It is now pretty well known that Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 retired from the 24 Hours of Le Mans last Sunday.
After having led 146 laps out of 154, the car retired shortly before the 10th hour of the race had been completed due to troubles with the clutch.
That failure can happen on any car – but was the reason, that it was excessively stressed during a pit stop?
Mike Conway had entered the pit shortly before, and handed the car over to Kamui Kobayashi. At that time of the race, there was a Safety Car period, and during such period, the pit lane exit will be closed, when there are cars passing by on the start-finish straight. Kobayashi drove to the end of the pitlane and stopped at the red light, like you are ought to do.
Following that, a person dressed in orange runs to the car and gives him a “Thumbs Up” and then run away again. That gesture was seen by Kobayashi as a message from a marshall to leave the pit – at Le Mans they wear orange clothing. He starts to leave the pit, before the team shout on the radio that he has to stop again, since there is a red light and there are cars passing by on the track.
Shortly after, he is given a real green light, and then drives onto the track. He does one lap behind the Safety Car, and just as the cars are released from behind the Safety Car, going out of the final turn, the car has no forward motion.
He manages to switch the car around, so tries to get back to the pitlane on battery power from the hybridsystem alone, but at the entrance to the Porsche Curves, the power is used up, and he has to park the car.
The problem is, that the person who gave him “Thumbs Up” wasn’t any marshall, but Vincent Capillaire from the Algarve Pro Racing #45 team, who participated in the LMP2 category! The drivers at that team wears orange, and can potentially be confused as marshall outfits.
The Toyota team themselves believe that the extra start-stop sequence that Kobayashi had to do at the pit exit, made the clutch overheat unnecessarily, and then break.
Many are confused why Capillaire did like he did, but he has explained that himself now:
Saturday night I was waiting to get into the car, with my helmet and equipment. I wanted to show a bit of acknowledgement to the leading car, which stopped at the red light, only a few meters from our garage. It was a completely spontaneous acknowledgement between racing drivers, but I got a fine from the stewards for this action, and I can see now, that it wasn’t appropriate to do.”
Now the discussions in certain parts of the industry, if drivers and teams should be allowed to wear orange, that can be mistaken by the orange clothing that marshalls wear too.
Of course it wasn’t a good thing for Capillaire to do – but what about the fans waiting flags in the spectator areas? Sometimes they are blue, yellow, red or green flags or banners – and what if a driver misjudges it and thinks it’s a flag signal from a marshall post? You can’t guard against such things, and only has to go into the category “fluke happening”.
At the end, it was Toyota Gazoo racing build a car, that can’t last the clutch to be used 3-4 times within a few minutes, without it overheating, is perhaps a more important question, rather than if people are allowed to wear orange or not…