The history books will show Porsche as winner of the 2016
Le Mans 24 Hours. But they won’t show how agonizingly
close Toyota came to ending its hoodoo at La Sarthe.
WORDS Gary Watkins MAIN IMAGE Camden Thrasher
Toyota’s long-held dream of a Le Mans
win appeared to have been realized this
year – until its race-leading contender
broke down in the final five minutes.
oyota had a first 24 Hours of Le Mans
victory in the bag. Anthony Davidson,
Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima
looked home and dry even before a
puncture for the chasing Porsche with
just 10 minutes remaining doubled their
lead to more than a minute. In fact, they’d
been taking an ever-firmer grip on the
race over the final four or five hours.
The hoodoo that had cursed Toyota
when it was on course for victory at Le
Mans in 1994, ’ 98, ’ 99 and 2014 struck
again, this time with an agonizing five
minutes remaining. A technical defect with
an air line between the turbocharger and
intercooler robbed Nakajima of power on
his penultimate lap, allowing Neel Jani to
sweep through to victory aboard the No. 2
Porsche 919 Hybrid he shared with Marc
Lieb and Romain Dumas.
The Japanese driver stopped on the
start-finish straight and managed to
recycle through the car’s electronics to
get going again, but in one final ignominy
his No. 5 Toyota TS050 HYBRID was listed
among the retirements. Its final lap had
been outside the six-minute maximum
allowed by the regulations.
Victory for Toyota in the 84th running
of the 24 Hours would have been the
perfect way to bury past disappointments
at the Circuit de la Sarthe. This was a
classic Le Mans in which Toyota and
Porsche were brawling all the way, a race
that would have been remembered even
without that final twist.
The battle at the front came together
after the fourth and final safety car of the
race at the end of the 17th hour. Buemi
had passed teammate Mike Conway in the