Hartley and Toyota aiming for Le Mans Hypercar history

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing aims to defend its crown and make Hypercar history in the 89th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours next week.

Following a hat-trick of Le Mans victories with its TS050 HYBRID, this year the team competes with the new GR010 HYBRID Hypercar for the first time at the Circuit de la Sarthe and is determined to extend its winning run.

Reigning World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the #7 GR010 HYBRID, have endured heartbreak at Le Mans in recent years, particularly when mechanical issues denied them victory despite domination in 2019 and 2020. They go into the biggest race of the year following wins in the 6 Hours of Monza last month.

Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, however, have enjoyed a remarkable run, winning at La Sarthe for three consecutive years, including last year’s triumph alongside Brendon Hartley. The #8 GR010 HYBRID trio lead the drivers’ standings following wins in the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and 8 Hours of Portimao.

“I fell in love with Le Mans from my first visit, which was a bit of a surprise to be honest,” commented Hartley. “The atmosphere is incredible and I really enjoy the team element, everyone working together towards that one goal. All the mechanics and engineers make a super-human effort, the drivers all work together and share information.

“We have to work as one big team to be successful and that’s what we’ve been doing to get our GR010 HYBRID ready for the biggest challenge. We all come to Le Mans dreaming of victory but there is a lot of hard work over the next days to give ourselves the best chance.”

With double FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) points on offer, Le Mans is significant in the battle for world titles. TOYOTA GAZOO Racing holds a 30-point advantage over Alpine following three of six WEC races, while the #8 crew lead the drivers’ standings by just six points from their #7 team-mates.

In addition to its quest for a fourth consecutive Le Mans win, the 2021 edition marks the 10th time Toyota has competed at La Sarthe with a hybrid-powered prototype. In the nine attempts so far, the team has won three times, earned five pole positions and finished on the podium a total of nine times.

This year, it faces Hypercar competition from Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, which enters two cars, as well as Alpine, which participates with a grandfathered LMP1 car. But the challenge of Le Mans comes from the gruelling nature of the event itself as well as from on-track rivals.

With around 25,000 gear changes, 4,000km at full throttle and over 2million wheel rotations in a typical race, Le Mans is a true test of endurance.

Preparations for the challenge began back in October 2020 when the GR010 HYBRID tested for the first time and, since then, eight further tests have been used to optimise the car’s performance and reliability, in addition to the three WEC races. The final step in that journey will come on Sunday, the only official test day at the 13.626km Circuit de la Sarthe.

Two days of intense preparation lead into five hours of practice and a qualifying session on Wednesday. Thursday sees a further five hours of practice, either side of the 30-minute Hyperpole session at 9pm CEST, when TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will challenge for a fifth consecutive pole position.

The 89th Le Mans 24 Hours will begin at 4pm CEST on Saturday, in front of a reduced-capacity crowd of 50,000, when 62 cars and 186 drivers follow in the footsteps of legends, adding their own stories to a race which first took place in 1923.

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