Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López flipped the script on five years of bad luck as they drove to victory in Toyota’s #7 GR010 Hybrid. While no stranger to the lead, the trio had never clinched a win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They revelled in joy and relief on the top step of the podium. “This is a dream come true!” said López at the finish line. “We came through a tough Le Mans. I have waited so many years for this win. I could not have asked for better teammates. Mike and Kamui are like brothers to me. We take the glory, but there are 600 people in Cologne and 1,000 in Japan behind us.” However, this fourth consecutive win for Toyota Gazoo Racing hinged on some seriously creative troubleshooting after a fuel pressure issue threatened to put both the team’s cars out of the race. Fortunately, the engineers conjured up a solution that didn’t require the cars to come into the garage. “We knew in the last six hours that there could be a problem with the car,” said Conway. “Our progress was threatened by a technical problem, but the team found a solution. All the credit goes to the team. The race was not easy and the last hours were really stressful.” Toyota's #8 sister car recovered from a prang at the first turn and set a decent pace in the first half of the race but later bore the brunt of the fuel feed issues. Yet Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley still managed to cross the line in second place.
Taking third place behind the two Toyotas was the Alpine Elf Matmut #36 Alpine A480-Gibson. The drivers fought tooth and nail for the position against the #708 Glickenhaus 007 LMH. “We succeeded!” said Alpine driver André Negrão. Glickenhaus Racing’s goal for its debut entry at 24 Hours of Le Mans was for its two Hypercars to cross the finish line. Mission accomplished: the #708 and #709 007 LMHs took fourth and fifth places overall respectively. All five Hypercars on the grid made it to the chequered flag, proving that “the concept is a good one” according to Vincent Beaumesnil, Sporting Director at the Automobile Club de l’Ouest.
“Every heartbeat counted”
Competition in the LMP2 class is always stiff, and this year saw a dramatic plot twist in the final minutes. The #41 Oreca 07-Gibson fielded by Team WRT was speeding towards victory when it suddenly ground to a halt near the Forest Esses. The electronic sensors gave up the ghost and the accelerator remained unresponsive to Chinese driver Yifei Ye’s solicitations. “It was an eventful race. I was leading the dream until the dream broke apart. With my teammates Louis Deletraz and Robert Kubica, we took good care of the car and made it to the top a couple of hours from the end, when I was at the wheel. I was as nice to the car as you can be, avoiding the kerbs, just focusing on bringing it home. But then everything stopped,” he lamented. Fortunately, WRT’s #31 Oreca 07-Gibson, the Belgian team’s second car driven by Robin Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg and Charles Milesi, swept into the freshly-vacated lead to pip the JOTA's #28 Oreca 07-Gibson at the post. “When you see the final gap was seven-tenths of a second, you realise every heartbeat counted,” said Habsburg.
Third place in LMP2 went to the #65 Oreca 07-Gibson fielded by Panis Racing, driven by Julien Canal, Will Stevens and James Allen.
Ferrari: WITH EASE AND EXPERTISE
The LMGTE Pro class saw Porsche, Ferrari and Chevrolet Corvette battling it out, with all three vying for victory. While Corvette Racing initially seemed more at ease with their Chevrolet Corvette C8.Rs, the AF Corse Ferrari F488 GTE Evos were better paced and ultimately came out on top. The #51 driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Côme Ledogar secured a win for Ferrari – its fourth victory after 2012, 2014 and 2019. “It probably looked easy from the outside, but actually it was a really, really difficult race and it proved to be really strategic,” admitted Calado. “The team did an amazing job in terms of strategy to get us up to the front. The Corvette was quicker than us at times and they put a lot of pressure on us.”
For its debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the #63 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R took second place on the LMGTE Pro podium, ahead of the #92 Porsche 911 RSR-19.
In LMGTE Am, pro and amateur drivers alike navigated their fair share of pitfalls. The two categories compete together in this class where the line-ups have to include one or two gentleman drivers. There was no room for error, and the perilous nighttime conditions caused some drivers to come a cropper. The #83 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo fielded by AF Corse and the #33 Aston Martin Vantage AMR fielded by TF Sport thrashed it out between them for the entire race. Ultimately, the #83 Ferrari driven by François Perrodo, Nicklas Nielsen and Alessio Rovera came up trumps ahead of the #33 Aston Martin, with Iron Lynx’s #80 Ferrari taking third place. “We won with 90 seconds to spare after a real battle with the #33 Aston Martin. It was difficult at times and lots of cars went off due to the conditions. We managed to gain the upper hand. Nicklas and Alessio were great at night, which is always tricky: I left the pros to do their job,” said Perrodo after the race.
This 89th race also made history, with two drivers with a disability crossing the finish line. The race was a rewarding accomplishment for Nigel Bailly and Takuma Aoki. The paraplegic drivers teamed up with Matthieu Lahaye in the #84 Oreca 07-Gibson fielded by Association SRT41 in the Innovative Car class. The entry was initiated by Frédéric Sausset, who was the first quadruple amputee to finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016. The #84 sailed through the race unhampered to finish 32nd overall.
This 89th 24 Hours of Le Mans was the fourth of six rounds of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship. The highly competitive season culminated with Toyota Gazoo Racing winning the FIA World Hypercar Endurance Championship and Ferrari winning the FIA GT Manufacturers’ World Endurance Championship. Team WRT won the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 teams and AF Corse the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMGTE Am teams.
The 90th 24 Hours of Le Mans will take place on 11-12 June 2022. It will be the third of six rounds of the FIA WEC season 10. In the meantime, watch the video below to relive this year’s race highlights.