The Automobile Club de l’Ouest have promised that Toyota Gazoo Racing will have a fight on their hands for the overall victory at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, as the governing body of the endurance race will put regulations in place to bring the Hybrid and Privateer competitors closer.
Toyota took their maiden victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe last year by a monumental margin of 12 laps. This led to a lot of discontent from race fans, claiming that it was a fairly boring 24-hour race.
But this dominance was expected last year and has continued throughout the season for Toyota. The Japanese team has won every race of the season (excluding the 6 Hours of Silverstone, which they won on track but lost post-race after they were disqualified for too much wear on the skid blocks of their cars), and no Privateers have finished a race on the same lap as the race leader.
The gap seems too big to close with the additional pace the hybrid power gives the Toyotas, but ACO President Pierre Fillon said in a press conference on Monday that the gap between the Hybrids and Privateers would be “corrected” for the blue-ribboned event.
“It’s true that the Toyota is probably one of the most sophisticated racing car nowadays,” Fillon told Motorsport.com. “It’s not easy for private teams to match Toyota.
“But the technical teams [of the ACO and FIA] did a lot of calculations, they watched all the races. Last year, it’s true that the gap was still too big, so it’s something that will be corrected this year.
“Toyota remains the favourite because it’s a factory team, because they have the resources, because in the pits they may be more efficient. But in terms of performance the cars are very close, and if there is the slightest hitch, there will be people behind.”
The crazy 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps last weekend saw the Privateers’ closest finish to the leading Toyota, with the second Toyota ending up sixth after a technical issue saw them lose four laps in the pits.
Although it is true that a technical issue for Toyota will see a Privateer promoted up the field, it has to be noted that this is the first technical issue that Toyota have seen throughout the Superseason (seven races) and caution periods and remaining race time were factors into why the Toyota #7 could not climb higher up the field.
The weather conditions of the last round also played factor into the competitive order, and although the Privateers may have been getting closer to the Toyotas throughout the season, they still failed to finish on the leading lap.
“The gaps have narrowed significantly,” ACO Sporting Director Vincent Beaumesnil continued. “I think Rebellion and SMP have been doing a lot of work for the past year. They were told, ‘You have to improve, EoT is not there to do everything’. They have clearly made progress.
“Today, they are more than challengers, they are clearly [ready to] ambush and Toyota will not be allowed to make mistakes. It’s really the result of a lot of work.”