Ryo Hirakawa was leading the race in its 16th hour but his 12 second-lead was disappearing, and a visit to the pits resulted in the entire front end of his car being replaced.

The #51 Ferrari took the lead which was converted into a historic victory - but Toyota’s woes have now been attributed to the local wildlife.

Pascal Vasselon, their technical director, explained: “There were some windows where we were sometimes dominating Ferrari. There is a logic behind that. 

“After one of these moments where we were competitive, Ryo hit a squirrel. 

“It was probably not a very small one because it has done big damage to the front end. 

“He was in trouble until the end of the stint when we could change the front end.”

The #8 did, at least, finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans but Toyota saw their other car retire early.

The #7 of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez endured a premature end when Kobayashi was involved in a multi-car incident.

Toyota had won five editions in a row of the 24 Hours of Le Mans before this past weekend.