There were times when it looked doubtful the Le Mans 24 Hours would take place at all in 2020 but after an admirable showcase of perseverance from the ACO, the delayed September edition went ahead this weekend and produced an entertaining, memorable race, and not just because of the lack of fans trackside.
Up front in the LMP1 class, Toyota Gazoo Racing made it three overall wins in a row. Another incredible run by its No. 8 TS050 HYBRID secured the win at Le Mans for the Japanese marque, after a valiant effort from Rebellion Racing ended with a second-place finish for its No. 1 R-13 Gibson.
Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley were pretty much faultless for the entire 24 hours. They suffered early bad luck, with a slow puncture and a brake duct issue which cost them time and dropped the car off the lead lap, but through grit and determination they stayed out of trouble for the final 18 hours and took a big win.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) September 20, 2020
“Just incredible, what luck we had. ” Nakajima said after the race. “I am very happy for the team that at least one of us won the race, that was something we had to make sure of. We started with a lot of problems in the beginning, and the 7 had a bigger issue later in the race. The car was good in the race though — I am happy with what we have done, I’m happy with the team.”
“It’s incredible,” Buemi agreed. “When you look at the start, we had a puncture, a slow zone not going our way and a brake issue. You think it was lost, but at Le Mans it is never the case. It’s sad with what happened to the sister car and the Rebellions, but we were there. I am so happy we are made it.
“When you win three times you get to keep the trophy. That was the main target.”
— 24 Hours of Le Mans (@24hoursoflemans) September 20, 2020
With this win, Toyota Gazoo Racing takes the LMP1 FIA World Endurance Championship title.
As well as a third win for Toyota, it’s a third Le Mans 24 hours victory for Buemi and Nakajima. They join the select group of eight other drivers to have won three times in a row: Woolf Barnato, Frank Biela, Olivier Gendebien, Phil Hill, Jacky Ickx, Tom Kristensen, Henri Pescarolo and this year’s Grand Marshal, Emanuele Pirro.
For Hartley, it’s a second triumph. He won the 2017 24 Hours with Porsche in the final year of the 919 program.
It also brings the TS050 HYBRID’s tenure at Le Mans to a close in style. It must not be forgotten how impressive the 050 is, a Le Mans-winning machine which delivered Toyota arguably its most significant achievements in motorsport.
The victory for the No. 8 of course, came at the expense of the sister No. 7 crew, which in recent years has suffered rotten luck at Le Mans.
The 8’s early issues looked to set up the No. 7 trio for a famous first Le Mans win, but a turbocharger issue caused by an issue with the exhaust manifold system would cost Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez dearly. Overnight the No. 7 lost multiple laps and dropped outside the top three.
This left the two Rebellions on Sunday morning to take the fight to the No. 8. The Swiss-flagged team, in its final Le Mans start, put up a valiant effort to keep some pressure on, but ultimately neither R-13 could consistently keep tabs with the lead Toyota over the course of the race, despite the cars being quicker over a single lap. The No. 1 finished with the race’s fastest lap, a 3:19.264, but that was unsustainable if the team was to ensure both cars made the finish.
All Rebellion’s drivers were told throughout by the crew on the pit wall to preserve the cars in the hope they could pick up the pieces should the lead Toyota suffer any mechanical issues or fall foul to an incident. But the No. 8 had a steady run to the finish, and won by a margin of six laps.
To add to the disappointment, Rebellion couldn’t make it a double podium either, as late drama for the No. 3 R-13 promoted the No. 7 Toyota to the final podium spot in the penultimate hour. Louis Deletraz had a costly off at Indianapolis, brushing the barriers, forcing the car in for an unscheduled stop. It undid a heroic effort from Romain Dumas on Saturday morning, in which the Frenchman fought tooth and nail to vault the No. 3 into second before a recurring issue getting the car fired up after pit stops cost the car vital seconds.
The team had to replace the nose and rear after Deletraz’s incident, before again battling to get the car fired up after the stop. It would limp home fourth.
As for ByKolles, it was yet another Le Mans to forget. The CLM suffered mechanical issues early, before its race was brought to a premature end when Bruno Spengler had a big off through the Esses when the rear wing blew off on Saturday night. The car managed just 97 laps. The team will hope for better results when it returns in 2021 with a brand-new Le Mans Hypercar.
“It was very emotional to see the checkered flag being waved to end this 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans, and an important moment for the Automobile Club de l’Ouest,” said Pierre Fillon, president of the ACO. Despite the current pandemic, we managed to hold one of the world’s greatest sports events here in France, a victory for all our competitors and partners.
“The 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans will leave an indelible mark on the race’s history. Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima have added their name to the winner’s list. Sincere congratulations to them! And to Toyota for their third and final 24 Hours victory with the TS050 Hybrid. Their car will remain a landmark in the hybrid era.
“I’d also like to address a special message to all our fans, who were unable to attend the race here in Le Mans this year. In 2021, the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be held on 12-13 June. All being well, we look forward to seeing you then.”