The history books and the stats, will accurately recount this race as a second consecutive win for the #8 Toyota at Le Mans in a single World Championship season and the climax of a dominant World Championship-winning season for Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, and lest we forget, Fernando Alonso.
Anybody who experienced the race personally, either on-site or by following it on TV or radio will always see it differently. It was a race that was won and then lost by the #7 crew. Mike Conway was untouchable throughout the race, Kamui Kobayashi fast too and Jose Maria Lopez now firmly up to speed in the awesome TS050 HYBRID.
The error by the team that saw one tyre, and the wrong one at that, changed after a pressure alert, will undoubtedly haunt all concerned for the rest of their careers. They can only hope that the future holds an overall win for each of the three drivers that they surely deserve.
This writer is not at home to the inevitable conspiracy theories. The raw emotions of the drivers and senior team members during and after the events that transpired were proof enough for me. Human frailty, coupled with a very rare systems failure, combined to give us an overall podium of a rare lack of genuine pleasure at the final result. Toyota again deserves high praise for racing to the season’s finish, their TS050 imperious this season, and now operating at a level that even their prior competition would have struggled to match.
For Nakajima it’s a first-ever FIA World Drivers Championship in any discipline for a Japanese driver, and for Alonso, he now joins Petter Solberg’s until now unique achievement of winning World Championships in two different disciplines.
Third overall was the #11 SMP Racing BR1 AER. Stoffel Vandoorne, Mikhael Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov put the BR1, themselves, and AER on the overall podium for the first time and setting up a run into season eight that should excite all concerned.
GTE Pro was, quite simply, an epic contest, though Aston Martin would not agree, feeling that a late BoP change left them utterly out of sorts.
Ferrari was on nobody’s shortlist of likely winners and simply kept their heads down as others either stumbled or were dealt a poor hand by one or more of the eight Safety Car periods. The #92 Porsche led well until a broken exhaust left them back in the pack, laps down and forced into a strategy that saw them secure the drivers World Championship for Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, but fail to double up for the Le Mans win with Lauren Vanthoor.
Their WEC teammates needed a win to have any chance of challenging but, in the event could not achieve that, and in any event, the #92 was not far enough back to have lost the title anyway!
Outgoing World Champions James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi were correctly delighted to bow out of the season with the Le Mans win, Daniel Serra claiming a very rare second GTE Pro title, with different manufacturers after a win with Aston Martin in 2017.
LMP2 looked like G-Drive’s to lose, and they did just that. A fine early race run from Job van Uitert went to waste in the wake of a failed starter motor, after a great battle with the eventual race winner. Signatech Alpine claimed the win, their third in four years here and the WEC title. It’s their second in a race that saw Nico Lapierre’s 100% winning record in class extended to four in four attempts. The history books will show too that he, and Andre Negrao, and Pierre Thiriet – also took two wins at Le Mans in a single season en route to a Championship.
It will show too that the result saw only the third win in WEC history from a Michelin-shod LMP2, and the first LMP2 win for Michelin at Le Mans since Strakka Racing in 2010! The freak gearbox implosion for the #37 and the ‘off’ for the #31 DragonSpeed saw two Championship contenders fall by the wayside and the surviving #37 was left to wait for a stumble from the #36 that never came.
TDS racing secured a podium for the #28 on Francois Perrodo’s last appearance in the class, Loic Duval and Matthieu Vaxiviere in fine form to fend off challenges from a field with strength in depth. And then there was GTE Am. It wasn’t a dream swansong for the old Vantage, the #98 bowing out with a nightmare, the #90 fading from a podium contending run after a late night gravelly moment for Euan Hankey and a power steering pump change.
The Keating Ford GT had a quiet run until the race but starred once the flagged dropped on Saturday. The car rocketed to the top of the order and stayed there, in part with a little Safety Car luck. It then went on to win despite a questionable call by officials late in the race to make a mandatory repair for damage that looked remarkably similar to that suffered by at least two other cars that did not receive a similar call.
The subsequent stop-and-go for spinning the wheels added to the late race tension. But, full credit needs to go to ben Ben Keating who stopped the rot thereafter and when Jeroen Bleekemolen took over to run to the finish, a famous win was secured. Second was a championship-securing run by Team Project 1.
The WEC newcomers are deserved championship winners in a season that saw a major infringement elsewhere heavily punished – lessons learned and a reset now in place for next season. Jim McWhirter’s JMW Ferrari visited the podium again with Jef Segal rightly delighted with the effort put together for Canadian and Brazilian rookies Wei Lui and Rodrigo Baptista.
So that wraps up the longest FIA World Championship, in any discipline, in history, it’s had its ups, and its downs, but the transition to a season that hereafter will conclude here at Le Mans, a new era, with a new formula in the top class to come in just over a year’s time, what new adventures await?