Motorsport is an unpredictable business. Just two hours of racing – like in F1 – is enough to turn any fortune teller’s hair grey, but stretch that out to 24 hours and you might expect some crystal balls to be smashed in frustration.
The 85th running of the world’s oldest and most famous endurance race was packed with twists and drama, all the way to the final moments. 4,991km of flat out competition saw an extraordinarily high rate of attrition, with all cars in the top LMP1 class encountering problems at some point. At the final reckoning, the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard, Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley took the win, with the #38 and #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing entries from the lower LMP2 class filling out the podium.
Initially, 2017 looked to be Toyota’s year. After their last lap heartbreak in 2016, where a victory was cruelly snatched from them by a breakdown right at the finish, the team did everything they could to increase their chances, with technical developments and fielding three cars – thus making up half the LMP1 field. They certainly had the pace too, with Kamui Kobayashi breaking the all-time Le Mans lap record during qualifying in the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid.
Indeed, Toyota seemed to have it in the bag, with the #7 car storming off into a commanding lead. However, during the 10-hour mark it suffered a clutch failure, and was unable to make it back to the pits for repairs. Shortly after, disaster also struck the sister #9 Toyota (which had inherited the lead) when it collided with a LMP2 car, causing a tyre puncture which eventually led to terminal damage.
By this stage the #1 Porsche was the only LMP1 car not to encounter significant issues and thus looked set to take the overall victory, until it too, had to retire due to mechanical problems, with four hours remaining in the race. The woes of the various LMP1 teams meant that for the first time in Le Mans history, the race was lead by an LMP2 team, and the prospect of an overall victory by an LMP2 car looked close. But after a lengthy pitstop early in the race to fix a motor generator unit failure, the #2 Porsche was able to fight back and take the lead with less than two hours to go, sealing the victory in a nail-biting race.
Will the Toyota curse finally be lifted next year? Who knows, but thankfully there will be a next year, with CEO Akio Toyoda reaffirming their commitment to the prestigious event.