second victory after his win for Porsche in 2017.

“It feels great,” said Hartley, when interviewed by Eurosport’s Jenny Gow. “It’s still obviously sinking in. We miss the fans, it doesn’t feel quite the same as it normally does, but honestly the hard work that’s been put in by the guys behind the scenes to get this result and with my new teammates to win with two different manufacturers feels amazing and I can’t wait to stand up there. I feel at home here, I love it and look forward to seeing all the fans here next year. Merci!”

The event has always been something of a lucky charm for the Toyota #8 machine and something of a curse for the #7 sister car, whose team of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez looked set to break that hoodoo until a turbo change during the night took the car out of the lead, and cost them 30 minutes to replace.

Before that unfortunate technical glitch, the #7 had been a lap ahead after the #8 also lost time because of a brake issue. But the 30-minute gap proved insurmountable, and it even looked as if the team would finish behind both privateer Rebellion Racing team cars, until a late mistake by the #3 of Louis Deletraz at Indianapolis saw him run over the gravel and clip the tyre barrier, resulting in a lengthy pit stop to repair the damage.

It meant that the #1 Rebellion team of Gustavo Menezes, Norman Nato and Bruno Senna came home second behind the lead Toyota, albeit five laps behind, as the podium for the #7 Toyota means they still have a great chance of winning the overall WEC drivers’ title heading into Bahrain and are only seven points behind.

“It’s just incredible, I mean what luck we had,” said a magnanimous Nakajima after stepping from his car. “First of all I am happy for the team that at least one of us won the race and that was something we had to make sure. So we started with a lot of problems at the beginning of the race and car 7 had a later bigger issue than us but actually what we did in the car and also the car was very good in the race, so I think I’m quite happy with what we’ve done and happy with the team.”

Behind the LMP1 class, there was also late drama, as Philip Hanson, Filipe Albuquerque and Paul di Resta pipped Oreca 07 teammates Roberto Gonzalez, Antonio Felix da Costa and Anthony Davidson, as the Englishman has to pit late to take on more fuel.

Aston Martin cars sandwiched Ferrari in the LMGTE Pro class, and it was an agonising podium miss for the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche, partnered by Acronis, as Matteo Cairoli was taken by both the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche of Matt Campbell and the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Nicklas Nielsen at the finish.

But to the victors go the spoils, and for Swiss driver Buemi, the experience of becoming a multiple Le Mans winner is second to none and also means they keep the trophy on the Toyota TS050 Hybrid car’s final outing at La Sarthe.

“Incredible,” added Buemi. “When you look at the race, just after the start we had a puncture, we had a slow zone not going our way, then we had the brake issue. Then all of a sudden you feel like everything is lost but again in Le Mans it’s never the case and with what happened to the sister car and the Rebellions, in the end we were there, but it’s an incredible feeling and I’m so happy that we made it. We get to keep the trophy now, you know, when you win three times, so that was the big target!”

The team’s double podium finish also means that TOYOTA GAZOO Racing are crowned 2020 WEC team champions with the points differential too much for Rebellion Racing to bridge.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.