Toyota suffered heartbreak for the second consecutive year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and that’s at least partly due to a misunderstanding of the challenge the race presents.
Le Mans is considered the ultimate sports car race because it tests the endurance of drivers, mechanics and cars in a way no other race can. Based on Toyota president Akio Toyoda’s post-race comments, however, the Japanese manufacturer seemingly underestimates just how demanding it is for a car to run for 24 hours around Circuit de la Sarthe.
Despite the fact that the race has been won by a hybrid-powered car every year since 2012, he reportedly told Motorsport.com the technology is “not yet ready” for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Toyoda cited mechanical issues on both the No. 8 Toyota Gazoo TS050 Hybrid and No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid, which ultimately won, as proof the novel powertrains are better suited for six-hour races.
“Both Porsche and we, Toyota, were not able to complete without incident 24 hours of driving in the hybrid cars that we put to the challenge on the roads of Le Mans,” Toyoda said, per Motorsport.com.
The main flaw in Toyoda’s argument is that it’s based on the assumption that cars are supposed to be able to run the entire event problem-free. In reality, that’s hardly ever the case.
Because race cars run flat out, every component in them is under significantly more stress than in road cars, so finishing even a short race is a large feat. And considering Le Mans racers compete for 24 hours straight on a harsh street circuit, some of them are bound to encounter trouble.
What’s more, the Le Mans Prototype 1 cars literally are called “prototypes” because they serve as a test bed for innovation. LMP1 cars usually push the envelope of what’s technically possible, and as a result, are even more susceptible to failures.
And that’s the point.
The prototype class is supposed to help automakers understand new technology so it’s made reliable by the time they apply it to their road cars, not for race cars to run for an entire day without stopping.
Manufacturers have worked hard over the years to make race cars ever-more reliable, so people sometimes forget it’s part of the sport. It’s a bit odd, though, for an automaker’s president to forget that.
Thumbnail photo via FIA World Endurance Championship