After setting a stunning lap record at the Circuit de la Sarthe, Toyota went into this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans riding high. Unfortunately, reliability problems and bad luck plagued the company's TS050, forcing 10th-hour retirements of two of its three entered cars, including the favorite-to-win #7. The #8 TS050 managed a ninth place overall finish, but it also spent two hours int he garage for repairs. Arguably, no one is more upset about this than Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda.
Toyoda, who was in attendance at this year's race, issued a following Toyota's defeat. He was especially apologetic to the team's nine drivers:
"To me, at Le Mans for the first time, our drivers said, 'We want you up together with us at the center of the podium...'
In return, I said: 'Drive all out. Trust the cars the mechanics readied for you. Enjoy Le Mans.'
Despite telling them such, I was not able to allow them to drive all out. This, I truly regret. Even though our drivers drove believing in our cars, I can only say how sorry and how full of regret I am."
Toyoda also thanked the team's fans and all those that played a role in building the TS050. "Once again, Toyota will strive for the day on which we can, together, have smiles on our faces," he said.
The Toyota CEO also made some very prescient comments about today's LMP1 cars, which might not be well suited to Le Mans:
"Both Porsche and we, Toyota, were not able to complete without incident 24 hours of driving in the hybrid cars that we put to the challenge on the roads of Le Mans.
Both even winning [Porsche] car #2 and our car #8, which completed the race, were forced to undergo time-consuming, trouble-caused repairs, before struggling to cross the finish line.
While the hybrid technology that has advanced through competition in the FIA World Endurance Championship puts its abilities on display in six-hour races, it might be that it is not yet ready for the long distance of the 24 Hours of Le Mans."
Given the reliability issues across the LMP1 hybrid field in this year's race, Toyoda is spot-on in his assessment of the class. Still, he says that Toyota will continue to develop electrified race cars for Le Mans, and that it will transfer that tech to its road cars.
that Toyota team president Toshio Sato also promised a return to Le Mans next year. "We will analyze what went wrong because we cannot accept a double retirement like that during the night," Sato said.
"We will come back stronger and more determined than ever; our Le Mans challenge will continue."
You have to admire Toyota's perseverance. The company has been coming to Le Mans on and off again since 1985 with not a single win to its credit. After this and last year's heartbreak, you wouldn't blame the company for pulling out of Le Mans and endurance racing, and yet, it promises to return.
Hopefully, the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans will reward Toyota for all of its hard work.