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Le Mans 24 Hours of Le Mans

Toyota told Hirakawa to take “full risk” at Le Mans in Ferrari pursuit

Le Mans 24 Hours runner-up Brendon Hartley says his Toyota team told Japanese youngster Ryo Hirakawa to risk everything to catch the leading Ferrari, which went on to win.

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa

Installed for the final double stint of the race, Hirakawa lost his chance to challenge for the win when he spun at Arnage in the penultimate hour – damaging the front and rear of the car against the barrier and then taking time to rejoin the track before pitting for repairs.

Hartley revealed after the race that Hirakawa had been sent out with “maximum attack” orders but also explained that the car was very tricky to control under braking at that point.

“We gave it our all,” Hartley told Eurosport. “A lot [of] different emotions, because we were the underdogs today, most of the race we were one of the slower cars.

“It came to us a bit at the end, with the hotter track temp, and the last few stints I did were the best I’ve done, I just did qualifying lap after qualifying lap. I knew if we could just put them under some kind of pressure, we knew they had the pace advantage, but we did everything, we threw everything at them.

“We put Ryo in and said ‘look, full risk, maximum attack, we want to win the race’ and he had a little accident, it happens, and it could’ve happened to any of us and it did happen to many guys out there over the 24 hours.

“Full support to Ryo, the goal was to go maximum attack and that’s what we did.”

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Hartley explained how difficult the #8 GR010 HYBRID was to drive on the edge, admitting to moments of his own under braking for Arnage – the slowest corner on the track.

“At [Turn] 14 I had a couple of little issues there, similar to him, I don’t think there was a major issue obviously, and massive thanks to everyone in the team for their never-give-up attitude,” he said.

“Big teamwork to get the car to the end in second place. I’m disappointed, while being proud of my team, happy with the job that I did but it’s going to be a little bit tough to stand on the second spot [on the podium].”

Post-race, Hirakawa admitted he felt under a huge amount of pressure taking over from Hartley for the final two hours with the victory still in the balance.

"I didn't expect that [car] behaviour through Turn 17 [Indianapolis] and that was related to the crash," he said. "I still don't know what happened there. I tried my best, I gave it everything... but it didn't come.

"Before getting in the car the pressure was massive. I've never had this pressure before. But once I was in the car I felt ok, and I was able to push. So to then have a crash felt like a big wasted chance."

Asked by Motorsport.com if the #51 Ferrari's subsequent power cycle at one of its pitstops, made him feel like the crash cost Toyota victory, Hirakawa replied: "As soon as I was told about that, [I knew] I had lost it.

"But I didn't know before. If we knew it, we could manage, but... we did everything we could."

Toyota’s WEC team president Kamui Kobayashi, whose own car was taken out in the night when it was involved in a multi-car wreck and wouldn’t restart, said he was proud of Toyota’s efforts, in light of the controversial Balance of Performance changes that hampered its chances.

“I think we did everything we could do,” said Kobayashi. “I think Ferrari did an amazing job. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have enough pace in the race and my car had bad luck.

“It really sucks for the team, after all the effort from them. It was not our day, but we’ll definitely come back strong. It’s a real shame we couldn’t win.”

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