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!