Monday, June 27, 2016

Heartbreak, Sadness, and Sorrow - Toyota and Le Mans

(Image: Autosport / XPB Images)
19th June 2016, 19:50 Jakarta Time. I was listening to Radio Le Mans by my smartphone in my relative's house moments after break fasting (it is Ramadan month as I post this) since fifty minutes before, while browsing Twitter. Prior to Toyota's strong performance, I kept crossing my fingers to make sure that there indeed is a second Japanese manufacturer winning 24 Hours of Le Mans after Mazda in 1991 with its Mazda 787B.

Suddenly, a plot twist happened as John Hindhaugh's voice became even louder just three minutes before the race ended: The #5 Toyota TS050 Hybrid driven by Kazuki Nakajima halted to a stop right at the start/finish straight, allowing Porsche to pass through and claimed its second consecutive Le Mans victory. Nobody saw that coming, and it was enough to break everyone's heart who longed for a different winner, which also included the whole crew of Toyota Team Gazoo team. Of course, the drivers were astounded in heartbreak, Anthony Davidson could only said "Heartbreaking", and the climax of it all was that the radio communication where Kazuki Nakajima wanted to cry after the car finished, which took longer than six minutes and unfortunately kicking them out from the official classification.

This plot twist has opened a door for yet another 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans post, this time from a PoV of the Toyota team. This year's twice-around-the-clock race has been filled with drama, beginning with the hectic GTE Pro BoP, and eventually ended with this. At that point, I was emotionally affected as the one who listened the stream, although I had to hide that one out because I was the only one dealing with Le Mans, and knowing that I really had to get some closure this way in this post, I can't help.


Toyota Gazoo Racing returned to FIA WEC and 24 Hours of Le Mans with a new power - the Toyota TS050 - yet still with the same purpose: fighting for the glory as they avenge their last year's season-long upset. (Image: Toyota Global Newsroom)
This year, Toyota bid to break away from their utter disappointment in the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship season, having no competitive footing against Audi and Porsche at that time in every round including Le Mans itself, consistently being the third row team to Audi and Porsche. Because of this, the Toyota TS050 Hybrid was born, with its most prominent feature being a switch from the supercapacitor to its own lithium ion battery, moving to the more powerful 8MJ Hybrid subclass, announced in late March this year.

This year's FIA World Endurance Championship though has been utterly hectic for the first two rounds for the Hybrid LMP1s (I guess that's what they are called now, am I right?), including Toyota itself. ALL of the Works teams are now more likely to be stricken by issues, especially throughout the first set of rounds, which was quite surprising because they're expected to be ultra reliable, compared to their privateer, non-Hybrid counterparts.

In the first round of 6 Hours of Silverstone for instance, the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Brendon Hartley retired for collision with the #86 GTE Am-classed Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR, which was due to the awkward overtaking attempt. Then, the #8 Audi driven by Lucas Di Grassi smoked right on the circuit suffered a complete electrical failure of its hybrid system as it stopped, forcing the tecnician to go to the track to disable its battery before being hauled. Unfortunately, Toyota wasn't exempt from this either as the #5's rear tire disintegrated as the car's bodywork was taken out as a result, and had to spent a lengthy time in the pits. In the end, it was the #7 Audi that took win with #2 Porsche following in second and #6 Toyota in third, making it the less-unfortunate Hybrid LMP1 trio, until it was announced that the #7's illegal front skid block disqualified it from the classification and eventually gave Porsche its first win and moved up #13 Rebellion to the Top 3. For Toyota, this result was well-received, and is an improvement from last year.

The 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps also proved yet another brutality for the Hybrid LMP1s as the #8 Audi came with a win, being the only car with its hybrid system intact, while #2 Porsche, in second, had a failed hybrid system from the start but managed to finish, and the #13 Rebellion once again took the podium honors. Both Toyotas however were unfortunate, with the #5 engine blew with over two hours remaining and ended up returning the track using hybrid power for the final lap placing 27th overall and fifth in class, and the #6 retired after a failure electronics caused the engine to be damaged, not to mention an oil leak beforehand.

In terms of results, Toyota topped its last year's run after being consistently stuck on the third row with one podium finish, but the result wasn't enough yet to really show that they are improving. Alas, Le Mans is the next ground where they will have to stand out more.


The rainy race start that was a fruit of a delayed start, almost taking up an hour (Image: Autosport / LAT Photographic)
You already know what happened in Le Mans in Ford's PoV, so now this recap will of course entail Toyota's PoV. I summarized the LMP1 race in the last post, but here comes the more detailed recap! (Although I don't seem to write some paragraphs revolving qualifying sessions...)

