Toyota pilot Kamui Kobayashi secured the pole position ahead of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans by setting an impressive lap record. His number seven car emerged as the favorite for victory in one of the world’s most grueling races, but it unexpectedly dropped out of the race due to a mechanical issue. Video footage taken in the pits suggests the issue might have been caused by a simple misunderstanding.
Kobayashi took advantage of a slow zone during the 14th hour to make a pit stop. Footage shows a man dressed in an orange and black racing suit running over to the car and giving the Japanese driver a thumbs-up. It turns out the man in the suit was Vincent Capillaire, a fellow pilot. However, his orange and black suit made him look like one of the race marshals. Kobayashi thought he had just received a signal to rejoin the race, so he sped off.
Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon explains widespread confusion followed.
“In this case, he has seen a marshal telling him to go. From our side, we told him “stop!” because the safety car queue was coming, and it was not possible. There has been, as you can imagine, some confusion. Start, stop, start, stop,” he told website Sportscar365.
Turning an engine on and off multiple times doesn’t sound particularly problematic, especially not if you drive a late-model car equipped with a start/stop system, but it caused a great deal of damage in an expensive and extremely complicated car like the TS050 Hybrid (pictured). The race-leading number seven car ended up dropping out of the race with a burned-out clutch.
Capillaire apologized for giving Kobayashi the thumbs-up. “I wanted to show my encouragement,” he wrote on his personal Facebook page. “It was a spontaneous [sign of] encouragement.” He was fined for the incident.
The race didn’t go as planned for Toyota, but the team will return to next year’s edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“We will be back next year and we will have the opportunity again. For Toyota it is hard but we will come back very strongly and we have to win this race,” Kobayashi promised in an interview with website Motorsport. You can bet Porsche will be on the starting grid, too, in a bid to secure its 20th overall victory.