Toyota win Le Mans – Almost. How many times could that headline been written over the past two decades? This time it was particularly harsh for the determined Japanese manufacturer. It wasn’t a middle of the night drama or even a problem with an hour to run. For 23 hours, 53 minutes and 27 seconds the Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi was on course to defeat the defending champions, Porsche with whom they had battled furiously since the start. All four cars from both teams had led and entering the final hour there were just seconds between the two leading cars.


  This had been a titanic struggle, the likes of which had never before been seen at the 24 hours and may never be witnessed again. The number 1 Porsche had led early but suffered a long pit delay due to a cooling system failure. The second Toyota dropped back with bodywork damage limiting its speed with about three hours to run. Either team had a chance but as the final hour wore on the number 5 Toyota edged away. The Porsche struggled to stay with Nakajima as the Toyota could run that little bit longer just that little bit faster. With 10 minutes to go Porsche effectively threw in the towel by pitting for fresh tyres and a top up of fuel. Neel Jani was now one minute and nine seconds behind with three, possibly four laps to run. Surely, finally, the race was now a foregone conclusion. Surely, finally, Toyota would break the hoodoo that has hovered over it and win the Le Mans 24 Hours.


  But no. With just 6.33 left on the clock came the desperate radio call from Kazuki, “I’ve lost power.” But the Toyota was still moving at pace. Not full pace but still pulling over 180 kph on the Mulsanne straight. If they could at least keep that pace maybe just maybe, they could still limp home. By the time Kazuki got to Arnage forty odd seconds of the lead had disappeared and gloom and disbelief was setting in down in the Toyota garage. As Nakajima entered the Ford chicanes he was now in sight of Jani’s Porsche and with just under three and a half minutes to go the Toyota exited the chicane onto the start/finish straight and ground to a halt right in front of the pits. At 23 hours, 56 minutes and 39 seconds Neel Jani passed the stricken Toyota to begin his final lap giving Porsche its 18th outright win at Le Mans. 3 minutes and 21 seconds. That was all the time that the Toyota needed to keep going for. That’s less time than it took my espresso machine to make this mornings coffee. Less time than you can wait at a red light in the morning crawl to work. It was hard not to be emotionally effected as the disbelief descended into tears of despair at Toyota. This was as harsh and cruel as it gets in motorsport without the inclusion of injury or loss of life. As one commentator said “Someone should make a movie of this”. However as Anthony Davidson pointed out, “If someone made a movie of this, no-one would believe it.”  


Sam Snape