Kazuki Nakajima has said that it was very special for him to bring the Toyota TS050 Hybrid across the line for its third and final overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Japanese driver completed the final stint behind the wheel of the #8 Toyota, as he did in both 2018 and 2019, to take his third consecutive victory in the French endurance classic.
The TS050 Hybrid made its final appearance at Le Mans, as the outgoing hybrid LMP1 will be replaced by Toyota’s widely anticipated Le Mans Hypercar, set to make its debut in the opening round of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship at Sebring in March.
Speaking in the post-race press conference, Nakajima explained what it meant to bring the car to the line for the third and final time.
“It’s special to be in the car for basically the last victory in Le Mans and three times in a row, so it’s a very special thing,” he said. “Our race was really up and down, or down and up, I would say.”
The victory for Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley was somewhat unexpected given the dominance for the sister car of Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi throughout the first half of the race. The #8 crew was promoted into the lead of the race when Kobayashi brought the #7 TS050 Hybrid into the pits with turbo issues just after the halfway mark.
The resulting repairs cost the team half an hour, which promoted Nakajima, Buemi and Hartley into the lead. With the #7 car seven laps down in fourth, the #8 was realistically the only Toyota with a victory chance, which Nakajima explained put significant pressure on the team.
“I think everybody did a really great job. The whole team, including the car 7 guys, I think we did a really great job in the race and somehow we seemed to have a bit more luck than the other car this time, because the race was very long for us.
“I mean, as soon as car 7 had an issue, we were basically the only one to make sure we win for Toyota.
So it was quite tough in the end, but I’m really happy to be a part of this team and looking foward for the future.”
The third win in a row is also a personal milestone for both Nakajima and Buemi, as they became part of a small group to have won the race three consecutive times.
The pair become only the eighth and ninth driver respectively to achieve that feat, joining elite company that includes Jacky Ickx, Emanuele Pirro, Henri Pescarolo, Olivier Gendebien and Woolf Barnato.