Toyota, Team WRT and the AF Corse Ferraris hit the 89th edition of the 24h of Le Mans, a race valid as the fourth round of the FIA WEC 2021.
The weekend spent at the Circuit de la Sarthe will go down in history for the debut of the new Hypercar category, the future of Endurance racing prototypes (waiting for the LMDh), but also for other interesting ideas that have given the LMP2 and GTE classes.
HYPERCAR: Toyota walk
Given the past, there was fear up to the end for the brand new Toyota Hypercars, which instead closed the 24 Hours in parade by making a fantastic double and rejecting the gufades that have been behind them since 2016.
Kamui Kobayashi / Mike Conway / José María López’s GR010 Hybrid # 7 won, a car that never had much luck in the French classic when it was LMP1, but this time it did its job without any problems, apart from a little boredom fuel related technique that has been fixed with a reset.
After the Hyperpole conquered in Qualifying and having passed most of the Free Practice in the lead, Kobayashi, Conway and López take a well-deserved success without major smudges, especially helped by the small troubles in which the sister car ran into.
The # 8 of Sébastien Buemi / Kazuki Nakajima / Brendon Hartley from the start seemed targeted by the bad luck. At the first braking she was hit by Glickenhaus # 708 and only a miracle did not force her to retire with mechanical damage.
From then on, the trio formed by the Swiss, the New Zealander and the Japanese had to push to make up positions and lost time, even when for a couple of times their car requested a stop along the track for a reset, starting again in search of the # 7, now run away.
That put her a lap behind, but the Toyota Gazoo Racing double came in glory, the first of the Hypercar era at Le Mans.
The Alpine takes home the third place overall and in the Class, not without suffering. The A480-Gibson LMP1 # 36 managed by the Signatech Team was already starting at a fault with the tank smaller than its rivals in the category, so it had to focus only on making no mistakes and staying in ambush.
André Negrão / Matthieu Vaxivière / Nicolas Lapierre did theirs right from the start, but the mistake in the wet by Lapierre (spin at “Indianapolis”) and the one committed on Saturday evening by Vaxivière (covered up at the first chicane of the straight “Hunaudières “) made her lose the podium momentarily, then regained it by pushing and taking advantage of the best pace compared to the Glickenhaus.
The debut of the US team at Le Mans is not to be thrown away and curiously the best of the 007 LMH was the # 708 of Franck Mailleux / Olivier Pla / Pipo Derani. Pla at the start had risked the omelette by buffering Buemi, but he saved himself with only some damage to the bodywork and when it came to getting on the podium, the trio was ready.
This vanished on Sunday morning, but overall fourth place is a good result. The “twin” # 709 of Ryan Briscoe / Romain Dumas / Richard Westbrook did not go better, who found herself slowed down by a few problems slipping out of the absolute Top10, but recovering up to the top 5.
# 36 Alpine Elf Matmut Alpine A480 – Gibson Hypercar, Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
LMP2: surprise for the WRT Team
In the LMP2 Class, as expected, all the Oreca 07-Gibsons put on a show. The winner – somewhat surprisingly – was Team WRT. The # 41 of Robert Kubica / Louis Delétraz / Yifei Ye had led until the last lap, but it mockingly stopped right on the last lap and then the # 31 of Robin Frijns / Ferdinand Habsburg / Charles Milesi, which had conducted for various situations.
Jota lost her # 38 from Pole Position a little too early in the fight for the record, but can be consoled with the second step of the podium obtained in comeback from # 28 of Sean Gelael / Tom Blomqvist / Stoffel Vandoorne.
Mocked after a very long fight the Oreca # 65 of Panis Racing in the hands of Julien Canal / Will Stevens / James Allen, however on the podium, at the foot of which is the # 23 of United Autosports. Alex Lynn / Paul Di Resta / Wayne Boyd saved the face of the Anglo-American team, as the # 22 favorite had a lot of trouble.
The Inter Europol Competition also did well, closing in Top5 with # 34 of Jakub Smiechowski / Alex Brundle / Renger Van Der Zande, ahead of # 48 of Idec Sport (Paul Lafargue / Paul-Loop Chatin / Patrick Pilet.
Only seventh was the Aurus 01-Gibson # 26 of G-Drive Racing (Roman Rusinov / Franco Colapinto / Nyck De Vries), also among the favorites, but collapsed in the rear due to an accident in the first quarter of the race.
Among the top 10 there are also the Jota # 38 (Roberto Gonzalez / António Félix Da Costa / Anthony Davidson) – on which Davidson’s mistake in silting up at turn 1 weighs – and the # 30 of the Duqueine Team (René Binder / Guillermo Rojas / Tristan Gommendy).
Behind these, we have the three Orecas who until the last second played for the record in the LMP2 Pro / Am category, which went to a breathtaking final at # 21 of the DragonSpeed USA (Henrik Hedman / Ben Hanley / Juan Pablo Montoya). Fixed 07 after Montoya’s bang in the last tests, the US team sweated cold less than 2 hours from the end due to a slowdown by Hanley, who after returning to the pits was able to fix things and start again.
