Le Mans 24h: Toyota wins with new hypercar, #7 crew breaks jinx
The #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez found redemption after years of heartbreak by finally winning the first Le Mans 24 Hours of the Hypercar era, while Ferrari beat Corvette in GTE Pro.
Conway started the #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid from the front at a wet start after Kobayashi had put the car on pole.
The Briton got away cleanly, while the #8 sister car of Sebastien Buemi was tagged by the #708 Glickenhaus 007 LMH of Oliver Pla.
In the #36 Alpine A480-Gibson, a grandfathered LMP1 car that ran last year as the Rebellion R-13, Nicolas Lapierre briefly took second but then lost it at Indianapolis, gifting Conway's Toyota a handsome lead.
While the #8 car carved its way back up the field, the leading #7 Toyota enjoyed a trouble-free run and survived a chaotic night, which was marred by several accidents, particularly in LMP2.
Toyota restored a commanding 1-2 lead before one-third distance, with the #8 car getting back in contention for the win.
But problems with fuel pickup began hampering the #8 car, restricting it to shorter stint lengths, while Buemi also lost a minute trying to reset the car on the side of the road.
The leading #7 car also suffered similar fuel issues, but Toyota managed to find a workaround and get both cars to the finish in a nervy final four hours.
An emotional Kobayashi took the chequered flag for the #7 crew, which finally found redemption after years of near misses at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
In 2017, Kobayashi and Conway - then partnered by Stephane Sarrazin - held a comfortable lead when they famously suffered a burnt-out clutch on pitlane, after Kobayashi mistook a thumbs up from LMP2 driver Vincent Capillaire for a marshal's go-signal.
When Toyota finally started winning in 2018, the first of now four consecutive Le Mans wins, it was the #8 car that took a hattrick of wins while Kobayashi, Conway and Lopez were left wondering if it was ever going to be their day.
That day, on the debut of the ACO's new Hypercar regulations, has now come, Kobayashi getting the honour to take the car to the chequered flag.
Buemi, Nakajima and Hartley completed another Toyota 1-2, Nakajima being held in the pits to orchestrate a photo finish.
Lapierre crossed the line four laps behind the winners to give Alpine a first overall podium finish at La Sarthe alongside Andre Negrao and Matthieu Vaxiviere, the first French team to finish on the overall podium since Peugeot in 2011.
After early drama, American boutique manufacturer Glickenhaus Racing had a low-key Le Mans debut in which it never threatened its fellow Hypercar rivals, but both of its cars made it to the finish in fourth and fifth, the #708 and #709 cars respectively four and seven laps behind.
#31 WRT holds on to LMP2 win amid late drama
#31 Team WRT Oreca 07 - Gibson LMP2, Robin Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg, Charles Milesi
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
In LMP2 the Belgian WRT outfit looked set to take a shock 1-2 win on its Le Mans debut, but last-lap heartbreak for its #41 entry left the sister #31 Oreca 07-Gibson alone to take the victory in a dramatic finale.
On Sunday morning WRT, which expanded to WEC's LMP2 class after a decade of success in GT3 racing, emerged from the darkness in a comfortable 1-2 lead after an eventful night for many of its competitors.
At that time the #31 car of Robin Frijns, Charles Milesi and Ferdinand Habsburg enjoyed a 45s lead on the #41 sister car of Robert Kubica, Yifei Ye and Louis Deletraz, but in the afternoon the #41 crew closed the gap and took over the lead with less than two hours to go.
But on the final lap of the race Ye sensationally ground to a halt in the leading #41 car, reportedly suffering a complete loss of power.
That handed the win to Frijns, Milesi and Habsburg, but only after holding off JOTA's resurgent #28 car of Stoffel Vandoorne, Tom Blomqvist and Sean Gelael who came back to finish under a second behind.
The #65 Panis Racing Oreca of Will Stevens, Julien Canal and James Allen ended up on the podium ahead of the #23 United Autosports car. It had completed fewer laps than the stricken #41 machine, but because the WRT car didn't cross the finish line it will be classified as a DNF.
While WRT fully earned its maiden win despite its late scare, it also benefitted from a plethora of issues and incidents that befell its competitors.
Some of the pre-race favourites faltered as early as Saturday afternoon, Anthony Davidson going off at Turn 1 from the lead in the #38 JOTA Oreca after teammate Antonio Felix da Costa had been the star of the opening hours.
G-Drive Racing's challenge fell apart after Franco Colapinto got caught out by a slow zone on the way to Porsche Curves, clattering his #26 Aurus-badged car into the #1 Richard Mille entry of Sophia Floersch. While the car eventually returned, its #25 sister car dropped out after a hard crash by Rui Andrade at the Dunlop chicane.
United Autosports' race also started unravelling on Saturday night when aboard the #32 car Manuel Maldonado lost control in the first corner and rammed teammate Paul di Resta in the #23 entry.
United's third #22 car ran well up front until it disappeared into the garage for an alternator issue, just past the halfway mark.
Among the other contenders, IDEC Sport's race was stunted early on when Patrick Pilet got stuck the gravel in the #48 Oreca.
JOTA's #28 trio also had the potential to ruin WRT's day, leading spells of the evening hours. But a 90-second stop and hold and a drive-through penalty, respectively for jumping the safety car queue and crossing the white line on pit entry, dropped that car off the lead lap in fifth before it mounted its recovery to second.
Juan Pablo Montoya and his DragonSpeed crew took Pro-Am honours, the former F1 ace and Indy 500 champion winning the sub-class alongside Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman in the #21 Oreca.
