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Toyota’s Le Mans To Lose

Pole sitting Toyota. [Photo by Toyota Gazoo Racing]

Pole sitting Toyota. [Photo by Toyota Gazoo Racing]

By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

Practice and qualifying has been completed for this year’s running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the front row has been locked up by Toyota Gazoo Racing and their two TS050 Hybrid prototypes, the only hybrid cars running at Le Mans this year.

With first Audi and then Porsche’s withdraw from the FIA-WEC World Championship and Le Mans, it just leaves Toyota to seriously contest for the overall victory at the French endurance classic. The rules have been structured in such a way to give Toyota every possible advantage and opportunity to finally put a Le Mans trophy in their corporate trophy case.

Based on speed advantage alone, Toyota should cruise to the overall victory, but Le Mans has a habit of strange things happening over the course of the 24-hour contest, and with only two entries for Toyota (and only two entries allowed for the non-hybrid LMP1 cars as well), anything can and likely will happen.

It is always mostly foolhardy to predict what may transpire over the course of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but hey, what the heck, we might as well make our predictions.

IF, and that if a big IF, Toyota experiences problems during the race, the likely overall winner (in our opinion) could be the Rebellion R13 Gibson LMP1 car of Andre Lotterer, Neel Jani and Bruno Senna. It is a strong team, with winning history and an outstanding driver line up. They were the fastest of the non-Toyota entries, taking third on the grid, slightly over four seconds behind the pole sitting #8 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso.

We think that Toyota will set a blistering early pace to try and build up as large of a lead as possible to have some cushion for whatever problems may arise later in the race. And those problems are likely to arise – be it mechanical or more likely on track incidents.

If Toyota does not have problems for one or both of their cars, the result of the race will not be in doubt. Toyota will cruise to a very large victory, and the race will be somewhat boring.

As stated previously, we don’t think that is the way it will play out.

Regardless of whether Toyota triumphs or fails, you have to wonder whether in most fans eyes there should be an asterisk besides their win. With the absence of Audi and Porsche in the hybrid ranks, who are they really defeating? Frankly, whether they win or not, how long will they remain in the FIA-WEC Championship? Winning Le Mans is their only real goal and once achieved, how do they convince the board of directors to continue pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the program? If they lose, will the board be willing to keep writing checks for that Le Mans win that seems so elusive?

Time will tell, and by Sunday we will have a lot of the answers to those questions.

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Jack Webster has been shooting motorsports since the early 1970’s, covering Formula One, CanAm, F5000, TransAm, GrandAm and American Le Mans races, among others. In addition to his photography, he has also worked on racing teams, both in IMSA and IndyCar, so has a complete knowledge of the inner workings of motorsport. Both his photography and writing can be seen here on racingnation.com. Eddie LePine has been involved in motorsports for over 30 years as photographer, columnist, and driver. Eddie also is now a retired racer (well, retired unless a good ride pops up). You can usually find Eddie in the paddock area, deep in conversation with a driver.