Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez have claimed a long-awaited 24 Hours of Le Mans victory for Toyota Gazoo Racing in the debut of the Hypercar era in the French endurance classic.
The No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid overcame an intermittent fuel-related issue that impacted both the winning car and second-placed Toyota’s stint lengths in the final six hours.
Despite battling various gremlins, the Japanese manufacturer’s Le Mans Hypercar entries dominated the 89th running of the race, having led from the safety car start due to a pre-race downpour.
While the pole-sitting No. 7 Toyota of Conway stretched out into an early lead after a chaotic restart that saw the No. 708 Glickenhaus 007 of Olivier Pla clobber the Sebastien Buemi-driven No. 8 Toyota, it also overcame two punctures in the opening three hours that put it off-sequence.
In addition to getting spun around, the No. 8 car briefly stopped on track for a systems reset before battling vibrations in the 16th hour followed by the beginning of an unidentified fuel issue that saw the car regularly complete shortened stints.
The No. 8 car also made an unscheduled stop to replace its passenger’s side door.
Both Toyotas, however, held on to take the checkered flag in a race that remarkably saw all five LMH class entries not only finish in the top-five overall but also stay out of their respective garages.
Kobayashi finished two laps ahead of the No. 8 Toyota of Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley for Toyota’s fourth consecutive Le Mans win.
It marked the No. 7 crew’s first Le Mans triumph after losing out in the last three years.
The No. 36 Alpine A480 Gibson of Nico Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Andre Negrao completed the podium in third with its grandfathered ORECA-built LMP1 car, finishing four laps back from the overall-winning Toyota.
The French entry lost time with a spin by Lapierre on Lap 3 while in second followed by an off-course excursion by Vaxiviere in the first chicane during the eighth hour that had dropped it down to eighth overall at the time.
The No. 708 Glickenhaus rebounded from Pla’s early race incident to finish fourth alongside co-drivers Pipo Derani and Franck Mailleux, with the Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe and Romain Dumas-driven No. 709 car completing the top-five.
Both of Pipo Moteurs-powered non-hybrid LMH entries enjoyed a largely uneventful race, other than serving a handful of penalties for pit lane infringements or on-track incidents.
WRT Victorious in LMP2 Despite Last-Lap Drama for Leading Car
Team WRT scored LMP2 class honors despite a shock final lap stoppage for the team’s No. 41 Oreca 07 Gibson of Yifei Ye that denied the Belgian squad a 1-2 result.
Ye’s car slowed on track on the final lap entering the Dunlop bridge, handing the class win to the sister No. 31 car of Robin Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg and Charles Milesi.
Frijns, who was on four-stint-old front tires due to an air jack issue in the closing hours, edged out a hard-charging No. 28 JOTA Sport Oreca of Tom Blomqvist by just 0.727 seconds at the line for the dramatic victory.
Ye took over the lead in the closing hours when WRT’s No. 31 car suffered an air jack failure, forcing the team to change tires with an inflatable bag.
Frijns’ penultimate stop saw the Audi factory driver take only fresh rear tires and his final stop being fuel-only.
It marked the fourth major endurance race that WRT has won on debut, following triumphs at the Nürburgring 24, Bathurst 12 Hour and 24 Hours of Dubai, all in GT3 machinery.
Blomqvist, Sean Gelael and Stoffel Vandoorne were a close second at the line, bouncing back from a 90-second penalty for a safety car infringement early in the race.
The No. 65 Panis Racing Oreca of Will Stevens, James Allen and Julien Canal was classified third, with the No. 31 WRT car not taking the checkered flag and therefore not being classified.
JOTA’s sister, class pole-sitting No. 38 Oreca of Antonio Felix Da Costa led early until a spin by Anthony Davidson that ultimately resulted in a punctured oil filter that required replacement.
Pre-race favorites United Autosports had a challenging race, with two of its three cars colliding in a multi-car accident around sunset.
It was followed by alternator issues for its FIA World Endurance Championship-nominated No. 22 Oreca of Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Fabio Scherer, which was delayed by more than an hour.
The No. 23 United entry was the highest-placed car in fourth, capitalizing by a late-race puncture for the No. 34 Inter Europol Competition Oreca, which completed the top-five in class.
Hedman Takes Nail-Biting LMP2 Pro-Am Class Win
LMP2 Pro-Am class honors went to the the No. 21 DragonSpeed Oreca trio of Ben Hanley, Juan Pablo Montoya and Henrik Hedman, despite a fuel scare and driver stint length snafu with less than two hours to go.
Hanley limped the car around the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe for an additional lap after missing the pit entrance with 1 hour and 45 minutes left on the clock.
It was followed by a drive-time miscue that left Hedman 1 minute short on his required drive time and forced the American team to put the Bronze-driver in for the finish.
Hedman held off challenges from Loic Duval and Job van Uitert until both drivers pitted for a splash of fuel in the closing minutes.
For the second time in the program’s history, Association SRT41 took the checkered flag with its Innovative entry featuring Takuma Aoki, Nigel Bailly and Matthieu Lahaye, finishing 33rd overall.
The Graff Racing-run Oreca featured special hand controls for Aoki and Bailly.
RESULTS: 24 Hours of Le Mans