On their debut as a father and son duo, Kevin and Jan Magnussen finished 17th in LMP2. A puncture sent Magnussen senior into the wall in the #49 High Class Oreca, which they shared with fellow Dane Anders Fjordbach.
Ferrari outduels Corvette for GTE Pro honours
#51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE EVO LMGTE Pro, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Come Ledogar
Photo by: Paul Foster
GTE Pro looked set to be dominated by the AF Corse Ferraris, but with great strategy and driving the #63 Corvette managed to stay in the mix as the conditions began to play into the debuting C8.R's hands, Nicky Catsburg particularly enjoying the nighttime conditions during a fast triple stint.
A possible 1-2 win for AF Corse was thwarted by a left-rear suspension failure for the #52 car at night, which caused it to tumble down the order. On Sunday morning a delaminating puncture for Sam Bird cost the car even more ground.
That meant the race turned into a two-horse race between the #51 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo and the #63 Corvette C8.R.
In the warmer afternoon conditions, the #51 Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Come Ledogar gradually pulled away and took the entry's second win in three years, after winning in 2019 and finishing second last year.
It was the second GTE Pro win for Pier Guidi and Calado, who were also part of the winning crew in 2019, while Frenchman Ledogar took his first-ever Le Mans class win.
Catsburg, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor took a solid second place in class 41 seconds behind.
Porsche endured another character-building Le Mans, both the #92 and #91 factory cars losing ground early on and lacking the outright race pace to do much about it.
In the #92 Porsche 911 RSR-19, which was rebuilt on Friday after a shunt in Hyperpole, Kevin Estre, Neel Jani and Michael Christensen beat their teammates in the #91 car to a distant podium berth, one lap down on the winning Ferrari.
Initially it was the Proton-run #79 WeatherTech car which led the Weissach marque's charge in the hands of Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber, but the car retired overnight after a crash by third driver Cooper MacNeil damaged the chassis.
The other privately entered Porsche, the #72 HubAuto entry which Dries Vanthoor sensationally drove to pole, also had a troubled run. At the start Maxime Martin collided with a LMP2 car, a time loss from which the car never recovered. A broken drivetrain, which made the younger Vanthoor sibling grind to a halt, sealed the car's fate.
The second #64 Corvette bore the brunt of the reliability issues in its class. First it had to replace a broken diffuser after Nick Tandy was stunningly tapped from behind by Calado as the field left the ceremonial grid, before the race had even started.
It then lost over an hour with a nighttime clutch issue and disappeared into the garage a third time in the morning hours with an alternator problem.
In GTE Am, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari proved the class of the field. It gained a healthy buffer after Felipe Fraga went off in the first chicane on Saturday night in what was then the class-leading #33 TF Sport Aston Martin.
Once in the lead, Nicklas Nielsen, Alessio Rovera and Francois Perrodo drove a controlled race to keep the Aston over a minute behind at all times.
Fraga and TF Sport Aston teammates Ben Keating and Dylan Pereira ultimately settled for second.
Trouble for the #54 AF Corse Ferrari gave the #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Matteo Cressoni, Rino Mastronardi and Callum Ilott a clear run to third in class.
Full 2021 Le Mans 24 Hours race results:
Motorsport.tv guide: What's on 11-12 February weekend?
Motorsport.tv guide: What's on 11-12 February weekend? Motorsport.tv guide: What's on 11-12 February weekend?
Williams 2023 F1 car an "evolution" despite key differences
Williams 2023 F1 car an "evolution" despite key differences Williams 2023 F1 car an "evolution" despite key differences
Kirkwood to race GTD Pro Lexus at Sebring and Petit Le Mans
Kirkwood to race GTD Pro Lexus at Sebring and Petit Le Mans Kirkwood to race GTD Pro Lexus at Sebring and Petit Le Mans
Porsche reveals Miami and Austin F1 support races for NA Cup
Porsche reveals Miami and Austin F1 support races for NA Cup Porsche reveals Miami and Austin F1 support races for NA Cup
The plug in and play stand-ins who got their timing just right
The stand-ins who got it right The plug in and play stand-ins who got their timing just right
The lesser-remembered sportscar exploits of BMW's two-trick pony
Steve Soper's sportcar exploits The lesser-remembered sportscar exploits of BMW's two-trick pony
How Porsche's Le Mans legend changed the game
How Porsche changed the game in LM24 How Porsche's Le Mans legend changed the game
Why BMW shouldn't be overlooked on its return to prototypes
Why BMW is a dark horse for 2024 Why BMW shouldn't be overlooked on its return to prototypes
How Formula E's double-duty drivers got on at Le Mans
How FE drivers influenced Le Mans How Formula E's double-duty drivers got on at Le Mans
When the moribund GTE Pro class stole the show at Le Mans
The rise and fall of GTE Pro When the moribund GTE Pro class stole the show at Le Mans
The great Le Mans garagistes that challenged factory might
The great Le Mans garagistes The great Le Mans garagistes that challenged factory might
How junior formula giant Prema is readying for its Le Mans future
How Prema is readying for its future How junior formula giant Prema is readying for its Le Mans future
Subscribe and access Motorsport.com with your ad-blocker.
From Formula 1 to MotoGP we report straight from the paddock because we love our sport, just like you. In order to keep delivering our expert journalism, our website uses advertising. Still, we want to give you the opportunity to enjoy an ad-free and tracker-free website and to continue using your adblocker.