24h Le Mans
Endurance racing's personalities of 2020
Let’s take a look back at the drivers and teams who have left their mark on the discipline during this unprecedented year.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López
Despite narrowly missing out on victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans yet again, finishing second, the three drivers of the #7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid did have the satisfaction of taking the FIA World Endurance LMP Drivers’ Championship title. Conway, Kobayashi and López won the 4 Hours of Silverstone, the Bapco 8 Hours of Bahrain, the Total 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and the 8 Hours of Bahrain. “It’s a very special feeling to become a World Champion with a win today," said López after the closing round of the 2019-20 FIA WEC season in Bahrain. “I want to thank everyone who worked on this fantastic car for so many years. It has been an amazing season. We worked very hard for this and it’s a dream to become World Champion with Kamui and Mike; they have become like brothers to me.”
Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima
The trio won the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans in September, making it three in a row for Buemi and Nakajima. As for Hartley, it was his second Le Mans success after his 2017 win with Porsche. Although the grandstands and trackside areas were devoid of fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Le Mans win remains one of the highlights of a racing driver’s career. “We saw once again that luck in Le Mans can turn at any point,” admitted Buemi. “When we started the race, everything was against us. Slow Zone, puncture, problem with the brakes. Then, all of a sudden, things started to go well and we found ourselves leading the race and winning by five laps. Once again you don’t know until the race is over.”
2020 was an outstanding year for United Autosports. The Anglo-American outfit not only won the LMP2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Teams in FIA WEC, but also completed a clean sweep of LMP2 and LMP3 driver and team titles in the European Le Mans Series. No other team had ever managed such an achievement in the same year. “It’s quite incredible,” said co-founder Richard Dean. “I’m massively proud of everybody, the whole team. I don’t think anybody imagined achieving what we have achieved this year. The competition has been really fierce.” So what is the secret of this success? According to Portuguese driver Filipe Albuquerque, “I think it’s the bond within the team that makes the difference. We all trust each other, everybody works passionately and all this makes the difference. We ultimately talk about machines but the human element is very important.”
Two all-female line-ups competed in the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 2020 European Le Mans Series. Richard Mille Racing Team’s LMP2 entry, the #50 Oreca 07-Gibson, was driven by Tatiana Calderon, Sophia Flörsch and Beitske Visser. Meanwhile, in LMGTE Am, the wheel of Iron Lynx’s #85 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo was shared by Manuela Gostner, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting for their second season at this level of competition. The two line-ups put in an immaculate performance at Le Mans and across the ELMS racetracks. Race after race, not only did they achieve their racing targets but also their societal objectives, namely the equality, independence and emancipation of every single woman.
Marco Sørensen and Nicki Thiim
The #95 Aston Martin Vantage drivers were crowned FIA World Endurance GT Drivers’ Champions. Teamed with Richard Westbrook at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, they took the third podium spot in the LMGTE Pro class. “Winning the championship is all I thought about for months and it means a lot to Marco and I,” said Thiim. “The Vantage was the perfect car for the season. I’ve now taken the world title twice with Aston Martin and that’s something that I’ll never forget.”
Niklas Nielsen, François Perrodo and Emmanuel Collard
The level in the LMGTE Am class was excellent once again. The TF Sport #90 Aston Martin Vantage triumphed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans while the AF Corse #83 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo bagged the FIA Endurance Drivers and Team Trophies. The car’s drivers Niklas Nielsen, François Perrodo and the highly experienced Emmanuel Collard (24 Le Mans 24 Hours starts) raced spectacularly up the standings at the 8 Hours of Bahrain to claim the honours. While they only won two races compared to TF Sport’s four, they never gave up, performing consistently and avoiding errors – true grit that always pays in Endurance racing.
The German-Irish actor competed in his first European Le Mans Series at the wheel of a Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR, with Richard Lietz and Felipe Laser as teammates. It was an opportunity to gain valuable experience ahead of a potential Le Mans 24 Hours entry in the near future and he finished sixth in the driver standings at the end of 2020. He also took part in a round of the Porsche Carrera Cup at Le Mans, a chance to get to know the iconic but very demanding circuit.
Rebellion Williams ESport
The 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans was originally scheduled for 13–14 June 2020 but was postponed to 19–20 September due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In place of the iconic French race that weekend, the ACO, the FIA WEC and Motorsport Games came up with a brand new event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual. Professional racing drivers and sim racers came together to compete in a special Endurance esports race on the rFactor2 gaming platform. There were 50 cars on the grid including some big international teams and drivers, such as Fernando Alonso, Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, Juan Pablo Montoya, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly, Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button. After an action-packed race, the #1 Oreca 07 driven by Louis Deletraz and Raffaele Marciello with sim racers Nikodem Wisniewski and Kuba Brzezinski took the win.
The HSH Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation and the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual ran a 24-hour appeal for donations to medical research for an internationally available Covid-19 vaccine. A total €21,500 was raised for Alliance GAVI.
In a few days’ time, the world of Endurance racing will move into 2021 with an eye on several human and sporting goals. The new season is certainly full of promise with the arrival of the Hypercar class in the FIA WEC World Endurance Championship and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.