Magic in La Sarthe: Toyota Crushes the Track Record [Video]
Whether you follow FIA racing and the Le Mans 24 Hours or not, racing fans of all sorts can appreciate the factors that combine to create a magical motorsports moment. Beyond the excitement of watching the races themselves, various factors combine and hook us in anticipation of these rare moments. It's just one of the reasons why I return to La Sarthe each June.
With Le Mans 24 Hours taking up a month of preparation and practice (and you just thought it was 24 hours!), there's generally a great deal of down time spent waiting for the action to start up. These periods are usually filled with discussion and speculation — sometimes a beer or two is involved. Which is how I came to sit with the two leaders of the endurance racing media pack in downtown Le Mans early in race week. After a thorough quenching of our thirsts, we got to discussing these magic moments of racing...
We unanimously agreed that these moments are something that is difficult to define but, once witnessed, is understood by everyone as something special, unique even. Just being at Le Mans elicited a winning combination of the main ingredients — endurance, public roads, high speed and, perhaps most importantly, being French.
Less than 48 hours later, the magic we were seeking came to pass. Kamui Kobayashi passed into both legend and history with a staggering lap in Thursday's Qualifying session. With an average speed of 156.51 mph, he booked a lap time of 3:14.791. This eclipsed all but one single-lap record on the Circuit de la Sarthe — leaving only Jackie Oliver's time of 3:13.6 in the legendary Gulf Porsche 917 during the 1971 Test Weekend to surpass this performance. That lap was on a shorter version of the track, with no chicanes on the Mulsanne Straight and no Porsche Curves... and a top speed on the Mulsanne of 249 mph in the 917 as opposed to the Toyota's more modest 208 mph.
Several circumstances aligned to aid this brilliant performance, a following wind down the Mulsanne Straight propelled the Toyota TS050 to even higher speeds, while the headwind encountered at Porsche Curves on the way back to the finish line added even more downforce. Add to this an almost totally clear track and a highly pumped driver, the opportunity the make magic was in the air — Kamui seized it with both hands! Even seasoned observers like myself were left speechless and stunned... A 3-minute, 14-second lap!!!!!! Mon Dieu! Mon Brave!
Judge for yourself the epic nature of this "lap of the gods" and ride along with Kamui, courtesy of the generous folks at TOYOTA GAZOO Racing.