Toyota seem to keep finding new ways to lose Le Mans. It looked as though the team had the race in its hands but 10 hours into the race its hopes were dashed, with two cars out and the other way, way behind after spending two hours in the pits with a problem.
The No.7 car was in the lead and looked to have everything under control, but a mishap in the pit lane during a safety car period indirectly led to the cars retirement. Kamui Kobayashi had just taken over from Mike Conway and had to stop at the end of the pits and wait for the train of cars to go past before being released.
Kamui saw a gesture from what he thought was a marshal and started to go, but was told to stop by his team because the light was still red. The constant stopping and starting of the car caused the clutch to overheat and led to the eventual retirement of the car shortly afterwards as Toyota technical boss Pascal Vasselon explained to Eurosport:
“The lead car, the #7, had an extremely surprising problem. It had been stopped in the safety car queue, [and then] somebody who seemed to be a marshal came to make it start up. But the light was red, so we stopped it. He started and stopped again two or three times, which was not planned, and it overheated the clutch.”
However what Kamui thought was a marshal was actually LMP2 driver Vincent Capillaire of the No.45 Algarve Racing Team. His team was located at the end of the pitlane and while waiting for his car to come in decided to go and give the thumbs up to the Toyota driver. Looking at the picture it’s no wonder he was mistaken for a marshal – they look almost exactly the same!
Capillaire was fined by the stewards for his actions, but Vasselon hopes the French driver apologises to the team for potentially costing them a victory:
“We understood there were no bad intentions in his behaviour, but he did not think about all the consequences of his gesture. I hope at least that he will come to apologise, which for the moment he has not yet done.”
It’s something of a comedy of errors all around, but another LMP2 driver, Roman Rusinov, explained how easy it would be for Kobayashi to make the mistake having been penalised himself following a similar situation in qualifying. He told Motorsport.com:
“When you’re in the car – no matter, on track, in your garage or in the pit lane – you use your instincts. If you box, there’s always a guy who shows you where to go, when to release brakes and where to turn the steering wheel. It’s subconscious. You don’t need to see this guy, you see only his hand, or even just a glove. It’s inside you. In this case with Toyota, some guy came near the car and gesticulated. If I was in the car, I would think it’s the marshal.”
Is it Capillaire’s fault for going to wave to Kobayashi? Is it Kobayashi’s fault for not paying full attention? Or is it Toyota’s fault for not building a strong enough car?
Either way one thing’s for sure – this bizarre turn of events is the sort of thing that could only happen to Toyota.