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Season Review

Sportscar365’s Prototype Drivers of the Year

Sportscar365 selects top prototype drivers per category from 2021…

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Hypercar – Kamui Kobayashi

Toyota Gazoo Racing dominated the first season of the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Hypercar category and all of its drivers were on their usual high form, with each enjoying highlight moments during the campaign.

Kobayashi had several of those moments, particularly when his qualifying performances were taken into account.

The Japanese star set the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid on pole at Le Mans for the fourth time in five years and also led the way at Spa and the second of two Bahrain rounds.

Kobayashi’s single-lap speed unsurprisingly translated into race day excellence and the No. 7 car always looked impressive when he was behind the wheel.

He kept a cool head at Monza to perform a system reset and return his crew to a winning position, kicking off an important string of three victories with Jose Maria Lopez and Mike Conway that included the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Bestowed with team principal responsibilities next year, world champion Kobayashi is clearly more than just a fast driver for Toyota and will continue to be extremely valuable to the team as it prepares for greater manufacturer competition in the top class.

Honorable mentions: Sebastien Buemi (Rapid in the No. 8 Toyota), Nicolas Lapierre (strong return to top class with Alpine), Jose Maria Lopez (WEC champion and Le Mans winner, peerless at Monza), Mike Conway (WEC champion and Le Mans winner)

Photo: Barry Cantrell/IMSA

DPi – Felipe Nasr

Teaming with the equally quick Pipo Derani for three wins in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season en route to the DPi championship, Felipe Nasr proved to be the standout driver in the class this year.

The Brazilian’s consistency and lack of mistakes in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering-sponsored Cadillac DPi-V.R was on display throughout the hard-fought season that saw the Action Express Racing-run entry pitted up against the new-for-2021 combination of Ricky Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque in Wayne Taylor Racing’s Acura ARX-05.

Both teams took three wins apiece (not counting the Motul Pole Award 100 qualifying race at Daytona) with the championship coming down to the wire on the final corners of the final lap at Motul Petit Le Mans.

An ambitious move by Taylor to overtake Nasr, which resulted in the Acura dive-bombing into Turn 10a while sliding through the grass and gravel, resulted in a calm and focused Nasr maintaining his position ahead of Taylor to take the championship.

It marked Nasr’s second IMSA title in his final year with Action Express as he moves off to Penske Porsche Motorsport in preparation for the program’s 2023 race debut.

Honorable mentions: Filipe Albuquerque (championship runner-up), Harry Tincknell (Mazda’s never-give-up star), Pipo Derani (long-awaited first IMSA title), Ricky Taylor (WTR’s fighter), Renger van der Zande (Chip Ganassi Racing star in team’s DPi debut)

Photo: Marius Hecker/Adrenal Media

LMP2 – Robin Frijns

Team WRT knew that it would need a stout driver lineup to be a contender in its first full season of LMP2 competition, and it found just what it was looking for with Robin Frijns.

The Formula E and DTM race winner was instrumental in a WEC title-winning campaign for the Belgian squad, bringing the sheer pace and consistency that he has displayed in other championships over the last few years despite his relative inexperience in LMP2.

Frijns brought home WRT’s 24 Hours of Le Mans victory with some brilliant focus at the end of the race, first by managing a cacophony of problems and then by defending from Tom Blomqvist on a breath-taking final lap.

He was also superb in both phases of the Bahrain double-header where WRT took two victories to seal the title. At the 8 Hours of Bahrain, Frijns expertly distanced himself from the second-placed car over the final two hours, earning the championship alongside his co-drivers Ferdinand Habsburg and Charles Milesi who were also impressive.

Always reliable to hit a lap time target or to gain a position when asked, Frijns was a vital ingredient in WRT’s winning recipe this year.

Honorable mentions: Tom Blomqvist (impressive season with JOTA in WEC, Asian LMS), Charles Milesi (WEC champion with WRT, three poles including two in ELMS), Giedo van der Garde (fastest starter in WEC), Mikkel Jensen (IMSA LMP2 standout)

Photo: MPS Agency

LMP3 – Laurents Hoerr

After claiming two consecutive Michelin Le Mans Cup titles, Laurents Hoerr came into 2021 with the goal of achieving the same success in a European Le Mans Series program with the DKR Engineering team.

The German driver managed to meet that objective with three victories and was the fastest competitor in LMP3 this year, banking four pole positions and four fastest laps during the six-round season.

Hoerr exhibited a mixture of pace and adaptability as he shared the No. 4 Duqueine D08 Nissan with four different co-drivers in ELMS. He also made appearances in other series including IMSA, where he won the Daytona qualifying race with Muelhner Motorsports, and Le Mans Cup where he took pole for the Road to Le Mans first leg.

Hoerr’s performances were rewarded with a WEC post-season test in a Ferrari 488 GTE Evo and will no doubt have gauged the interest of teams in the higher prototype categories.

Honorable mentions: Felipe Fraga (four wins out of five LMP3 starts en route to IMSA title for co-driver Gar Robinson), Ugo de Wilde (quick in ELMS for Inter Europol, won Road to Le Mans), Matt Bell (2nd in ELMS)

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

Best Bronze – Ben Keating

Unquestionably the standout gentlemen driver in the WeatherTech Championship, Ben Keating excelled in his first full season of LMP2 competition, scoring four poles out of seven races, including class wins at Watkins Glen and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Keating and season-long co-driver Mikkel Jensen not only won the LMP2 championship for PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports but also took top honors in the Michelin Endurance Cup alongside third driver Scott Huffaker. The No. 52 Oreca 07 Gibson did not finish off the podium all season.

The 50-year-old Texan was in his element particularly in hard-fought qualifying sessions against WIN Autosport’s Steven Thomas, often treating the sessions as important as the races themselves.

Keating’s level of determination and skill — amid a busy dual-season program that also included star drives in the FIA World Endurance Championship GTE-Am class — was proven with his success on the track.

Honorable mentions: Steven Thomas (impressive rookie season in IMSA LMP2), Frits van Eerd (WEC’s first Pro-Am champion), John Falb (top Bronze in ELMS)

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