Sevenoaks’ Mike Conway, driving the no.7 Toyota Hybrid LMP1 car had certain victory snatched from his grasp in the last hour of an eventful Le Mans 24 Hour race on Sunday.
Leading the race from the off, Conway and his team mates, Kobyashi & Lopez had the race under their control. He had set the fastest lap of the race as early as the fourth lap and they had built a good lead over the sister car containing former F1 World Champion and reigning Le Mans winner, Fernando Alonso. The Toyota was the class of the field with the third place car a number of laps down with the rest strewn much further back depending on their class.
Such is the challenge of this race that disaster can strike anyone at anytime. Team Corvette (no.64) was taken out after just four hours by an errant driver in a slower class not checking their mirrors, whilst the early hours after the dawn saw a succession of spins into the barriers and journeys through the gravel, as driver weariness and mechanical issues took their toll.
It seemed that the ultra reliable Toyota was immune to such glitches as it sailed serenely on but that all changed on the cusp of the final hour. Lopez picked up a puncture and his two minute lead all but evaporated as he limped to the pits. They still stood a chance but no sooner was he out on with the new boot, sensors detected a further problem and he had to return to the pit for another tyre change. All four were swapped this time but the fresh rubber was of no help in closing the gap on the no.8 car, which had swept into the lead just as no.7 pitted for the second occasion.
They pushed as hard as they could in that remaining 60 minutes but to no avail. Both cars ran perfectly to the finish and bang on 15.00 Nakajima hustled the car over the line to secure the win of the race and the World Endurance Racing world title. The enormous crowd packing the grandstands and all possible viewing spots hailed the victors. The Conway car came over just 17 seconds down after 385 laps.
It was a superb drive properly acknowledged by the enthusiastic supporters who massed on the main straight at the race end for the presentations but the bitter taste of their cruel luck would not be washed away by a sip of the Champions Champagne.
Report provided to Sevenoaks Sports by Peter Benfield.