Le Mans LMP1: Alonso adds to Triple Crown bid with #8 Toyota win

Toyota broke its 24 Hours of Le Mans curse with an emotional 1–2 finish led home by the #8 car of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso.

#8 and #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrids / Toyota Gazoo Racing

The Japanese marque was the overwhelming favourite coming into the 86th running of Le Mans, and aggressive opening stints from both Buemi and the #7 car’s Mike Conway soon put the two TS050 Hybrids well ahead of the privateer LMP1 entries battling for third.

The #7 gained the advantage late on Saturday when Buemi earned the #8 car a 60-second stop-go penalty for speeding in a slow zone. But a pair of rapid nighttime recovery drives by first Alonso and then Nakajima saw the #7’s lead disappear. Nakajima then completed the #8’s comeback in the 16th hour by snatching first place from Kamui Kobayashi on the inside of Arnage.

The #8 went on to hold the lead for the remaining eight hours, while the #7 dropped back after a series of late difficulties that included Jose Maria Lopez spinning at the Dunlop chicane and Kobayashi missing a pit stop and needing to take an extra lap at full course yellow speed to save fuel.

In the end Nakajima brought the #8 Toyota across the line with two laps in hand over Kobayashi in the sister car, which was a further ten laps clear of the #3 Rebellion in third. The win was Toyota’s first at Le Mans after 19 attempts and the first by a Japanese manufacturer since Mazda in 1991. Nakajima meanwhile became the first Japanese driver to win since Seiji Ara did so with Audi in 2004.

#3 Rebellion Racing R13 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Behind the Toyotas, Rebellion and SMP Racing immediately established themselves as the chief contenders for best-of-the-rest.

After Andre Lotterer lost the nose of his #1 Rebellion in a first lap collision, it was Thomas Laurent in the sister #3 who took charge of the Swiss team’s race by pressuring the #17 SMP of Stephane Sarrazin for third.

The two Frenchmen and their subsequent replacements swapped third and fourth position several times in the opening hours of the race, although the battle was eventually ended early and in Rebellion’s favour when Matevos Isaakyan spun the #17 into the barriers at the Porsche Curves shortly after midnight.

Isaakyan’s crash came not long after Dominik Kraihamer spun the #4 ByKolles out of the race at the same part of the track. The #10 Dragonspeed was another casualty of the Porsche Curves with Ben Hanley finding the barriers in hour 17, while the Manor-run #6 CEFC Ginetta and the #11 SMP were both waylaid by mechanical troubles to make it five LMP1 retirements by the end of the race.

That left the #1 Rebellion—which recovered from its opening lap crash and several late penalties to take fourth—and the #5 CEFC Ginetta, as the only surviving LMP1 cars outside of the podium.

#6 CEFC Ginetta G60-LT-P1 / Joao Filipe, WEC Media

Who is Brendon Hartley?

Here is the lowdown on the newest motorsport driver to attempt the thrills and spills of Formula 1.

Dean Tremi/Red Bull Content Pool

Brendon Hartley

Age: 27
Nationality: New Zealand
Current Drive: Porsche WEC Driver

Notable Achievements:

2007: EuroCup Formula Renault 2.0 Champion
2015: FIA World Endurance Champion
2017: Le Mans 24 Hours Winner

History:

Brendon Hartley is an out-and-out racer, whether we say open wheeled racers or prototypes. Hartley’s F1 debut by all means has come to a shock to the New Zealander, after he was dropped by the Red Bull Junior driver program in 2010. The reason he was dropped was after poor results compared to his team mate in Formula Renault 3.5. His team mate at the time was Daniel Ricciardo.

Andrew Ferraro/GP2 Media Service

Hartley fluttered in and out with GP2 between 2010 and ’12, but without anything set in stone it was difficult for him to gain a rhythm in the series. Without a full-time drive in 2012 he moved towards LMP2 in his Le Mans 24 Hours debut. In 2012 and ’13 he continued to have his foot still in the door at Formula 1, performing some shakedown tests for the pre-dominant Mercedes team.

From 2014 onwards, he then dedicated his full time to the World Endurance Champion when he signed with the up-and-coming Porsche LMP1 team. He won the 2015 Drivers’ Championship, coming on leaps and bounds in that category of motorsport.

The Kiwi is in good form: he won the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours and, including that event, has won the last four races, ironically his most recent win being at the Circuit of the Americas. In endurance racing he hasn’t finished off the podium since Le Mans last year.

Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

Chance at 2018?

Daniil Kvyat has now been demoted twice but has been given a reprieve with Carlos Sainz moving to Renault in-season and Pierre Gasly attempting to win the Super Formula Championship in Japan.

If Brendon Hartley impresses could he replace Kvyat when Gasly returns? The World Endurance Championship and Formula 1 do not clash for the remainder of the year. Brendon Hartley on the 2018 Formula 1 grid—something I wouldn’t have thought would even be in discussion few months ago.