The #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard/Earl Bamber/Brendon Hartley retook the lead of the race with less than an hour of the 24 left. Its sister car driven by Neel Jani/André Lotterer/Nick Tandy, had looked on its way to an easy victory by several laps, only to retire with oil pressure failure with 21 hours completed.
However it was the Japanese Toyota team, bidding to avenge the heartbreak of the 2016 race in which it led much of the distance only to break down on the final lap, that had looked dominant in the early stages of this year’s event. But the team then suffered an hour of disaster just after midnight.
More Le Mans heartbreak for Toyota
Two Toyota entries locked out the front row of the 60-car grid, and with 10 hours gone the #7 car driven by Kobayashi, Conway and Sarrazin was secure in the lead. Then suddenly it slowed with a clutch issue as it returned to speed after a safety car period, handing the lead to the Porsche of Jani, Lotterer and Tandy.
Kobayashi tried to get the car back to the pits but a full lap of the 8.5-mile circuit proved too much and he was forced to abandon the car.
Hardly had the Toyota team absorbed this disappointment when its now second-placed #9 car of Lapierre, Kunimoto and López suffered a collision with an LMP2 class car and spun into the gravel at the Dunlop chicane.
Lapierre again tried to limp around a full lap to the pits but the rear end of the car suffered further damage, briefly catching fire, and he was forced to pull over and retire, agonisingly within sight of the pit lane.
This left Tandy in the lead Porsche eight laps ahead of his nearest competition, with the one remaining Toyota 28 laps back after being forced to change its front hybrid motor earlier in the race. But the #1 Porsche’s demise after 21 hours handed the lead to the lead-running Jackie Chan Racing Oreca in the second LMP2 class, with the second Porsche recovering having also changed its front hybrid motor.
The #2 Porsche, with Bernard aboard, duly reclaimed the lead and took the flag with a total of 367 laps completed, though observers agreed it had not been an impressive performance for the hybrid cars of the lead LMP1 class, just two of the five entries making it to the flag.
Uk fans celebrated, meanwhile, as Johnny Adam snatched the win in the GT category for Aston Martin. His Vantage moved past the leading Chevrolet Corvette runner in a thrilling battle only resolved on the final lap.