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Podium for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing in Le Mans thriller

Toyota City, Japan, June 17, 2024 – (JCN Newswire via SeaPRwire.com) – TOYOTA GAZOO Racing fell narrowly short of an unforgettable Le Mans 24 Hours victory after an epic battle in changing conditions delivered a hard-earned podium in the 92nd edition of the legendary event, the fourth round of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).

The World Champions overcame adversity to fight for honours, recovering from a difficult qualifying to meet the challenge of an ultra-competitive 23-car Hypercar field in extreme weather thanks to driver skill, efficient pit stops, smart strategy and a strong team spirit.

José María López, Kamui Kobayashi and Nyck de Vries bravely challenged for victory in their #7 GR010 HYBRID heading into the closing stages but missed out on completing a remarkable comeback drive. They finished second by just 14.221secs after 311 dramatic laps, despite starting from 23rd.

Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa led the race for large stages but were denied a chance at victory when their #8 GR010 HYBRID was pushed into a spin with two hours remaining. The reigning World Champions finished fifth after a gallant effort.

In front of over 300,000 fans, the two GR010 HYBRIDs started at the wrong end of the Hypercar grid but showed their fighting spirit by moving through the field despite the changing weather.

Undeterred by rain showers in the second and sixth hours, the #8 car forced its way into the battle for podium positions with the #7 pushing for the top six early in the race. The complexion of the race changed midway through hour seven when a safety car brought the leading Hypercars together at the front.

The race was neutralised for more than an hour as night – and more rain – fell on La Sarthe. When it resumed, the drivers called on all their skills to conquer the conditions and guide the GR010 HYBRIDs to the front.

The #8 led the race from the ninth to the 18th hour following Ryo’s strong performance in the rain, dropping down the order only as a result of differing pit stop strategies, while the #7 held third. That period included more than four hours of continuous safety car intervention due to heavy rain around half distance.

A close battle between Cadillac, Ferrari, Porsche and TOYOTA GAZOO Racing saw the momentum ebb and flow depending on traffic, slow zone timings and race incidents. After a 19th-hour safety car, the top seven were covered by just four seconds as the action intensified.

Remarkably, the battle at the front got even more intense in the final stages. Flying laps from Brendon brought the #8 into the lead #50 Ferrari when more rain hit. That charge continued on wet tyres but the #8 car’s chances suffered a cruel blow with two hours to go when Brendon was pushed into a spin by the #51 Ferrari, dropping to sixth.

The team’s victory hopes therefore rested with the #7 and José, whose blistering pace had already recovered substantial time following two earlier punctures. He kept up the pressure and overtook the #51 Ferrari for second before moving into the lead inside the last two hours.

But the #7 still needed a fuel stop and José started the last 30 minutes with a 40-second deficit. Initially he closed the gap, but with laps running out, the task proved insurmountable. José brought the #7 home in second behind the winning #50 Ferrari, and Sébastien took the flag moments later in fifth.

Akio Toyoda (Team Founder):

“This year at Le Mans, things happened before the race even started and then long after the start. But I never once felt uneasy because it is Kamui’s team. I truly believed in the team that Kamui has built. Everyone on the team fought an extreme battle until the very end of the 24 hours.

It was a great race, but the result was really frustrating! I told everyone before the race that we have the best mechanics, the best engineers, and the best drivers in the world, and I hope that we can turn their frustration into power and once again become a team that can be called the best in the world! So let’s turn this frustration into power, and let’s make this team what the rest of the world calls it again!”

P.S.
“I’m glad Jose was there! Thank you! Keep up the good work with Lexus. Mike, I’m waiting for you to come back. I prefer you when you are on four wheels. And Kamui, let’s try to finish the qualifying session! Finally, to the mechanics of the #7 car, thank you very much for all your hard work during the race week. I want to thank you all for your strong efforts during the race week, which was full of long days. I love the #7 car, which is full of mischievous drivers. I know it’s a lot of work, but please continue to take good care of car #7. Now please take a good rest!”

P.P.S.
“It was a really great 24-hour race between athletes. Congratulations to everyone at Ferrari! Thank you also to Porsche and Cadillac who really fought until the very end.”

Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7):

“Obviously it was a very tough race for us. We could have won but we had a few issues. It was not a smooth 24 hours for the #7 car, but the whole team did such a great job throughout a very tough week. It was a phenomenal race through 24 hours, with every manufacturer fighting non-stop. Everyone wants to win this race and we were very close. Such a close finish makes us hungry to come back stronger next year and we will do our best to achieve that. Thank you for all the support and hard work from TOYOTA GAZOO Racing in Japan and Germany. Thank you once again to Morizo san as well. He has supported us a lot since we found out about Mike’s injury and all through the week. We fight together with Morizo san as TOYOTA GAZOO Racing and we will get strong next year.”

José María López (Driver, car #7):

“I would like to thank everyone in the team in Japan and Cologne for their hard work and the trust they showed to give me this chance. Thanks to Kamui and Nyck, who did an amazing job, as did the mechanics and engineers. It was a rollercoaster of emotions for me, starting from 10 days ago when Mike got injured and I took his place. I was happy be here but also sad for him. Then the race was simply the hardest one I ever experienced, with the weather, having to start from last and losing time with slow zones, punctures and other issues. We always managed to come back, and we showed our strong spirit. I am proud of everyone for that. It is an emotional day for me because I don’t know when I might have another chance to compete for the win overall.”

Nyck de Vries (Driver, car #7):

“First of all, I would like to thank Kamui, José and the whole team for their endless work and great efforts through this extremely tough Le Mans 24 Hours. It was an incredible race, with such close competition in such difficult conditions. It feels like we were so close yet so far to achieving our target. Nevertheless, it was a strong performance from the whole team, and we finished on the podium, which is a special moment for my first Le Mans with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing.”

Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8):

“I am a bit disappointed to finish fifth to be honest. We were leading the race for a long time and without the incident late on I think we could have won. We had strong pace and didn’t make any mistakes so it’s frustrating how it turned out. The team did a great job, Brendon and Ryo drove really well and the engineers made the right strategy calls, so I think we performed well. Now we just have to work hard for the next race in Brazil.”

Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8):

“For the fans it was a beautiful race, but it was heartbreaking for us at the end. We were in a position to win for quite a lot of the race. We lost some ground in one of the safety car periods but fought back to second, challenging for the lead before I got pushed off. That basically put us out of the fight for the win in the last couple of hours. It feels like the victory just slipped away from us. I am happy for the team that we got one car on the podium after all the hard work from everyone to get the result here. We just fell a bit short, and it is going to take a few days to get over the emotions.”

Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8):

“I don’t know what to say. We fought together and we did everything we could do in such difficult conditions. We worked so hard all week and we really wanted to avenge last year’s defeat. We had a chance, but we didn’t quite have enough luck. It’s disappointing, especially because we were at the front for so long and we really pushed hard. We need to stay strong, switch focus to the rest of the season and try to bounce back. We will come back stronger.”

Le Mans 24 Hours – Result

1st #50 Ferrari AF Corse (Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen) 311 laps
2nd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +14.221secs
3rd #51 Ferrari AF Corse (Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi) +36.730secs
4th #6 Porsche Penske (Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor) +37.897secs
5th #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +1min 2.824secs
6th #5 Porsche Penske (Campbell/Christensen/Makowiecki) +1mins 45.654secs

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