The start of the race, which actually came almost an hour later due to the rainy condition that caused the race to start under the safety car, saw three different LMP1 manufacturers battling out for the lead as the second hour started. As the track slowly dried up, Toyota gained pace and contested the front Porsches, but things didn't go well for the #7 Audi as it suffered a turbo problem. The car spent 20 minutes for repairs, effectively phasing themselves out for the lead battle. Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich pointed out that "The rain must have something to do with it", but nevertheless the #8 Audi is still on the lead lap. The stricken #7 later rejoined seven laps behind the leaders.

The three-way between Brendon Hartley's Porsche, Loic Duval's Audi, and Sebastien Buemi's Toyota made up the third hour, but the #1 Porsche would eventually lead the race moments later as ex-Formula 1 star Mark Webber was on the wheel, with #6 Toyota and #8 Audi following behind 20+ seconds of each other. The #5 Toyota, running fifth, suffered a puncture, and had to spent its time in the pits but as they rejoined the race, its position was unchanged. At this rate, Mark Webber on #1 Porsche clocked 3:21.816, now a new lap record, still followed by Toyota and Audi with #2 stood fourth.

5 hours and 46 minutes to the race, Kamui Kobayashi in the #6 Toyota responded Porsche's fast lap with 3:21.445, almost 0.4 seconds faster, which proved Toyota's prowess for this year's race, not to mention the fact that Toyota's efficient fuel mileage per stint also gave them an advantage against their two adversaries. As the night came, the lone Toyota fend off the two dominating Porsches, with the #7 Audi finally rejoining in Top 10 as it reached seventh place overall. However, both Audi entries visited the pits to fix their lighting problems, costing a chunk of time.

As midnight almost came, the #1 Porsche returned to the pits after a routine pit stop due to a water temperature problem as pointed out later in the twelfth hour, with the #7 Audi once again visited the pits due to cold brakes, and would later face another problem in the form of stopping for a while in the forest esses as the #13 LMP1-L leader Rebellion passed it. The #6 Toyota led the race as the #5 sister car sandwiched the #2 Porsche running in second past midnight, but it was all changed after the halfway of the race as #2 had to take an unexpected pit visit for a slow leak in the rear, allowing the #5 to move up a place. The near miss with the #68 Risi Competizione car may have something to do with this.

The gap was getting wide at the point, rendering position exchanges only possible whenever one car was having a get together. Things didn't seem to go well for the Audi camp as the gap between both entries to the leading group was almost 10 laps (or they did?), which would render this race the first time they missed out a podium finish since their participation in 1999. Toyota, however, continued to shine as both entries marched through the morning hours of the race. The slow zone caused by ByKolles's burning car at Porsche Curves, among others, made a little impact to the gaps, and so did the Safety Car period, which lasted for 24 minutes.

The leading #5 Toyota blazing past. (Image: Toyota Global Newsroom)
As expected, the reduced gap due to the mentioned SC period resulted in the position exchanges done when one pitted in. This became true when the #2 Porsche and the Toyotas continue to exchange leads each pit stop. More problems however struck the Audis yet again, first being the #7 with a pull rod replacement, and later #8 with a reported speed loss, which saw the respective entries visit the pit garage for the nth time.

The final four hours saw the #6 Toyota, now running third, spinning out to the gravel of the Corvette Curves, though it returned with no position loss, and the classification in the LMP1 category were still unchanged. However, less than two hours to race finish, the #2 Porsche managed to lower the gap from the leading #5 Toyota, yet the latter kept fighting back to avoid the second consecutive Le Mans win. Whenever the Toyota won this race, it would be the second time a Japanese manufacturer scored an overall win in Le Mans since 1991 with Mazda.

But in an upsetting plot twist, the #5 Toyota, now driven by Kazuki Nakajima, reported to lost power starting on the first Mulsanne chicane. The car ran slower and slower, and then this happened: the final ten minutes that changed everything...

As John Hindhaugh's voice was as intense as Joseph Joestar's when saying "OH NO!", as the hundred thousands of fans on track witnessed, as the internet exploded, and as both Toyota and Porsche crews looked, the #5 car stopped right in the start/finish portion of the track right at the final lap of the race. It didn't take long for the #2 Porsche to pass them, and to take the second consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans victory. The #5 struggled to keep the car running, which finally was done although in a very reduced speed, but its dominance was ended with a very bitter fashion: as it took very long to finish its final lap, and eventually declared as a non-classified finisher, so much for an added pain to Toyota. This also meant the #8 Audi consisting of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas Di Grassi and Loic Duval moved up to the third place, barely phasing out the word "failure" over the German marque's result since its first participation in Le Mans in 1999, but even with a happy ending of all manufacturers sharing a podium, Lucas Di Grassi seemed reluctant for stepping up to the podium, and even Oliver Jarvis, driver of the #8 Audi, said that he'd "much rather not be on the podium to see the #5 Toyota guys up there instead".


