TOYOTA GAZOO Racing earned a historic and dramatic fourth consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours victory, overcoming adversity to become the first Hypercar winners at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
The whole team showed a never-give-up spirit to conquer a fuel system issue which threatened to derail the challenge of both cars when it struck in the second half of the race.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the #7 GR010 HYBRID, finally won Le Mans for the first time after several heart-breaking near misses. The World Champions started from pole position and led for the majority of the race, completing 371 laps.
On the new GR010 HYBRID’s Le Mans debut, last year’s winners Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley completed a perfect result for the team, which has now won all four races of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) so far.
“Le Mans always brings something crazy and this year was no different,” commented Hartley. “Right from the first lap we were dealing with issues. The way the team pulled together to get this one-two was phenomenal, we had to manage the issue and at one point we weren’t even sure we would get to the end.
“I am incredibly happy for car #7, who have had more than their fair share of bad luck. We are all really good friends and I am so happy to see them take their prize and live through all those emotions. A great win for the team.”
An incident-packed 24 hours began on a wet track and saw Sébastien drop to the back of the field on the first racing lap, when the #8 was hit by the #708 Glickenhaus.
Mike led the field from pole in the #7 and, despite two punctures, set the pace at the front as Sébastien brought the #8 car into contention despite further misfortunes. It suffered a damaged wheel rim following contact with a lapped car and a puncture of its own.
Rain in the sixth hour caused several incidents, including a 20-minute safety car, but José kept the #7 in front and Brendon maintained the pressure from second.
The race ebbed and flowed between the two cars, with slow zones and safety cars contributing to a fluctuating gap, with the GR010 HYBRIDs holding a clear lead over the chasing pack, led by the #36 Alpine, which was off the lead lap.
As the race entered its final 12 hours, Kamui had stretched the #7 car’s lead to just over half a minute, with Brendon chasing in the sister car. When Kazuki took the wheel of the #8 after 14 hours, the team swapped the front end to rectify a drop in aerodynamic performance caused by minor damage.
Nerves were stretched in the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing garage as the final quarter of the race approached. An issue on the fuel system of the #8 car prevented it completing full stints. Over consecutive fuel stops, it returned to the pits earlier each time as the team worked intensively to find a solution.
With four laps in hand over the third-placed Alpine, and no prospect of a quick repair, a remarkable team effort tested several options until an effective counter measure was developed. The drivers had to activate a specific setting at defined points around the track to return the #8 car to normal stint lengths.
That proved even more crucial when the #7 developed a similar issue. Kamui and then José could quickly manage the situation and maintain a comfortable lead. Close communication between drivers and race engineers on both cars ensured the issue was kept under control.
Kamui and Kazuki took over their respective cars for the final stint and crossed the line together to make Hypercar history at Le Mans.
Le Mans 24 Hours Result:
1st #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 371 laps
2nd #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +2 laps
3rd #36 Alpine (Negrao/Lapierre/Vaxiviere) +4 laps
4th #708 Glickenhaus (Derani/Mailleux/Pla) +4 laps
5th #709 Glickenhaus (Briscoe/Westbrook/Dumas) +7 laps
6th #41 WRT (Frijns/Habsburg/Milesi) +8 laps