The 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans was, as had been predicted, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s race to lose. From the start of the week they had been the dominant team, and it look like the only way to stop them from taking a one-two finish would be a mechanical issue. There were three major factors that added to Toyota’s dominance at the 86th rendition of the prestigious race, that put them directly out of reach of the LMP1-challenging privateer cars.
Firstly, in an interesting move from the FIA, they mandated a maximum stint length in every class, meaning that even if safety cars or careful management of fuel or tyres were implemented well, teams could not pull an advantage by going longer into their stint. This instantly restricted tactics up and down the grid, and could have been one of the factors it was a slightly processional race, especially in LM GTE Pro. However, along with this ruling, the FIA declared that the hybrid running cars could go an extra lap on their stints in comparison to the privateers. So whilst the chasing privateer cars had to pit after 10 laps, Toyota could gain an extra race lap by taking their stints to 11 laps.
Toyota were also allowed a fuel nozzle fractionally wider in diameter to those that were being used by the privateer teams. Not only were Toyota gaining full speed laps on their competitors, they also gained more time in the pit lane as their wider nozzle meant the fuel flow into their car was faster, so their pit stops shorter.
Even with the FIA’s attempts to bring the hybrids and the privateers closer together on the track, putting into action Equivalency of Technology this season, the Toyotas still remain to have a superior pace to the privateers, running one to two seconds per lap faster than their closest competitors. Even without putting in maximum effort, Toyota were still able to run their cars at a pace to hold onto a 12-lap lead over the closest privateer at the chequered flag. This ability to not have to stress their cars would have played a big part in protecting them against mechanical failures.
The odds were clearly stacked for Toyota, and with their relentless testing in pre-season, pushing the cars over their limits to find the limit, they had brought the chances of technical or mechanical failure down to almost nothing. It really wasn’t a surprise to see the team take a competitive one-two ahead of the grid, even though both cars were hit with stop / go penalties for full course yellows speed.
It can’t be denied that Toyota did a brilliant job and have been working hard throughout the last few years to secure an overall win at Le Mans. Notably, Fernando Alonso’s graveyard stint was a great showcase of his raw talent, with the Spaniard diminishing a 1m40s gap to the lead down to a 40-second lead during his two hour stint. The Spaniard even asked the team to let him stay out for a fifth stint, clearly enjoying being back in a competitive position on track.
The privateer cars were competitive, but reliability seemed to be the major issue for most cars. Only five of the LMP1 cars took the chequered flag, with Jenson Button, in the #17 SMP Racing, being a sad and last minute loss from the race. The on-track winning #26 G-Drive Racing ORECA finished fifth in the overall standings, but at one point it looked to be in a position to challenge for the overall podium.
Albeit not the most exciting race Le Mans has produced, the race was still a feat of endurance and marked the first time Toyota managed to secure a Le Mans victory. With the finale of the Super Season being hosted at the Circuit de la Sarthe in just under a year’s time, the teams will be striving hard to come back fighting in 2019.