In the end Toyota scored a straightforward victory, but in its slipstream the 86th running of the 24 Hours was as ripe as ever with intrigue
Fuel shortages reportedly across France, a plucky band of privateers chasing one manufacturer for the outright win, talk of triple crowns, Porsche threatening a whitewash, winning margins measured in laps; the 86th running of Le Mans was a race just like those of the good old days yet unique at the same time.
Toyota banished its demons, its win splitting opinion as to whether it was a hollow victory or one that the Japanese manufacturer had earned after so many years of heartbreak. As it was, it became the second Japanese marque after Mazda to win the world’s greatest race and Fernando Alonso moved another third closer to matching Graham Hill in achieving the so-called triple crown of winning the Formula 1 world title, Le Mans and the Indy 500. The Spaniard will undoubtedly be booking his ticket to America in May 2019.
The double world champion was good, too. More than a match for his team-mates, his night stint went some way to turning the race decisively in favour of Toyota’s car no8 over the no7. But pole winner Kazuki Nakajima was given the honour of crossing the line, a Japanese driver in a Japanese car clearing memories of 2016. Its margin over the no7 was two laps, which was not a true representation, and the Rebellions – the best of the troubled privateers – were 12 laps back.
But it was the GTE-Pro class that produced the action. So close was the field that as late as the final three hours Ford and Porsche were still dicing, swapping paint and clipping door mirrors down the Mulsanne. Breathtaking pass followed breathtaking pass. Fréd Makowiecki drew Sébastien Bourdais’ ire with some questionable defence, but no penalty was forthcoming and Porsche secured a 1-2 with its ‘Pink Pig’ liveried RSR prevailing comfortably, followed by its ‘Rothmans’ counterpart, with Ford taking third.
Each marque in the GT field contended for a podium – bar the new Aston Martin – but the Porsches and Fords had just that little bit more pace and luck.