Second was for a long time the Oreca # 70 of Esteban Garcia / Loïc Duval / Norman Nato (RealTeam Racing / TDS), but a top-up in the final saw her slip third behind the # 29 of Racing Team Nederland (Job Van Uitert / Frits Van Eerd / Giedo Van Der Garde), a little too ‘foul’ during the race to be able to be among the absolute protagonists, even when she managed to hoist herself among the first generals of the lot.
Among the LMP2s it should be noted that the Oreca # 84 of the Association SRT41 was present, a team of disabled pilots led by the famous Frédéric Sausset. In the end Takuma Aoki / Nigel Bailly / Matthieu Lahaye finished the race in 33rd place overall and with lots of smiles and applause.
# 31 Team WRT Oreca 07 – Gibson LMP2, Robin Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg, Charles Milesi
Photo by: Marc Fleury
LMGTE PRO: Ferrari-AF Corse beats Corvette and Porsche
A wonderful fight also in the PRO category of the LMGTEs, with the AF Corse Ferrari achieving a fantastic success. The 488 # 51 of James Calado / Alessandro Pier Guidi / Côme Ledogar prevailed, able to masterfully lead as soon as they found themselves in the lead, despite a not exactly exciting start.
Too bad for Daniel Serra / Miguel Molina / Sam Bird’s # 52 which could have been part of the double for Maranello for a long time. A suspension failure in the night and a tire that exploded on Sunday morning relegated the Red to what is a sad fifth place.
But there is still satisfaction at the Prancing Horse, which in the space of a month sees the trophies of the winners of the 24 Hours of Spa and then 24 Hours of Le Mans arrive.
The return of the Chevrolet Corvette to Le Mans with the new C8.R ends with the place of honor going to # 63 of Antonio García / Jordan Taylor / Nicky Catsburg. The US cars had evidently hidden in the tests and in fact emerged in the race, even finding themselves leading in some situations.
The # 64 then accused some boredom of too much losing ground with Tommy Milner / Nick Tandy / Alexander Sims, sixth at the end, which favored the two factory Porsches.
More could have been expected from the 911 RSR-19 # 92 of Neel Jani / Kévin Estre / Michael Christensen and # 91 of Gimmi Bruni / Richard Lietz / Frédéric Makowiecki, but even for them it was not an easy and problem-free ride.
The # 92 managed to recover along the way by clawing the last step of the podium, the # 91 in the final even risked KO when Makowiecki lost the diffuser on the road, with the bumper already damaged in a previous contact.
Instead, the two private Porsches of HubAuto Racing (# 72) and WeatherTech Racing (# 79) retired. The first raised the white flag on Sunday morning due to a breakdown, by which time it was down in the standings, the second in the night due to an accident.
# 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE EVO LMGTE Pro, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Come Ledogar
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
LMGTE AM: bis Ferrari-AF Corse on the Aston Martin
After the one in PRO, the Ferrari-AF Corse uncorks the champagne also in LMGTE Am with the 488 # 83 entrusted to François Perrodo / Nicklas Nielsen / Alessio Rovera. The trio was very good at taking the lead, especially exploiting the supremacy of the Dane and the Varese rider, who in terms of skill and speed are no longer a surprise, but solid certainties (with ample room for improvement given the ages).
There was a lot of sweat to get the best of the Aston Martin # 33 by TF Sport (Felipe Fraga / Ben Keating / Dylan Perera), in the end the best of the Vantages – which had all hidden themselves – also due to the premature retirement of the AMR # 98.
The blue # 33 also benefited from some Slow Zones and Safety Cars to gain against the Ferrari # 83, which, however, keeps a margin of a few seconds essential to take home the well-deserved success.
Third we have another Ferrari, precisely the # 80 of Iron Lynx that the excellent Callum Ilott / Rino Mastronardi / Matteo Cressoni have patiently brought to the positions that matter, also exploiting the troubles of others, as well as their companions in the # 60, Claudio Schiavoni / Paolo Ruberti / Raffaele Giammaria, fourth at the finish.
Among those who chew bitter there is certainly the other AF Corse crew, but the 488 # 54 of Thomas Flohr / Francesco Castellacci / Giancarlo Fisichella was held back by a problem on Sunday morning and could not try the assault on the podium, even if it turned out to be inferior to the # 83 twin overall.
The Porsches were missing. Out of the # 56 of Team Project 1, which was among the favorites, in the end the best 911 is the # 77 of Dempsey-Proton Racing (Christian Ried / Jaxon Evans / Matt Campbell), finished fifth.
Nice sixth place at the debut, but with much lower pace than the others, for the Aston Martin # 777 of D’station Racing / TF Sport (Satoshi Hoshino / Tomonobu Fujii / Andrew Watson), followed by the Porsche # 18 of Absolute Racing (Andrew Haryanto / Marco Seefried / Alessio Picariello) and the Aston Martin # 95 of TF Sport (Ross Gunn / John Hartshorne / Oliver Hancock).
Top 10 also for the girls of Iron Lynx armed with Ferrari # 85: the Iron Dames Rahel Frey / Sarah Bovy / Michelle Gatting are eighth, with the Porsche # 69 of Herberth Motorsport (Robert Renauer / Ralf Bohn / Rolf Ineichen) and Ferrari behind them # 54.
# 83 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE EVO LMGTE Am of Francois Perrodo, Nicklas Nielsen, Alessio Rovera
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images