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Toyota Triumphant In Scoring Fourth Consecutive Le Mans Win

Photo Credit: Toyota Motor Corporation


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For the 89th time, auto racing’s pinnacle event testing the endurance of machinery as well as human being over 24 hours was held in Le Mans, France. Running for the second time in August as opposed to its traditional June date to allow for spectators to attend, the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans instantly presented the added difficulty of a wet race track that resulted in the first two laps taking place behind a safety car. Conditions changed between dry, then wet, then dry against during the running of the daylong race on the 13.626-kilometer (8.467-mile) Circuit de la Sarthe.


With 61 cars starting among four main classes on the Circuit de la Sarthe, the highest honour in 24 Hours of Le Mans to be the overall winner. At the conclusion of the 2021 edition of the great endurance event, the Toyota Gazoo Racing team stood in the coveted top spot of the podium. The #7 Toyota GR010 Hypercar driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez controlled the pace for almost the entire distance of the race completing 371 laps. For all three drivers, the victory is their first overall success at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

 

Prior to the 2018 running of the world-renowned 24-hour race in France, Toyota’s Le Mans effort was regarded as a hard-luck story as their well-funded efforts to take overall victory was foiled. Late-race mechanical problems with the GT-One effort in 1998 as well as more recent misfortune in 2015 and 2016 gave credence to a curse for the Japanese automaker in their elusive quest for to be the first to take the checkered flag in the prestigious endurance race. However, thanks to their fourth overall crown at Le Mans, Toyota’s previous struggles in the event can be regarded as steps towards their new glory. Toyota joins Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Porsche, Ford and Audi as auto companies who have been able to capture four-straight overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.


Toyota’s latest victory at the 24-hour race comes in the newly-branded Hypercar class and the first Le Mans win for the GR010 Hybrid race car. Conformed to the new regulations, the GR010 Hybrid in comparison to its predecessor, the TS050 Hybrid was 162 kilograms (357.1 pounds) heavier and had a less potent power unit. The #7 car’s hyperpole-winning lap time of 3 minutes and 23.9 seconds was roughly 8.7 seconds slower than the Toyota team’s 2020 effort.


Photo Credit: Toyota Motor Corporation



Toyota Gazoo Racing’s #8 machine crossed finished the event two laps behind the winning #7 car. A vehicle shared by the winning driver lineup of last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima, the #8 entry encountered trouble at the start when the car was hit by one of the Hypercar machines fielded by Glickenhaus Racing entering the Dunlop Chicane. While taking a podium finish, Swiss driver Buemi and Japanese pilot Nakajima miss out on scoring fourth consecutive victories.


Third place in the Hypercar class was captured by the Alpine Elf Matmut team driven by French drivers Nicolas Lapierre and Matthieu Vaxiviere as well as Brazilian André Negrão. In a somewhat surprising outcome, all five entries in the top Hypercar category were still running after 24 hours as both Glickenhaus 007 LMH cars finished the race 4 laps and 7 laps behind the leader.


The next class leader to finish the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans was from the ultra-competitive, 25-vehicle strong LMP2 category. With a margin of victory in LMP2 was just 0.727 seconds, the Gibson-powered #31 Ocera 07 Team WRT claimed class honours over the #28 Jota Sport race car. Dutch driver Robin Frijns, Austrian Ferdinand von Habsburg and Frenchman Charles Milesi shared what was envisioned as an unlikely win in the closing minutes of the event. With five minutes remaining in the race, the leading #41 Team WRT entry shared by Louis Deletraz, Robert Kubica and Yifei Ye slowed to a stop on track for what was traced back to a broken throttle sensor. The win for the #31 car came in Team WRT’s debut outing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.


Photo Credit: Richard Prince for Corvette Racing



After sitting out last year’s Le Mans event due complications caused by COVID-19, the Corvette Racing team was back on the Circuit de la Sarthe eager to vie for GTE Pro honours against Ferrari and Porsche. The squad’s newest mid-rear engined Chevrolet Corvette C8.R was formidable but was frequently bettered by the competition. The #64 car, featuring the driver lineup of Tommy Milner, Nick Tandy and Alexander Sims, settled for a third place starting grid in class coming short in a tight three-way battle in the hyperpole qualifying session won by the Porsche 911 RSR-19 fielded by Hub Auto Racing. Misfortune met the #64 machine shortly after engines fired for this year’s race when a collision involving the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo damaging the rear diffuser during a formation lap what was a wet Le Mans track. Although the team recovered from the diffuser breakage, gearbox, clutch and alternator issues occurring deeper into the race knocked the silver and yellow Corvette out of contention for class victory. Despite starting deep in the class, the yellow #63 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R shared by Nicky Catsburg, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor hovered near the front of the GTE Pro category. However, the #63 car came 41.686 seconds short of class victory.


Taking the GTE Pro category victory at the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans, #51 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo fielded by AF Corse featured the talents of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Côme Ledogar in the driver’s seat. In fact, the AF Corse squad’s 2021 outing at Le Mans would involve two victories in the produced-based GTE classes. In the GTE Am class, the #83 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo piloted by the driving team of Nicklas Nielsen, François Perrodo and Alessio Rovera took the win with a one-lap advantage over the second place #33 Aston Martin Vantage AMR campaigned by TF Sport.


Photo Credit: Ferrari S.p.A.



A special mention in the finishing results of the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans is the Association SRT41 car that competed as the sole vehicle in the Innovative Car class. Intending to run last year’s endurance event prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the squad’s driver lineup consisted of two paraplegics (Belgium’s Nigel Bailly and Japan’s Takuma Aoki) paired with France’s Matthieu Lahaye. Arriving at Circuit de la Sarthe with a Oreca 07-Gibson featuring a modified cockpit with a hand-activated accelerator and brake. The Association SRT41 team finished 32nd overall completing 334 laps over the period of 24 hours.

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