Despite starting the race weekend as favourites, Toyota – after the heartbreak of last year’s close finish – failed to garner a podium win at the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race this year. Running in pole position at the tenth hour of the race, the Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid #7 car, driven by Mike Conway (34), Kamui Kobayashi (31) and Stephane Sarrazin (42), was forced to retire with a burnt out clutch.

According to Toyota Gazoo Racing technical director Pascal Vasselon, speaking to sportscar365.com, the loss was a bitter pill to swallow, as he felt the team had done their absolute best to prepare the car in the off-season, only to lose to a bizarre set of circumstances that saw the clutch of the LMP1 race car destroyed due to one too many standing starts.

The incident occurred when Kobayashi pulled into the pit for a routine service during the second safety car period and entered the queue to exit pit lane, when he was given a false signal by a fake marshal to go. Apparently the fake “marshal” was Vincent Capillaire, from the #45 Algarve Pro Ligier LMP2 car, giving a sign of encouragement to Kobayashi, who misinterpreted the signal.

“It’s amazing, someone came to tell him, and we have it on video: ‘Go go go!’ And normally, our drivers are used to the human action dominate signs,” Vasselon said. “From our side, we told him stop because the safety car queue was coming, and it was not possible.”

The resulting start-stop-start-stop confusion caused the car’s clutch to burn out, with Kobayashi retiring the TS050 Hybrid at Porsche Curves shortly after re-entering the Circuit de la Sarthe. “So he had done several restarts with the clutch and the combustion engine… and burned the clutch because he has been thrown into a situation which should not exist,” said Vasselon.

For his part in the fiasco of the #7 Toyota’s loss at Le Mans, Capillaire was fined 1000 euro (RM4,779) by race organisers, handed out during the race itself. “On Saturday night, during the race, I was waiting for my relay, helmeted at my box, I wanted to show my encouragement to the lead car, stopped in red a few meters in front of my box. Was a spontaneous encouragement, as it happens between pilots, and I was fined by the commissioners for this gesture and I admit it was inopportune,” said Capillaire.

Kobayashi was sanguine about this year’s Le Mans result for Toyota Gazoo Racing, saying, “It is very disappointing because I thought it was going to be our day because we were quick and we felt we were controlling the race. Again we found out how hard it is to win Le Mans. Big thanks to the team who put so much effort into this race.”

“It is not only about speed, because we had that but in the end we missed the win. We just have to come back and go for the win again next year,” he continued. Starting in pole position, the Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid #7 completed 154 laps of Le Mans, with 12 pit stops, and clocked a fastest lap of 3 minutes 18.694 seconds.