Toyota Gazoo Racing earned a dramatic fourth successive victory at the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans over the weekend, overcoming adversity to become the first Hypercar winners at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
After locking out the front row of the starting grid for the fifth consecutive year and maintaining that advantage for the first six hours, the second half of the race was primarily spent battling against a fuel system issue that threatened to derail the challenge for both cars. Nevertheless, the whole team showed a determined, never-give-up spirit to conquer this challenge and secure the chequered flag for Toyota.
The driving team of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López accumulated an amazing 371 maps in the #7 GR010 Hybrid to finally win Le Mans after several heart-breaking near misses. They started from pole position and led for the majority of the race, while last year’s winners Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley crossed the line just two laps behind in the #8 GR010 Hybrid to secure a perfect one-two finish. This result means that Toyota Gazoo Racing has now won all four of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship races so far.
The incident-packed 24 hours began on a wet track, which saw Buemi drop to the back of the field on the first lap after being hit by another competitor. Conway led the field from pole in the #7 car and, despite two punctures, set the pace at the front as Buemi brought the #8 car back into contention. This was despite further misfortunes, such as wheel damage following contact with a lapped car and a puncture of its own.
Rain in the sixth hour caused several incidents, requiring a 20-minute safety car period, but López kept the #7 in front as Hartley maintained the pressure from second. The race ebbed and flowed between the two cars, with slow zones and safety cars contributing to a fluctuating gap. Nevertheless, the GR010 Hybrids held a clear lead over the chasing pack.
As the race entered its final 12 hours, Kobayashi had stretched the #7 car’s lead to just over half a minute, with Hartley chasing in the sister car. When Nakajima took the wheel of the #8 after 14 hours, the team changed its front end to rectify a drop in aerodynamic performance caused by minor damage.
Nerves were stretched in the pits as the final quarter of the race approached. An issue with the fuel system of the #8 car prevented it from completing full stints: over consecutive fuel stops, it had to return earlier each time as the team worked intensively to find a solution.
With four laps in hand over the third-placed car and no prospect of a quick repair, a remarkable team effort tested several options until an effective counter-measure was developed. The drivers had to activate a specific setting at defined points around the track to return the #8 car to normal stint lengths.
That proved even more crucial when the #7 car developed a similar issue. Kobayashi and then López quickly managed the situation and maintained a comfortable lead. Close communication between drivers and race engineers on both cars ensured the issue was kept under control.
Finally, Kobayashi and Nakajima took over their respective cars for the last stint and crossed the line together to make Hypercar history at Le Mans.
2021 Le Mans 24 Hours: final results
|1||#7||Toyota Gazoo Racing||371|
|2||#8||Toyota Gazoo Racing||+ 2|