For Toyota Gazoo Racing, having a seemingly sure win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans slip through its fingers for the second year in a row is a bitter pill to swallow. And it’s likely harder to accept knowing an unusual incident caused the mechanical failure that ended the lead Toyota’s race.
A video from the 10th hour of the race shows the moment when LMP2 pilot Vincent Capillaire gave a thumbs-up to the driver of the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, Kamui Kobayashi, who mistook him for a track marshal, Sportscar365 reports. Capillaire’s team Algarve Pro Racing sports orange and black overalls that look very similar to the marshal’s attire — especially when it’s pitch black outside.
Kobayashi had pitted under a safety car and was parked at the end of the pit lane waiting until it was safe to rejoin the race. Toyota radioed to him almost immediately to inform him the safety car was coming around, forcing Kobayashi to stop and start several times, burning out the clutch and ultimately ending the No. 7’s race.
A few standing starts admittedly doesn’t sound like enough to cause race-ending clutch problems. Due to the hectic the situation, however, Kobayashi’s car was stressing the component more than it’s supposed to.
“And the problem is that he was at the pit exit, so he was in pit mode where we started in electric, which is like the car was, he was in a mode which normally should not be used, so he has done several restarts with the clutch and the combustion engine,” Pascal Vasselon, Toyota’s technical director told Sportscar365. “The clutch is not made at all to do that. The clutch is to start the combustion engine with the car is at speed; it’s not to start the complete car.”
Capillaire, who reportedly was waiting in his pit box to start his stint at the time of the incident, posted a Facebook status on Monday explaining what happened from his perspective. Although his gesture was well-intentioned, Capillaire is remorseful for compromising Toyota’s race.
“I wanted to show my encouragement to the leader car, stopped at red light a few meters in front of my box,” Capillaire wrote in the post. “It was a spontaneous encouragement mark as it happens between pilots I was fined by stewards for this gesture and I admit it was inopportune. I regret that.”
Vasselon noted the chaos of the situation was compounded because drivers are told any signals from the marshals supersedes all other information. As a result, many within the sport are calling on the FIA to regulate what color race suits teams can wear, as to avoid this confusion moving forward.
Although Kobayashi didn’t get to stand on the top step of the podium, he still etched his way into Le Mans history this weekend with his record-setting qualifying lap.