Toyota opens Hypercar era with decisive victory at Le Mans

Rainier Ehrhardt/Motorsport Images

Toyota opens Hypercar era with decisive victory at Le Mans

Le Mans/WEC

Toyota opens Hypercar era with decisive victory at Le Mans

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Toyota Gazoo Racing has become the first team to claim a Le Mans win in the new Hypercar category. Its new GR010 HYBRIDs cruised to a 1-2 finish, four laps clear of the competition, despite both cars suffering various minor issues throughout the race.

The winning car on this occasion was, finally, the No. 7 crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez after 371 laps of racing. It was a well-deserved triumph after so many years of near misses, heartbreak and drama. It was a near faultless run from all three drivers, who made no notable errors en route to their first overall Le Mans win together.

An issue with fuel pick-up meant the trio had to manage each stint for much of the second half of the race, and make additional stops throughout, but nobody came close enough to truly challenge them. This was a tour de force, the No. 7 leading the majority of the race from pole position.

“It’s hard to put this into words. After so many setbacks in recent years, to win it, it’s so emotional,” said Conway after the race, which coincidentally is also his 10th WEC win.

“Wow,” Kobayashi exclaimed on team radio at the end. “I can’t believe this.” He is the fourth Japanese driver to win overall at La Sarthe. Lopez, meanwhile, is the second Argentine to win the Le Mans 24 Hours, the first since Jose Froilan Gonzalez way back in 1954.

“Hard really,” Lopez mused. “Of course we came through a few Le Mans that were quite tough for us as a crew. To be a part of this is amazing, a dream come true. I’ve come so far so many years for this dream and I couldn’t choose better teammates. Mike and Kamui are like brothers for me now and things they have done, I’ve seen them doing things in the car, amazing. I’m very lucky to have them.

“And of course the team. The team has worked very hard — at the end we take the glory, we jump on the podium but there’s more than 600 people back at Cologne, and more than 1000 people back in Japan, making this happen. The first time the new car has race at Le Mans, and to make it to the end wasn’t easy. We had to work the last six, seven hours, we had a few issues, but as a team we came through and that’s the most valuable thing we took from today.”

Toyota’s No. 8 came closest to denying the No. 7 on this occasion, but it had a far more eventful race and rarely put the pressure on. The No. 8 was turned around at the start in the tricky wet conditions on the run up to the Dunlop Bridge by a Glickenhaus, forced to perform a power cycle later in the lap and battle back into contention from last, then later deal with fuel and vibration issues and a broken passenger door. Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima will leave disappointed with second, but should be proud of what was a valiant effort to bring the car home second for a formation finish.

The Alpine and Glickenhaus were never closer to the Toyotas than at the wild start, but their reliability was encouraging. Rainier Ehrhardt/Motorsport.Images

The other two teams in the class simply had no answer to Toyota, as despite their various issues, the ultimate pace for the GR010s never faltered, the Alpine and Glickenhaus 007s were therefore unable to capitalize on Toyota’s niggles. This in turn made it appear a far more comfortable victory than it was in reality.

It must be said, though, that it was a pleasant surprise to see all five cars in the top class make the finish; a rarity in any year regardless of the selection of teams. Mighty efforts from both Alpine and Glickenhaus saw all three cars in question make it to the finish, and in the remaining top five places overall.

Alpine took the final place on the podium, becoming the first French team to take a spot on the overall podium since Peugeot’s last appearance in LMP1 back in 2011. For the Signatech-run factory team, it was a rather quiet race, spent running in third after making up for lost time, clear of the Glickenhaus cars but far behind the Toyotas.

An early spin at Indianapolis for Nicolas Lapierre in the opening laps of the race dropped the car down the order, and a slide into the gravel for Matthieu Vaxiviere at the first Mulsanne Chicane before the halfway mark set the team back enough to end its chances of victory early on. Nevertheless it was a strong performance, Vaxiviere, Lapierre and Andre Negrao securing trophies at the team’s home race.

Glickenhaus’ pair of U.S.-flagged 007s, meanwhile, had a superb run to the flag, both cars running reliably and quickly, the team putting all the mechanical woes during the races prior to Le Mans behind them.

A promising beginning to the Glickenhaus Hypercar story at Le Mans. JEP/Motorsport Images

For a small boutique manufacturer like Glickenhaus, building a Hypercar from scratch with a budget a fraction of its opposition, this was an outstanding 24 hours. Jim Glickenhaus can leave La Sarthe proud with his head held high. His two Pipo-powered 007s, on their Le Mans debut, came home fourth and fifth, and look like they can be a force next year against Toyota and the returning Peugeot brand.

The No. 708 of Pipo Derani, Franck Mailleux and Olivier finished fourth on the same lap as the Alpine, and three laps clear of the No. 709 driven by Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe and Romain Dumas, within a lap of the Alpine.

Was this an all-time class race? No. But this did mark the start of something, with the Hypercar era looking set to be a memorable one in the years to come with Peugeot joining for 2022 and an armada of other factories expected to come aboard in 2023.

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