Le Mans (France) (AFP)
Toyota's hopes of a maiden Le Mans win disappeared during a miserable Saturday night for the team as Porsche seized control of the famous 24-hour race.
First the Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin limped out with a clutch problem when leading, leaving the Porsche of defending champion Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Nick Tandy in the lead.
Japanese rookie Yuji Kunimoto, Nicolas Lapierre and Jose Maria Lopez had taken the second of the three Toyota Hybrids into second place, a lap off the pace, when they too hit disaster after bring shunted in the Dunlop Chicane and being sent flying into a gravel trap.
It looked as if Lapierre might have suffered just a puncture and cosmetic damage, but as he tried to limp back to the pits smoke from the back of the car signalled it was terminal.
It completed a terrible night for Toyota, who had hopes of a podium sweep as darkness fell, but were left with only one of their three hybrid cars still on track by the 12-hour mark, driven by Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima, but a distant 28 laps behind the leading Porsche.
Buemi had been forced to pit just before the end of the eight-hour mark with engine trouble with some reports of flames flying from the brakes.
Buemi had been running in second place after a daring move had earlier taken him past Lotterer.
It was tough on Buemi's teammate Nakajima, who was denied victory a year ago when his race-leading Toyota suffered a technical failure on the last lap of the gruelling event.
Around 250,000 fans were watching the action unfold on Saturday including tennis superstar Maria Sharapova, one of Porsche's leading sponsorship figures.
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