Mon, Jun 19, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Porsche heads for third Le Mans win as Toyota splutters

Reuters, LE MANS, France

Porsche 919 Hybrid driver Andre Lotterer, left, sits in the pits with teammates during the 85th Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Porsche yesterday headed for a third successive victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans after early pace-setters Toyota saw their hopes of a first win disappear before dawn.

In an agonizing half-hour for the Japanese manufacturer, whose hopes were high after securing pole position with a record-fastest lap at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France, two of the team’s three cars retired in the night.

Only the No. 8 Toyota remained on track, in 15th place and 28 laps behind the leading Porsche of former winners Neel Jani of Switzerland, Britain’s Nick Tandy and Germany’s Andre Lotterer.

“It is so disappointing. The car was running very well and we were just taking things steady, building a gap at the front. Then after the safety car, I just had no power,” pole-sitter Kamui Kobayashi said.

The former Formula One driver was halted by a clutch problem in the leading No. 7 car at about the 10 hours mark.

Until then, the car had barely missed a beat as Toyota, the five times runners-up, set about trying to end years of heartache and become only the second Japanese manufacturer to win the world’s greatest endurance race.

The team missed out last year when their leading car broke down on the final lap only minutes from the checkered flag.

Kobayashi got going again momentarily before the car stopped again and he had no option but to park up and walk away.

“I tried to come back to the pits, but it wasn’t possible. I feel so sad for everyone in the team who has worked so hard for this race and produced such a quick car,” he said.

In a second big blow, the No. 9 car driven by Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre, Japan’s Yuji Kunimoto and Argentina’s Jose Maria Lopez was involved in a collision 15 minutes later.

The impact at the approach to the first corner at about 1:30am caused too much damage to continue.

The No. 8 car of Switzerland’s Sebastien Buemi, Britain’s Anthony Davidson and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima had already lost more than an hour in the pits as mechanics replaced the front motor and battery.

With Toyota out of the picture, the stage was set for Porsche to win by a massive margin.

Two LMP2 cars were in the other podium spots, with the Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca in second place, but 12 laps behind.

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