Toyota Gazoo Racing president Toshio Sato says his team can take some heart from the way it has successfully turned around its fortunes in the last 12 months, despite the dramatic end to its Le Mans 24 Hours victory bid.
The #5 Toyota crew of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima looked set for an emotional maiden victory in the endurance classic after an almost trouble-free 24 hours of racing, Nakajima seemingly on course to bring the car over the finish line as it managed its advantage over Porsche in the closing stages.
The victory would have marked a long awaited first Le Mans success for Toyota having come remarkably close in 1999 and again in 2014, but a loss of power for the TS050 Hybrid just four minutes from the end of the gruelling encounter would scupper its hopes in a cruel way.
With the drivers dumbfounded by the failure, which opened the door for Porsche to claim an unexpected second consecutive win, Sato was nonetheless heartened by the way Toyota had shown race winning form a year on from being so far off the pace in 2015.
“I am incredibly proud of our team effort, not just today but since Le Mans last year,” he said. “Thank you to the team in Higashi-Fuji and Cologne, as well as our partners Oreca. The way we have responded to the pain of our 2015 disappointment, by developing an all-new chassis and powertrain in a short timeframe, has been impressive and the performance of the TS050 HYBRID was strong.
“We worked as one team and took part in an amazing Le Mans 24 Hours. Congratulations to Porsche on its victory. I have no words to describe our emotions today. It is simply heartbreaking but we will return stronger and more determined to win.”
The sentiments were shared by Toyota Motor Company President Akiyo Toyoda, who conveyed the despair felt by the team members in those moments.
“From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank everyone who lent us their incredible support during this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. We of Toyota GAZOO Racing put tremendous pressure on ourselves to break our losing streak at Le Mans and fought so hard to make up for the unfortunate results of the past. All of the mechanics, engineers, drivers, suppliers, and everyone else involved with the team made incredible sacrifices and achieved constant improvements to build an even-better car for this year's Le Mans.
“Just as our dreams began to come true, we all made to burn that moment into our minds even as unbelievable heartbreak unfolded before our very eyes. Toyota's cars have become so fast and so strong. But Porsche grew even faster and they were stronger. Throughout the 24 hours of the race―and, indeed, the 30 total hours including qualifying―it is not such an easy thing to continue to drive faster and more powerfully than anyone else on the road at Le Mans. When I think of what everyone in the team must be feeling… not to mention everyone who supported us… I honestly do not know what to say. I cannot find the words. We at Toyota GAZOO Racing are "sore losers." We do not compete without knowing the feeling of loss.
“Having tasted the true bitterness of losing, we will return to the World Endurance Championship arena next year, and we will return to compete in the battle that is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. For our quest to build ever-better cars… For this, we will certainly come back to the roads of Le Mans. I would like to express my gratitude to all of the cars and drivers who fought alongside us on the track at Le Mans; particularly Porsche and Audi. We will be back next year, reborn, and ready to take you on with all of our might. Look out for the "sore losers," Toyota, on the track next year. The fight is not over!”
It isn't the first time Toyota has suffered defeat in remarkable circumstances after a technical problem for Carlos Sainz 300m from the finish line on the very final stage of the 1998 Rally GB forced him to surrender his fourth place and therefore he hopes of winning the title.