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Toyota Cruises to Fourth Straight Le Mans Win

·5 min read
Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Moy Photography - Getty Images

It was no accident that Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez, and the entire No. 7 Toyota GR010 team made it look so effortless.

This is Toyota's fourth win in a row at Le Mans, all of which have been won without serious competition from another major OEM building their own car, but the program has been contending for wins at this race since their second year as a factory operation in 2013. Almost universally, those races ended with a mechanical failure from the race lead, including a 2016 race that saw the leading car fail on the final lap of the race. With Porsche and Audi both out over the past four years, Toyota has been completely free of competition that could compete on pace. Their focus has instead turned toward bulletproof reliability.

That is much easier with the TS050, a car that had already been racing for two years before its first win. This year, Toyota showed the same level of consistency with the GR010, the only factory-built car and only hybrid built for an entirely new set of Le Mans Hypercar rules to date.

Barring a delay for Peugeot's 90X program, this will be Toyota's last Le Mans alone for a very long time. The team has long since proven that they can create a fast car, but this level of reliability in the first-ever 24 hour race for an entire class is a welcoming sign for the program that will still enter that 2022 race as the favorite.

When that competition comes back, this is the driver lineup that will be their most important. One-time Formula 1 standout Kamui Kobayashi's awe-inspiring speed is tempered by IndyCar winner Mike Conway's steady pace in a winning pair that goes back to 2016; the 2018 addition of World Touring Car Champion Jose Maria Lopez adds a third unique skill set to a balanced lineup that has a driver to take pole, a driver to hold the lead, and a driver to chase down the leaders. After three years of watching the other car win with Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi, Toyota's most dynamic lineup is victorious.

Nakajima, Buemi, and Brendon Hartley, the trio that won the race last year, had a slightly more difficult day in the No. 8 GR010 that finished second. That car was struck on the start by one of the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus 007s, forcing a recovery drive that allowed the No. 7 to build an early lead. Over the next 20 hours, that car would suffer separate scares involving both the fueling system and the gearbox. Despite the concerns, that car would finish a comfortable second, with neither GR010 going behind the wall at any point in its debut 24 hour race.

Despite some late race concerns that the SCG cars could use a fuel mileage advantage to take the position, the grandfathered-in Rebellion LMP1 car now badged as the No. 36 Alpine of Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre, and Matthieu Vauxiviere took third overall and in class, four laps behind the overall winner. The No. 708 Glickenhaus entry beat the No. 709 to fifth after an impressive debut that saw the cars struggle with driving dynamics and pace but easily crush any reliability concerns.

In LMP2, long-time Audi partners Team WRT (which is short for W Racing Team, somehow) emerged first and second early after most of the other serious contenders suffered some on-track issue or another over the first eight hours of the race.

Until the last lap, that is.

Their No. 41 car stopped on track from the race lead on the final lap, turning what was going to be a 1-2 finish on debut into a bittersweet debut victory. The No. 41 of Robert Kubica, Yifei Ye, and Louis Deletraz was not recorded as finishing, leaving the No. 31 of Robin Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg, and Charles Milesi victorious in what has quickly become the race's most competitive class. Assuming the No. 41 is considered a retirement as it traditionally would, JOTA's No. 28 (Sean Gelael, Stoffel Vandoorne, and Tom Blomqvist) and Panis Racing's No. 65 (Julian Canal, Will Stevens, and James Allen) complete the podium. The No. 21 DragonSpeed entry of Henrik Hedman, Ben Hanley, and Juan Pablo Montoya is the first finisher in the P2 pro-am subclass.

Habsberg, the son of the current head of the ancient noble house of Habsburg that once ruled over Austria, joins a surprisingly long list of nobility with a Le Mans win to their names. It is an oddly consistent trend in auto racing that stretches back to the sport's earliest days.

In both GTE classes, AF Corse's Ferrari 488s overcame an in-week balance-of-performance change to comfortably outrun the competition. The No. 51 of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, and Come Ledogar takes the win in GTE-Pro, 40 seconds ahead of the No. 63 Corvette Racing C8.R and a lap ahead of the No. 92 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR-19. In GTE-Am, their No. 83 Ferrari wins in the hands of Francois Perrodo, Nicklas Nielsen, and Alessio Rovera. The No. 33 TF Sport Aston Martin and No. 80 Iron Lynx Ferrari round out that class podium.

Also among the finishers is the unclassified Garage56 entry, the Association SRT41 car of Takuma Aoki, Nigel Bailly, and Matthieu Lahaye. Aoki and Bailly, both parapalegic racers, join team owner Frederic Sausset as disabled Le Mans finishers.

The FIA World Endurance Championship still has two rounds left to run, if that interests you. Both will be held in Bahrain, one in September and one in October. Toyota has now won all four WEC races held since the introduction of the Le Mans Hypercar class.

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