24 hours of Le Mens: Porsche on route to win 19th title; Toyota crashes out of race
Porsche were en route to a 19th Le Mans triumph on Sunday as Toyota's hopes of claiming a maiden win in the iconic 24 hour race went up in smoke.
Le Mans, France: Porsche were en route to a 19th Le Mans triumph on Sunday as Toyota's hopes of claiming a maiden win in the iconic 24 hour race went up in smoke.
The Japanese constructor had invested heavily in this year's edition with hopes high that one of their three-car challenge would finally deliver an elusive first win on the fabled Sarthe circuit.
And as night fell on Saturday Toyota were sitting pretty with the car of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin holding a comfortable lead.
But then disaster struck. With Kobayashi behind the wheel his hybrid car limped out of contention with clutch problems, leaving Porsche out in front.
The Toyota of Japanese rookie Yuji Kunimoto, Nicolas Lapierre and Jose Maria Lopez took second, a lap off the pace, but they too hit disaster after being shunted in the Dunlop Chicane and being sent flying into a gravel trap.
It looked as if Lapierre the driver at the time might have suffered just a puncture and cosmetic damage, but as he tried to limp back to the pits smoke from the back of the car signalled it was terminal.
"Le Mans is truly a ruthless race," said Pierre Fillon, president of race organiser Automobile Club de l'Ouest.
That left them with one car still out on the track, driven by Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima.
Buemi had been forced to pit just before the end of the eight-hour mark with engine trouble with some reports of flames flying from the brakes.
Buemi had been running in second after a daring move had taken him past Porsche.
It was tough on Buemi's teammate Nakajima, who was denied victory a year ago when his race-leading Toyota suffered a mechanical meltdown on the last lap of the gruelling race.
With Davidson behind the wheel Toyota's last shot at the Le Mans bullseye was placed 13th, 27 laps behind the Porsche of defending champion Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Nick Tandy.
With four hours to go and Tandy in charge Porsche led the Oreca-Gibson representing Jackie Chan Racing by a massive 14 laps.
Around 250,000 fans were watching the action unfold at the Sarthe circuit including tennis superstar Maria Sharapova, one of Porsche's leading sponsorship figures.
The Red Bull driver hunted down and overtook the Mercedes world champion with over a lap to go at a gusty Le Castellet to claim his third win out of seven races this season.
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Sebastian Vettel for Aston Martin and Pierre Gasly for Alpha Tauri completed the unexpected podium.
Verstappen, who leads the seven-time Mercedes world champion by four points after six races, topped the times after Friday's second session, and led the way again ahead of qualifying at 1300GMT.