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A Lap at Le Mans in Toyota’s Other Record Breaker

Submitted by on June 16, 2017

Toyota TS020 GT One

So, Kamui Kobayashi just went out and smashed the all-time lap record at Circuit de la Sarthe during second qualifying for the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans. His 3:14.791 lap was more than two full seconds faster than second place qualifier Kazuki Nakajima on a 3:17.128.

Nearly 20 years ago, in 1999, Martin Brundle held the Circuit de la Sarthe record in the mighty Toyota TS020, or GT-One. Let’s go for a lap on board Toyota’s GTP monster.

The Toyota GT-One raced at Le Mans for two years – 1998 and 1999. The car featured a carbon fiber and aluminium honeycomb monocoque chassis built by Team Toyota Europe. A highly developed version of the R36V, a 3.6-litre turbocharged V8, provided power.

In 1998, the cars were quick, with the fastest car qualifying second. The race, however, was not kind. The number 28 car driven by Martin Brundle, Emmanuel Collard and Éric Hélary crashed out just after half distance and the 29 car suffered a gearbox failure while in contention for the win. The 27 car, driven by the all-Japanese driving team of Ukyo Katayama, Toshio Suzuki and Keichi Tsuchiya finished 9th.

Toyota did, however, come away from the weekend with the race’s fastest lap and a 345 kilometer an hour run through the speed trap in practice, proving their pace.

Toyota updated the GT-One to suit class changes that took place going in to 1999, moving it into the GTP class. This time, they were able to lock out the front row with Martin Brundle and Thierry Boutsen qualifying and second respectively.

The 1999 race was just as punishing as ’98, however, claiming both the Boutsen, Ralf Kelleners and Allan McNish and the Brundle, Emmanuel Collard and Vincenzo Sospiri cars by half distance. The #3 car, driven by the same team of Katayama, Tsuchiya and Suzuki as the 27 car in 1998, was the only car to finish. They had the chance to push for the lead late in the race but a tyre failure in the final hour sent them limping back to the pits and ultimately relegated them to second place, first in the GTP class.

2016 was another heart breaker for Toyota. The team led almost the entire race, until the leading car driven by Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima suffered a technical malfunction and stopped as it began its victory lap. The sister car driven by Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi claimed second, but that was bittersweet.

Toyota has locked out the front row for 2017, with Kobayashi, Sarrazin and Conway starting from pole and the sister TS050 driven by Nakajima, Buemi and Davidson second. I think we’d all be happy to see them go the distance and finally take that top step in The Great Race.

Enjoy the video below, which features Ukyo Katayama on board the GT-One during the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans, and then scroll a little further for Kobayashi’s blistering 2017 lap.

MORE: Toyota Motorsport Legends Together at Last: TS010, TS020 and TS030

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