Toyota Gazoo Racing claimed the Japanese manufacturer’s fifth Le Mans victory with ease today in the 90th edition of the Grand Prix d’Endurance. Its No. 8 GR010 HYBRID of Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and (top class debutant) Ryo Hirakawa cruised to victory ahead of the No. 7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez that made it a 1-2.
The first half of the race saw the two Toyotas fighting for the top spot, with slow zones and traffic often sparking lead changes as the two cars ran through their pit stop cycles while dramas were occurring around them in the other classes. Initially, the No. 7 appeared to have an edge on pace, with the No. 8 struggling with oversteer issues, but this would turn out to be a non-factor in deciding the winner, as a hybrid system issue and reset for the No. 7 overnight cost it crucial time which it would never recover. After that, both cars focused on running a clean race rather than fighting an intra-team battle as the sun came up on Sunday and the race came to a close.
“It’s amazing. You try not to think about it, when you’re in the lead — you try not to believe as you know what can happen. So at the end I was overwhelmed with emotions, I was crying in the car. It’s been incredible,” related Hartley.
Toyota completed the race, again largely unchallenged by its class rivals. On this occasion all five LMH cars finished, but the field was spread out in the end. The Glickenhaus 007 LMHs and the sole Signatech Alpine A480 didn’t have the pace to fight for the top two spots at any point. However, with a convincing third-place finish overall, Jim Glickenhaus’ U.S.-flagged No. 709 007 LMH of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Franck Mailleux deserves a lot of praise. It was a fault-free run for the car, to secure a well-earned set of trophies, after 370 laps of racing. For an effort of this size, it was a mighty impressive showing once again, especially as the No. 708 also made the finish in fourth, with a brief trip to the garage for a sensor change the only sign of a reliability issue.
“Winning five times in a row is an incredible feeling” said Buemi. “Our team did a fantastic job inside and outside the car. It will take a little while before this victory sinks in.”
“I won two years ago when fans weren’t here. It’s my first time winning here with the crowd. I was just overwhelmed with emotions when I crossed the line. A big thanks goes to my team,” said Hartley. “They must have felt pretty stressed out when we were fighting with the sister car.”
“I am happy to congratulate the other line-up but also the entire team behind us back in Cologne and in Japan,” said Lopez. “Competition was much closer this year. We produced a perfect race. It’s hard to take it when things happen on your car while you are at the wheel. It’s not easy to get procedures of the car running to perfection.We know it takes 40 seconds on average to get these procedures running. We were a lap down but we came back, ultimately.”
“Thank you to the fans. You fuel our car, our passions, and I thank you for everything,” a jubilant Jim Glickenhaus said on the podium.
Alpine, meanwhile, was a distant fifth in class after a really difficult weekend, the car suffering from a lack of outright pace, an early clutch issue and a significant off into the barriers at the Porsche Curves after Matthieu Vaxiviere was sent off the road by the GR Racing Porsche of Mike Wainwright. Making the finish was really the only positive to come from this race for the French team and its drivers, especially after Nicolas Lapierre almost put the A480 Gibson on pole during the Hyperpole session on Thursday. Alpine will hope that the next time it competes for outright honors at Le Mans, in 2024 in LMDh, it will see a change in fortunes.
This wasn’t a classic race for the overall win at Le Mans, but change is coming, and soon. Peugeot is set to join the top class at the next FIA WEC meeting, then next year we are set to see a huge influx of manufacturers join the fun for the centenary event next year. This was the final chapter of the transition phase from LMP1 to Le Mans Hypercar — another Golden Era is on the horizon, the wait is almost over.
LMP2, despite being a record 27-car field packed with world-class teams and drivers, was also dominated by one team. British outfit JOTA conquered this edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours with its No. 38 ORECA Gibson of Will Stevens, Roberto Gonzalez and Antonio Felix da Costa. They were the class of the field for the entire race, and controlled proceedings through the night hours and into Sunday afternoon, building an insurmountable lead through the double act of Stevens and da Costa.
At one point the No. 38 held a lap lead, but the single safety car in this race halved their lead as they were held in pit lane. Eventually though, the No. 38 finished almost three minutes clear of the nearest rival, the No. 9 PREMA ORECA. Robert Kubica, Louis Deletraz and Lorenzo Colombo were superb, and on any other weekend, did enough to win this comfortably, but on this occasion were not quite consistent enough over the full race to keep tabs with the No. 38.
They did however, score a well deserved second-place finish, 32 seconds ahead of the No. 28 JOTA ORECA which at times looked capable of making it a 1-2 for the team, but a puncture in the closing hours proved to be the difference. Oliver Rasmussen, Ed Jones and Jonathan Aberdein, despite having never competed together as a trio, looked a force to be reckoned with.
Just off the podium in the class was the TDS Racing X Vaillante ORECA. It was a remarkably quiet and clean run for a team that had a brutal experience pre-race when Nick de Vries had to be drafted in at the last minute to drive the car after Philippe Cimadomo was excluded from the meeting for his driving standards in practice and qualifying.
The team repaired the damage caused by Cimadomo in FP3, got de Vries up to speed and ran a near faultless race to fourth, beating the Penske ORECA to the line by 20 seconds. Penske, in what is set to be its final LMP2 outing before it focuses on its Porsche LMDh effort for next year, had a strong run, hampered only by a nose change required after contact in the first half of the race.
Further down the order in the class, the LMP2 Pro/Am honors went to the No. 45 Algarve Pro Racing ORECA 07, in what will come as a relief for Stewart Cox’s team that has worked around the clock to ensure both its cars made the start, completely rebuilding the No. 45 from scratch following its incident on Wednesday.
What of WRT and United Autosports, two teams that many fans trackside would have put money on? The answer is that from the very start of this race the troubles started for both teams. An incident at the start in Turn 1 ended the No. 22 United’s chances of a win, and, as it turned out, the No. 41 and 31 WRT ORECAs due to a combination of damage to the No. 41 and a penalty for the No. 31. Two of the three would still make the finish (the No. 31’s race ending in the barriers at Indianapolis), but none of them featured after the opening lap.
United’s other 07 Gibson came closest to the top three, finishing sixth, but an early puncture in Hour 1 set the car back, and prevented it from contending.