FIA WEC: 24 Great Cars that didn’t win at Le Mans – Part Three

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The Toyota TS010 on the pit straight during the 1992 24 Hours of Le Mans. © Toyota (GB) plc

With the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans just over a week away, anticipation is slowly building towards the start.

During the 1990’s, numerous teams enter in the pursuit for glory at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

While many got used to finishing on the podium, other had to endure years of pain before tasting success.

So, here are another six cars that were unable to claim victory at Le Mans.

If you haven’t already, you can read part two of this mini-series here.

Nissan R90CK/P: 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Nissan team mechanics with the Nissan R90CP after the 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans. © Dan Morgan

During the course of the 1990’s virtually every manufacturer decided it worth having a crack at conquering Le Mans.

After failing to finish in 1989, Nissan developed the R90C, with its turbocharged YRH35Z V8 producing 788 bhp @ 7,600 rpm.

Nissan created two specifications of the car – the R90CK and the R90CP.

Both cars demonstrated promise in the World Sportscar Championship, but were hampered by various reliability problems.

However, the installation of chicanes along the Mulsanne straight and Sauber-Mercedes failing to defend its crown helped their chances.

Mark Blundell’s Nissan R90CK claimed pole position for the 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans, and was over five seconds quickest than its closest competitor. © Nissan Motor Company

That left Nissan in a five-way fight with former winners Jaguar and Porsche, and fellow compatriots Toyota and Mazda.

For qualifying, Nissan boosted the engine of the R90CK to 1100 bhp. Subsequently, Mark Blundell qualified on pole position with a 3:27.02.

Furthermore, the R90CP qualified third with the Japanese trio of Masahiro Hasemi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Toshino Suzuki.

During the race, the No.24 Nissan of the ‘Three B’s’ – Blundell, Julian Bailey and Gianfranco Brancatelli – was leading before retiring with a broken gearbox.

Meanwhile, the No.23 marched on and although it couldn’t keep up with Jaguar and Porsche, managed to finish in fifth place.

Mercedes-Benz C11: 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Sauber-entered Mercedes-Benz C11 negotiates Tetra Rouge during the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans. © Martin Lee

After decided not to enter the 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans, Sauber-Mercedes returned to the Circuit de la Sarthe for 1991.

The Swiss-German partnership was confident of another triumph, after comfortably winning the 1990 FIA World Sportscar Championship.

The C11 used a  5-litre mid-engined, M119 V8 which churned out 730 bhp @ 7,000 rpm and could hit 249 mph (400 km/h). However, the inclusion of the Mulsanne chicanes minimised their advantage.

It started well for them, with Jean-Louis Schlesser putting the No.1 car on pole position. Going forward, not much went in their favour.

During the first couple of hours, both Michael Schumacher and Karl Wendlinger spun the No.31 machine. The same car then got stuck in fourth gear later on, and would lose seven laps on the leaders.

With a four lap lead over the nearest Mazda, Alain Ferté took over the No.1 car from Schlesser.

Then, a broken alternator caused smoke to pour out of the car and break the water pump.

Subsequently, the engine overheated due to the lack of coolant and the lead Sauber-Mercedes was out of the race.

Stanley Dickens also ran over debris in the No.32 car and caused damage to the front engine mounting which led to its exit.

At the end of the race, the Mazda 787B claimed a famous win, while the No.31 of Schumacher, Wednlinger and Fritz Kreutzpointner was a distant fifth.

Toyota TS010 – 1992-93 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Toyota pit crew working into the night at Le Mans in 1992. © Toyota (GB) plc

After Mazda won at Le Mans, Toyota dreamed of replicating that success in 1992.

Having competed in the great endurance race since 1985, new regulations and a new car gave them their best chance yet.

The use of turbochargers were banned and the engine displacement was limited to a maximum capacity of three and a half litres.

In addition, Jaguar had pulled out of sportscar racing and allowed Toyota to sign their design Tony Southgate.

Revered for designing the Jaguar XJR-9 and XJR-12 chassis, Southgate came up with the mid-engined Toyota TS010.

The V10 engine produced 600 bhp and maxed out at around 215 mph (346 km/h). As a result, the new car won on its competitive debut in the Monza 500km.

However, at Le Mans, the TS010 was no match for Peugeot, who were under the leadership of Jean Todt.

Because of this, Masanori Sekiya, Pierre-Henri Raphanel and Kenny Acheson finished six laps behind in second place.

Technical Gremlins Terrorise Toyota

The 1993 24 Hours of Le Mans saw Toyota TS010 use a red and white livery, as opposed to the blue and white used in 1992. © Toyota (GB) plc

The following year, not much had changed in terms of the competition. Despite the cancellation of the World Sportscar Championship, Peugeot and Toyota were the main contenders for 1993.

Early on, Eddie Irvine took the lead in the No.36 car, and then handed the car over to Sekiya. During the pitstop, the Japanese driver lost two laps due to an issue with his drinks bottle.

