Toyota could only defeat itself for overall victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours this weekend, which says it all about the lack of competitiveness in the top class at the great endurance race.
But Toyota has always had a tendency towards drama – and sure enough, without anyone but itself to race against, the Japanese manufacturer still managed to throw up a tantalising motorsport story this year.
Meanwhile, the lesser classes put on some great racing to keep the huge crowds hooked all the way from 3pm on Saturday to 3pm on Sunday.
Here are some of the standout heroes of the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours.
It was surprising just how much quicker the #7 Toyota TS050 HYBRID was than its sister, from the first qualifying session on Wednesday evening to the end of the race. But that didn’t mean Briton Mike Conway, teamed with Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, left Le Mans with the first Le Mans victory he deserved at a race that counts for more than any other in the world of sports car racing.
Conway put in a heroic performance this weekend, marking himself out as probably the best sports car racer in the world right now, and he fully deserved to finally win the ‘big one’. But like his countryman Anthony Davidson before him, Toyota’s British star appears to lack the sprinkling of luck that is required to secure a Le Mans win.
As the 24th hour approached, Lopez had pitted but was immediately informed he had a puncture. The sensors suggested the right front was the problem, but it turned out to be the right rear. Whatever, it required another stop – which handed the lead and victory to the #8 crew.
That means Fernando Alonso, along with team-mates Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, is a two-time Le Mans winner – but the trio, who have also now secured the 2018/19 World Endurance Championship titles, knew they did not deserve the victory on this day.
Conway will just have to come back and try again. But right now, this one will hurt.
The Frenchman, formerly a Toyota LMP1 ace, has reinvented himself as a star in the secondary LMP2 class – and remarkably now remains unbeaten at Le Mans in four attempts at the category.
Lapierre scored his third victory for the Signatech Alpine team with team-mates Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet, but admittedly only after misfortune befell the team’s main rival. G-Drive had led the class for most of the way until the 19th hour, until a starter motor problem cost it 20 minutes in the pits.
That meant further disappointment for Jean-Eric Vergne, the former F1 driver and current Formula E champion who won the race last year with G-Drive only to lose it when the team was disqualified for using an illegal refuelling rig.
Redemption looked set to be on the cards this year, but it was not to be – and Lapierre and co were the beneficiaries once again.
The former single-seater driver had the talent to make it to Formula 1, but is yet another to have fallen by the wayside before he got his chance. The Briton has since reinvented himself as a GT star in the World Endurance Championship and took a deserved Le Mans win on Sunday.
Teamed with Italian Alessandro Pier Guidi and Brazilian Daniel Serra, Calado led AF Corse’s challenge and delivered Ferrari’s 488 GTE another victory in the Pro class, defeating the sweet-sounding Porsche 911 RSRs.
The challenges from Corvette and Aston Martin both wilted, but thanks largely to Calado, Ferrari can add another class win to its tally at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
The American became the first to run a privateer Ford GT at Le Mans – and his eponymous team was rewarded with a class win in the GTE Am class.
The talents of experienced Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen led the charge in the striking purple and orange Wynn’s-backed Ford, and the team’s success ensures a happy send off from Le Mans for the Blue Oval’s potent racer, despite the four works cars failing to make the podium in the Pro class. They did, however, all make the finish, classified in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh in the category.
Overall, the 2019 race will not and cannot be remembered as a classic Le Mans. But one way or another, it will certainly not be forgotten by those who stamped their mark on it – for better and for worse.