Toyota's last-minute loss in the race became one of the most dominant talking points post Le Mans as opposed to the GTE Pro BoP-gate. It was very heartbreaking at best: losing power at the final pinch and able to get up again only to be not classified in the final standings after a dominant run, much to the shock of everyone including fans and rivals alike.

And the dark history repeated itself, in another discipline. (Image: Marv's RallyWorld Facebook Page)
History-wise, Toyota wasn't able to become the second Japanese manufacturer to win Le Mans after Mazda in 1991, but in turn their last-minute failure mirrored that of Toyota's WRC effort in 1998 season, with Carlos Sainz fighting for the championship in the final round of the season in Great Britain inside his Toyota Corolla WRC, which, incidentally, also numbered 5. Carlos Sainz suffered an oil problem in one stage while fighting his way to the victory from Tommi Mäkinen, who was also having problems which saw him limping on three wheels and had to retire beforehand. Take note that the TTE - Toyota Team Europe - is in fact the Toyota Motorsport GmbH, and there were only two points that set Sainz and Mäkinen apart.

Meanwhile in Porsche's side of story, the #5's failure was also part of their heartbreak despite winning the race. They were enjoying a great battle between each other, and to see their rival they enjoyed fighting with struck with a bad luck made for their emptiness. Marc Lieb himself said that this race "should have two winners; Toyota deserved this too", and even Neel Jani as well in his tweet. But eventually, so did the whole Porsche team that went on writing the above tweet. It was heartbreaking for sure, not only for the fans and the team itself, but also for its rival that raced hard against each other for the entirety of the race. The #8 Audi drivers also stated their reluctance of seeing themselves on the podium in favor to the #5's place as posted paragraphs back.

“But if 100 million people were watching the race around the world on TV, I think we now have 100 million more Toyota fans.” - Kazuki Nakajima (Image: Alexander Trienitz /
After the heartbreaking experience, Kazuki Nakajima, speaking to, said that he felt there was something wrong with the car one lap before he slowed down, and that he didn't do any wrong. Not even Nakajima himself know what caused it and therefore panicked as he radioed "I have no power!". He also added that the pit crew "must have panicked as much as [he] did". Initially, the team’s general manager Hisatake Murata revealed that Nakajima’s car had a boost pressure problem, and that there was no sign of anomalies in the data before the problem. However, the real reason for its bitter defeat was the technical defect on a connector on the air line between the turbo charger and the intercooler, causing a loss of turbo charger control, as I pointed out in the previous post.

This year, they were robbed just inches to victory, but this didn't deter their fighting spirits. In fact, they will return to Le Mans with a better fighting spirit than ever. For the rest of the 2016 season, they will try their best to take the FIA World Endurance Championship crown. Toyota will never back down to become the sole Japanese manufacturer to give both German powers Audi and Porsche a run for their money.

Ending this post is the words of the Toyota Motor Corporation's president, Akio Toyoda, from Toyota Newsroom page:

From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank everyone who lent us their incredible support during this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. We of Toyota GAZOO Racing put tremendous pressure on ourselves to break our losing streak at Le Mans and fought so hard to make up for the unfortunate results of the past. All of the mechanics, engineers, drivers, suppliers, and everyone else involved with the team made incredible sacrifices and achieved constant improvements to build an even-better car for this year's Le Mans. Just as our dreams began to come true, we all made to burn that moment into our minds even as unbelievable heartbreak unfolded before our very eyes. Toyota's cars have become so fast and so strong. But Porsche grew even faster and they were stronger. Throughout the 24 hours of the race―and, indeed, the 30 total hours including qualifying―it is not such an easy thing to continue to drive faster and more powerfully than anyone else on the road at Le Mans. When I think of what everyone in the team must be feeling… not to mention everyone who supported us… I honestly do not know what to say. I cannot find the words. We at Toyota GAZOO Racing are "sore losers." We do not compete without knowing the feeling of loss. Having tasted the true bitterness of losing, we will return to the World Endurance Championship arena next year, and we will return to compete in the battle that is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. For our quest to build ever-better cars… For this, we will certainly come back to the roads of Le Mans. I would like to express my gratitude to all of the cars and drivers who fought alongside us on the track at Le Mans; particularly Porsche and Audi. We will be back next year, reborn, and ready to take you on with all of our might. Look out for the "sore losers," Toyota, on the track next year. The fight is not over!


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