Later, Irvine got back in the car for another stint, only for the TS010 to suffer an electrical issue. This, alongside further engine troubles ended their challenge.

Behind them, the No.37 of Raphanel developed an engine misfire and later retired in the morning with Andy Wallace.

The No.38 car also needed lengthly gearbox repairs and left the Peugeots unchallenged towards the end.

At the finish, Peugeot claimed a 1-2-3 finish, while the No.36 of Irvine, Sekiya and Toshino Suzuki ended in sixth place.

Toyota 94C-V: 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Toyota 94C-V makes it way through the esses at the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans. © Martin Lee

For 1994, Toyota abandoned the TS010 and instead used the 94C-V for the brand new LMP1 class.

An evolution of the 92/93C-V from the previous two years, the 94C-V used a mid-engined V8 that produced 800 bhp.

During the race, the No.1 car of Mauro Martini, Jeff Krosnoff and Eddie Irvine was running well and claim the lead in the night.

The Toyota was favoured to win by fans, as Roland Ratzenberger was signed to drive the car before his fatal crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

At the turn of the morning, the 94C-V was still in first place and en route to a memorable victory.

Then, with 90 minutes to go, Krosnoff lost drive on the way to his pit box and gear linkage broke.

After a quick repair by the mechanics, Irvine climbed into the car and pursued after the two Dauer-Porsches.

Irvine was catching them, as Porsche nursed their driveshafts, and passed Thierry Bousten on the penultimate lap.

However, time ran out and the Ulsterman had to settle for second place.

Courage C34: 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans

Mario Andretti aboard the Courage C34 during the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. Image sourced from @Digione_79 via Twitter.

By 1995, Courage Competition had become regulars at Le Mans and fancied their chances with the Courage C34.

The C34 used a six-cylinder boxer engine from a Porsche 935, which had an output of 532 bhp @ 7,700 rpm.

Driving the car were Bob Wollek, Eric Hélary and Mario Andretti, who was looking to complete the Triple Crown of Motorsport.

During practice, the No.13 car was the one to have all three of its drivers lap under four minutes.

But come race day, the weather would prove to be the deciding factor.

In one of the wettest races in the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, many of the LMP1 contenders aquaplaned and crashed out.

Consequently, the C34 lost its power advantage and entered a tough battle with the McLaren GTR’s.

Late into the afternoon, Andretti crashed at the Porsche curves, after an incident with one of the Kremer Racing entries.

This would ultimately cost them the victory by just three minutes, as McLaren claimed the chequered flag in their first attempt.

The Courage C34 in the pit lane during the rain-affected race. © Charles Queguiner

The Power of Hindsight

Speaking in a 2017 interview, Hélary reflected on what could’ve been:

“That edition is a great regret of mine,” Hélary explained. “It was a rainy year, yet the safety car was never deployed despite 19 hours of rain.”

“That year, I was with Courage Compétition in a C34 with an official Porsche engine that Bob Wollek had managed to get. Mario Andretti brought sponsors and I already had one 24 Hours of Le Mans victory under my belt.”

“We should have won. Mario made a small error early in the race at the Karting corners. In the U.S., they don’t race much in the rain.”

“He was surprised, the car made contact with the safety rail and we lost 45 minutes fixing the damage.”

“Afterwards it was a real Grand Prix. I drove a lot because Bob Wollek wasn’t going very fast, it’s true.”

“I took enormous risks, Mario drove very well after his incident and we finished second, three minutes from the winners. I was so disappointed!”

Nissan R390 GT1: 1997-98 24 Hours of Le Mans

The Nissan Motorsport lineup pose for a photo before the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans. Image sourced from snaplap.net

After the failure of the Nissan Skyline GT-R LM, the Japanese manufacturer set about coming up with a new racer.

They partnered up with Tom Walkinshaw Racing, who developed the R390 GT1 for the LMP1 class.

The car carried a mid-engined VRH35L V8 that produced 650 bhp @ 6,800 rpm and exceeded 200 mph (321.87 km/h).

For 1997, Nissan found themselves against McLaren and Porsche, with all three parties experiencing reliability problems.

Nissan suffered dearly, with two of their three cars failing to survive the distance.

This left Kazuyoshi Hoshino, Érik Comas and Masahiko Kageyama to try and restore some pride. At the finish, the car limped home in 12th place.

More Miles and More Competition

The No.32 Nissan R390 GT1 on its way to third place in the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans. © John Brooks

In 1998, the entry list for LMP1 grew, as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota all joined the party alongside Nissan and Porsche.

After qualifying, their chances looked bleak as Mercedes set the pace, with Toyota and BMW close behind.

Despite their four cars, Nissan struggled and could only qualify as high as tenth place.

As the race unfolded, the R390 GT1’s slowly made their way up the order, as BMW, Mercedes and Toyota all hit trouble.

This allowed the Japanese trio of Hoshino, Kageyama and Aguri Suzuki to claim a memorable third place for Nissan.

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