Friday, July 19, 2024

Toyota mourns Laurent Lichtleuchter’s passing

The death of Laurent Lichtleuchter in a fiery crash during Stage #4 of the Morocco Desert Challenge sent shockwaves throughout the motorsport world. This was especially the case in Japan, where the Frenchman was a beloved member of Toyota’s Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body team.

Lichtleuchter joined TLC in 2015 with seven years of Dakar Rally experience and the 2015 Dakar Series championship to his name. He became Akira Miura‘s navigator in TLC’s Land Cruiser for the 2016 Dakar Rally, which they backed up by scoring a runner-up finish in the Silk Way Rally later in the year. Together, the duo won Dakar’s T2 category in 2018, 2021, and 2022.

Miura and Lichtleuchter also triumphed at the 2022 Rallye du Maroc, the penultimate leg of the inaugural World Rally-Raid Championship season.

“I still can’t believe I lost a very dear brother-like friend,” Miura wrote on social media. “The first time I met him was when we were both co-drivers. Maybe one day we’ll be on the same team! We were just chatting, but I never thought we would end up becoming a duo! It seems like it was just yesterday that I talked to him.

“We spent a lot of time together, and we shared painful scenes, fun scenes, and scenes where the chief mechanic scolded us. I remember a lot of things we talked about in eight years, and there were still things I wanted to accomplish in the future.

“It was possible that I could become a Dakar driver. I can’t clean it up with words like ‘thank you’.

“It’s true that I feel so sad about this. However, ‘Akira can’t race without me?’ I will continue to run as hard as I can, so as not to be laughed at.

“Thank you for your hard work! Thank you.”

Credit: Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body

At the 2023 Rally, Lichtleuchter and Miura won their class in eleven of fifteen stages and finished second to team-mates Ronald Basso and Jean-Michel Polato.

“Laurent Lichtleuchter loved to rally, and he loved cars. He taught us a lot about the wonder of motorsports,” began a letter from team president Katsuhiro Matsuo. “He was meticulous in his rally preparation, had many years of experience as a driver and navigator across the globe, and he was naturally decisive. Regardless of how difficult a situation might have been, he always stayed calm and led us down the right path.

“To Miura, who was making his first strides as a driver, he was a rally-loving comrade who would support and encourage him with his gentle smile, and at times he would sternly guide him. They walked together for eight years, and he raised Miura to become an exemplary driver.

“Our team has lost someone special, but Laurent Lichtleuchter’s love for rallying will always remain with us and remind us to keep driving along even the most challenging paths.

“We would like to pay respect to Laurent Lichtleuchter for all the challenges he took on as we remember his accomplishments. May he rest in peace.”

Outside of navigating in rally raids, he served as a trainer for staff members and assisted in developing the Toyota Land Cruiser 300. The 300 GR Sport made its racing début at the 2023 Dakar Rally after the team previusly used the VDJ200 model.

Toyota Auto Body and parent Toyota Motor Corporation have heavily stressed the importance of using rally raid to push the Land Cruiser’s capabilities and ensure they are capable of going anywhere but still return home safely, a process in which Lichtleuchter was heavily involved. The T2 class at Dakar made for the ideal platform as it is intended for production vehicles rather than the modified and prototype counterparts in T1.

“I would like to express my deepest condolences to Laurent’s family, Miura, and the rest of the team,” stated Toyota Motor Corporation CEO Akio Toyoda. “In 2018, I had the opportunity to train with Team Land Cruiser in Morocco. At that time, I experienced driving in the sand dunes for the first time in a Land Cruiser driven by Mr. Miura. That drive in Laurent’s seat is a very valuable experience that I still remember. There were two things that I felt strongly about it. The first is that everyone on the team participating in the Dakar Rally has trained and nurtured the Land Cruiser for the harsh desert environment including Laurent who continued to develop the Land Cruiser. Thank you again. Forever, thank you.

“The other was that we had to build a car that would definitely come back alive. I got stuck in deep sand and couldn’t get out. If it hadn’t been for another Land Cruiser to help me out, I wouldn’t have made it home. The absolute mission of mobility is not only to be able to go anywhere, but also to be able to return safely after going. I was keenly aware of that. The most important thing is to finish races and rallies safely.

“Sad events continue in motorsport. We must face such accidents and learn from them. I would like to continue making better cars with the aim of creating a car that you will definitely come back to alive. Miura-san and everyone at Team Land Cruiser, the loss of Laurent is truly a sad event. It may take some time to overcome this, but there is no end to making the Land Cruiser a better car. I hope that you will continue to lend us your strength.”

Lichtleuchter was 46 years old at the time of his passing. He previously ran the Dakar Rally alongside Sylvain Besnard, Boris Garafulic, Vadym Nesterchuk, Didier Panissie, Szymon Ruta, and Yasir Seaidan. Patrice Garrouste, his driver at the Morocco Desert Challenge, escaped their accident and ensuing fire but was hospitalised with severe burns.

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