24 Hours of Le MansFIA WEC

Kamui Kobayashi: “It was a phenomenal race through 24 hours.”

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The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing in the night at Le Mans. Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Kamui Kobayashi has described the 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans as “a phenomenal race through 24 hours, with every manufacturer fighting non-stop.” The team principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing and driver of the #7 car was reflecting on his team’s performance as they narrowly missed out on victory in the epic 24 race.

The historic race week did not start well for the Japanese team. In qualifying on Wednesday 12 June, the #8 car was knocked out of the battle for the pole position, qualifying 11th on the grid. The #7 car seemed to be faring better, with Kobayashi setting the 4th fastest time. However, in the final few moments, he span at the Porsche curves, bringing out the red flag and causing all his lap times to be deleted, meaning they would start in 23rd on the grid.

The #8 Toyota was involved in several battles with the #51 Ferrari. Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing

In the first few hours of the race, both Toyotas made steady progress through the field and, as night fell, the #8 car was leading with Ryo Hirakawa at the wheel. On Sunday morning, both cars were very much in the mix. With 2 hours of racing remaining, contact between the leading #8 Toyota and the #51 Ferrari AF Corse car pushed the Toyota down to 6th and out of contention. Meanwhile, the #7 car was battling the #50 Ferrari for the lead. After a final fuel stop, José María López set about chasing down the leading Ferrari, but a minor turbo issue caused enough of a delay for the Ferrari to win. The team told López to bring the car home in second, banking valuable points for the team in the 4th round of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship. The #8 car finished 5th.

Obviously it was a very tough race for us” commented Kobayashi, “we could have won but we had a few issues. It was not a smooth 24 hours for the #7 car, but the whole team did such a great job throughout a very tough week. Everyone wants to win this race and we were very close. Such a close finish makes us hungry to come back stronger next year and we will do our best to achieve that.”

The #7 car battles through the rain which had such an impact on the race. Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing

For López, it was a particularly emotional day, having been drafted in as a replacement for the regular #7 driver Mike Conway who suffered a cycling accident just days before the race. “It was a rollercoaster of emotions for me, starting from 10 days ago when Mike got injured and I took his place” López explained, adding “I was happy be here but also sad for him.” Speaking about the race itself, the Argentinian said “the race was simply the hardest one I ever experienced, with the weather, having to start from last and losing time with slow zones, punctures and other issues. We always managed to come back, and we showed our strong spirit. I am proud of everyone for that.

Dutch driver Nyck de Vries was also quick to compliment his team. “I would like to thank Kamui, José and the whole team for their endless work and great efforts through this extremely tough Le Mans 24 Hours” the third #7 driver proudly said. “It was an incredible race, with such close competition in such difficult conditions. It feels like we were so close yet so far to achieving our target. Nevertheless, it was a strong performance from the whole team, and we finished on the podium, which is a special moment for my first Le Mans with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing.”

The #7 drivers celebrate a hard-fought second place on the podium. Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Those feelings of pride mixed with disappointment were echoed by the #8 drivers. “I am a bit disappointed to finish fifth to be honestSébastian Buemi admitted. “We were leading the race for a long time and without the incident late on I think we could have won. We had strong pace and didn’t make any mistakes so it’s frustrating how it turned out. The team did a great job, Brendon and Ryo drove really well and the engineers made the right strategy calls, so I think we performed well. Now we just have to work hard for the next race in Brazil.”

I don’t know what to say” admitted Hirakawa who had led the race for a significant portion. “We fought together and we did everything we could do in such difficult conditions. We worked so hard all week and we really wanted to avenge last year’s defeat. We had a chance, but we didn’t quite have enough luck. It’s disappointing, especially because we were at the front for so long and we really pushed hard. We need to stay strong, switch focus to the rest of the season and try to bounce back. We will come back stronger.”

A flurry of activity around the #8 car in the pits. Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing

It was heart-breaking for us at the end” Brendon Hartley said the driver who was in the car when the contact with the Ferrari took place. “We were in a position to win for quite a lot of the race. We lost some ground in one of the safety car periods but fought back to second, challenging for the lead before I got pushed off. That basically put us out of the fight for the win in the last couple of hours. It feels like the victory just slipped away from us. I am happy for the team that we got one car on the podium after all the hard work from everyone to get the result here.”

With the 24 Hours of Le Mans done and dusted, all attention and effort now shifts to Brazil. The fifth round of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championships is the 6 Hours of São Paulo which takes place on 14 July.

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