Rebellion Racing performed “better” at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans than in 2019 but fell short of the Toyota TS050 Hybrids in traffic, according to team CEO Calim Bouhadra.
The No. 1 Rebellion R13 Gibson of Gustavo Menezes, Bruno Senna and Norman Nato finished second, five laps behind the winning Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, Brendon Hartley and Sebastien Buemi.
This gave the team its best-ever result at Le Mans, improving on a third-place finish for Menezes, Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche in the 2018 edition.
Its pair of cars then registered fourth and fifth place classifications last year before achieving a higher total lap count and a much-improved final placing this weekend.
But while the Rebellions exhibited a strong single-lap pace that included Bruno Senna setting the fastest lap on his fourth circuit, Bouhadra told Sportscar365 that Rebellion couldn’t reach Toyota even with a more favorable Equivalence of Technology in action.
“We finished second and I think we deserved this position even if this car was definitely not fighting for first place,” said Bouhadra.
“I would say my best picture for the race would be Rebellion second and third; even I would dream to win Le Mans this year but it was not the case. It was a crazy job that the team did. They really pushed to work hard and I’m really happy for them.
“I think this year we were better. The pace was quicker than last year.
“‘Unfortunately, we could not keep the good pace [but had] the record that Bruno Senna did with the car. It really shows that this car was very quick this year.
“We suffered a lot with the traffic, and this is one thing that the EoT has to consider in the future because the hybrid system is definitely an advantage in the traffic.
“In parallel, we were very lucky that there was no rain today. They all predicted rain and fortunately the rain didn’t come, and that was probably our best gift for this Le Mans.
“If rain came into the story today, we probably wouldn’t have had this discussion [about getting a podium].”
Bouhadra suggested that Rebellion expected to keep with the Toyotas for longer than it did during the race with the EoT update that was designed to tighten the LMP1 field.
The EoT gave Toyota more weight and also enabled Rebellion to run the same number of laps per stint unlike last year, but the Japanese manufacturer still dominated in the end.
“To be honest I was expecting to have less [of] a gap between Toyota and us,” said Bouhadra.
“Even though the EoT was good it was again in favor of Toyota. We saw that we had to really have the perfect race to keep a good pace.
“If the race was without any mistakes on both sides, I don’t think that we really would have had a chance in the end.”
Senna’s Pace out the Gate “Worried” Toyota
Toyota Gazoo Racing technical director Pascal Vasselon admitted his team was “clearly worried” by the early speed of Bruno Senna in the No. 1 Rebellion before that car faded.
Senna got his nose in front of pole-sitter Mike Conway on the first run to the Dunlop chicane, but the Englishman kept ahead of his Brazilian adversary into the braking zone.
The Rebellion driver then ran ably between the Toyotas through the opening stint and kept track of Conway, before the No. 8 TS050 Hybrid moved ahead at the first round of pit stops to establish a Toyota one-two that would last for several hours.
“I have to say that we have been quite surprised in two directions with Rebellion,” said Vasselon. “First at the start, we were quite surprised by the pace of Bruno Senna.
“During practice he was not looking super quick compared to his teammates.
“When we saw he was able to do the best time in the race we were clearly worried.
“Then, for a reason which is unknown to us, the pace of the Rebellion dropped quite significantly. Here we have no explanation of course.
“At first we were very worried by the pace of Bruno Senna in the first stint. Then we were surprised in the other direction that they dropped quite a lot after their first stint.
“Was it tire degradation, was it problems in traffic? I don’t know. But we have been very surprised to see that on average of lap times they were not as fast as we were expecting.”