Nakajima, Alonso, Buemi win Le Mans 24h with Toyota

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Kazuki Nakajima drove the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing across the finish line first at Le Mans, making it a second consecutive Le Mans 24h victory for him with team mates Alonso and Buemi. The trio also sealed WEC championship glory as the superseason comes to a close.

Toyota immediately set off to control the race from the start, with the pole sitting #7 off into the lead, ahead of the sister car #8. The pair were closely matched, but it was the leader that gradually extended its lead, up to a minute 4 hours into the race.

Behind them, a few drops of rain here and there caused some trouble, especially for the #1 Rebellion. Having just passed the #17 SMP Racing in a risky move through the Porsche curves, Neel Jani lost control when hitting the brakes, ending up spinning in the wall. Damage was limited to the front bodywork, but it was still impressive how Rebellion managed to get the car sorted in less then two laps.

Some safety car periods then brought some competitors back again around 21:00, bringing #8 right back, and ahead of the #7 Toyota. The latter got back into the lead 30 minutes later, only for Lopez to lock up in the approach to Mulsanne, and lose the lead again around 22:00.

With the #1 dropped back to 5th, SMP Racing were in control of third place, with both its cars just 2 seconds apart from one another and the #3 Rebellion following up 30s further down the road.

In the same hour, the LMP2 category saw a new race leader as Jean-Eric Vergne in the G-Drive #26 overtook the Signatech Alpine #35. Competition remained close in this category as well, with #31 of Dragonspeed 20s down the road, and Jackie Chan Racing's #38 also still on the same lap.

The GTE Pro series were closer still, with even after 7 hours of running, the gap between the leader, #92 Porsche was only 8s ahead of second placed #51 of AF Corse. In fact, the top 9 all had at least one car less than 25s behind them.

Through the night

During the night, the #17 SMP hit trouble and went into a big sideways slide, seemingly with the rear gearbox jammed. It was immediately game over for the crew. When in the morning, the #3 Rebellion ended up in the gravel again, the other SMP, running #11 came into an unthreatened third place, having 4 laps in hand over the #1 of Rebellion Racing.

In LMP2, the #29 leading G-Drive hit trouble. Having led through the night, a faulty start engine required a 20 minute long pitstop that dropped the team back down from first to seventh, 4 laps off the lead #38 Signatech Alpine.

Hello sun

As the sun rejoined the party, Toyota's #7 still lead, and the next hours as the leader extends its lead even further. The trouble basically happened behind them, most notably for Racing Team Nederland as Nick De Vries damaged the car badly with less than 4 hours to race. He returned nonetheless, and the crew repaired the car, leaving the actual finish as the only remaining target for #29.

For the leader, and similarly for the second #8 Toyota, things ran remarkably smooth, until Lopez got hit with a puncture at Mulsanne, requiring an additional stop to sort things out. Despite a 2 minute advantage to the second car, the lead was lost, and when things were sorted, Lopez in the #7 trailed Nakajima by 58 seconds.

Lopez did return to the lead when the #8 pitted, but as he pitted himself as well for a last time one lap later, it was back to where it was, leading to a true sprint race for the win. Lopez ended up going round 3s per lap faster, but the gap proved too much to close.

LMP2 was settled since the problems of G-Drive, meaning Licolas Lapierre had the joy to drive the Signatech Alpine #36 acrosss the finish line to win its class, and 6th overall. Jackie Chan DC Racing #38, with Ho Pin Tung at the wheel finished second and a lap down on the leader, followed by TDS Racing #28.

In GTE Pro, competition for the podium remained extremely close, but the top three were separated during the last safety car period shortly before midday, which gave the advantage to the AF Corse #51 Ferrari, despite two more stops than its main rival, the #91 Porsche. The latter went all out - with Frédéric Makowiecki clocking the fastest lap in the class: 3:49.831 - as of that moment, but it proved insufficient to get back into the winning position.

In GTE AM, the battle was tense, with the Keating Motorsport #85 leading the category as of the fourth hour of the race, after having progressed upwards from 9th on the grid. Behind the leaders, the Team Project 1 #56 took second place from JMW Motorsports #84 in the morning as both continued to stay close to the leader.

UPDATE: Post-race scrutineering checks have found illegalities, and therefore disqualified the GTE AM winner of Keating Motorsport, making Team Project 1 #56 the winner in its class.