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Le Mans 2016 - Ayse's Story

Page 18 - Sunday 19th June

The Unbelievable End....



It had really got warm by now and as most of the spectators hadn't returned to their grandstand seats yet I sat about 10 rows up in the shade, taking a last few photos.  The race was still a close one between Toyota and Porsche but the #5 car of Davidson, Buemi and Nakajima was now ahead of the sister car.  As the last hours of the race were reeled off, the Signatech Alpine maintained its lead in LMP2, while the #68 Ford gained a small cushion on GTEPro thanks to a spin for Vilander in the Risi Ferrari.  In GTEAm the all-American Ferrari of Bell, Sweedler and Segal looked set fair for victory, eclipsing their 3rd place of a year ago.  Also looking good for a wonderful finish was the astonishing effort by SRT41 in the 'New Technologies' class in a Morgan specially adapted for quadruple amputee Frédéric Sausset.  Brilliant. 






As the clock ticked on and the lead Toyota reeled off the laps with Porsche's Neel Jani unable to make any significant inroad into the Japanese car's lead, we were all sitting in our seats now in the front row of the grandstand completely oblivious to the astonishing drama that was about to unfold in front of us.  With three minutes or so to go, Nakajima began to slow on his progress around the penultimate lap, triggering little more than thoughts that Toyota were simply engineering a formation finish for their thoroughly deserved first win at Le Mans.  But he was slowing too much for the relatively slender buffer that he had between himself and Jani.  When he crawled to a halt just past the start/finish line, we were literally shouting at him to get going again, thinking that somehow, inexplicably, he had misunderstood the fact that he still had a lap to go.  But still he sat there and our hearts were in our mouths as the #2 Porsche overtook him for the lead and to win the race. 




Nakajima did get going again but halted again directly in front of us in T17.  It was heartbreaking for him, his team mates and the whole Toyota team.  There was shock and utter dismay in the stands.  It was eerily quiet as no-one could believe what they were witnessing.  People have always talked of the cruel luck that Jesus Pareja suffered in 1990 when he lost second place in his Brun Porsche with 15 minutes to go, but there had never been anything quite as cruel as this.  2016 had been Toyota's race.  They had comprehensively outsmarted Porsche after such a demoralising showing in 2015.  This was a race that Toyota should have won and deserved to win.  It was a race which I and all of Team DoT wanted them to win. 

Hugely deflated we made our customary dash out of the grandstand, all of us pretty numb with shock at what had just happened.  Stupid though it sounds I was actually quite annoyed that Toyota had been deprived of their win, a feeling which was made all the worse when I realised that the #5 Toyota wouldn't even be classified despite completing the same number of laps as the winner because of their agonisingly slow final lap (after Nakajima finally got the car moving again).  My annoyance wasn't directed at Porsche of course, ultimately they got their car to the finish first, but there is no denying the fact that they will never have a luckier win at Le Mans. 

We drove back to the hotel then in a subdued state, listening to Radio Le Mans and discussing that incredible finish at length.  As a result of our great parking spot in Parking Blanc, we got out and back to the hotel really quickly, setting a barely believable new record of just 25 minutes from the end of the race to driving into the hotel car park.....

I was tempted to get my head down for a couple of hours once we got back but I knew that would be fatal as I was completely out on my feet, so I had another shower and changed before checking the TV for football (and the end of some relatively unimportant motor race in Baku).  We had made the decision earlier to take our final evening meal at the Villa D'Or again and we got there nice and early at 7 pm.  Julie and Andy, our old friends joined us, having travelled to Le Mans just for the meal this year.  The food was OK, nothing exceptional, but there was plenty of it!  Two hours later we were back at the hotel for the earliest 'bed-time' of the Le Mans week - we certainly needed it!