There was heartbreak for Anthony Davidson and the Toyota Gazoo Racing team at Le Mans on Sunday, when the number 5 Toyota TS050-Hybrid, that was leading the race, suffered mechanical failure less than five minutes from the end of the twice round the clock event, writes James Beckett.
From the very start of the 84th-running of the Grand Prix d’Endurance, held annually at the Circuit de la Sarthe close to the town of Le Mans in France, the battle for the lead had been a thriller.
As the race headed towards it climax, Toyota and their number 5 car, driven by Brackley’s Davidson alongside Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, had seemingly seen off the challenges from its team-mate, Porsche and Audi.
With Nakajima at the wheel, the car was heading towards victory - the first for Toyota at Le Mans - when during the penultimate lap, Nakajima called his pits on the radio to announce the car had suffered a ‘power loss’.
The Toyota slowed, and as it crossed the finishline with one lap to go, it ground to a halt, allowing the second-placed Porsche 919-Hybrid to quickly make up the 30 seconds gap it was behind, and sweep into the lead.
The Porsche number 2 car, driven by Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas, circulated to win the race and claim the manufacturer’s 18th victory at Le Mans.
Nakajime managed to get his car running again, but his final lap of the track was deemed too slow by officials to be classified as a finisher, and the Toyota was removed from the results.
Toyota number 6 driven by Mike Conway, Stephane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi was second, with the Audi R18 of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval third.
The mechanical failure for Toyota was a bitter pill to swallow, and a tearful Davidson said afterwards: “It is difficult to know what to say on an occasion like this.
“The team did a perfect job and we were ready to pick up the trophy. Things like this don’t happen in motorsport very often, but the old adage of to finish first, first you must finish comes to mind.
“Saying that, this is a very upsetting moment for all of us. To win Le Mans is a dream for any driver and to have victory snatched away like this just one lap from the end of the race is numbing.”
Porsche were quick to pay tribute to Toyota, and issued a press statement saying that the victory should have been the Japanese manufacturer’s finest hour.
Marc Lieb said, “Of course I am happy to have won, but I can’t really imagine what the guys at Toyota are going through right now.”
The build-up to the Le Mans 24-Hour race saw track sessions interrupted by torrential rain, which made early driving conditions difficult.
A start under the Safety Car led to a slow opening hour, but the action picked-up pace as the race progressed making the 2016 edition of the Le Mans 24-Hour race a memorable one.