A year on from the manufacturer’s heart-breaking loss within sight of the finish, Toyota returned in 2017 with a bolstered three-car effort in the hope of taking advantage of a depleted LMP1 field in the wake of Audi’s exit.
However, though Toyota demonstrated a pace advantage over sole rivals Porsche in qualifying – where Kamui Kobayashi smashed the lap record – and controlled a healthy lead in the first half of the race, it would suffer with reliability issues.
Striking the #8 car first when it was forced to pit for more than two hours to replace an MGU, worse was the follow when the #7 machine of Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin – which had been leading by more than a minute – slowed with a clutch issue during the tenth hour just as he had passed the pit entry following a safety car period.
Causing a puncture and damage to the hydraulics, though Nicolas Lapierre got the car to within sight of the pit lane, he would be forced to call it a day and retire the car.
A desperate disappointment for Toyota in the year it had an evident edge on Porsche in terms of pace, Sato has vowed to return again in 2018.
“The whole team is devastated by what happened here, after all the hard work and effort over the last months to come to Le Mans with such a competitive car. Our pace was very good all week and we were leading a tough fight with Porsche.
“The drivers, engineers and mechanics performed superbly this week and I would like to thank them. Of course, we sincerely congratulate Porsche on their victory because undoubtedly they deserved to win today.
“For TOYOTA, we must leave Le Mans again without the winner’s trophy, despite the amazing support from the fans here. We will analyse what went wrong because we cannot accept a double retirement like that during the night. We will come back stronger and more determined than ever; our Le Mans challenge will continue.”