Every year Le Mans seemingly throws up late-race drama. This year it was in LMP2, which had its class win decided on the final lap of the race.
The category was chaotic and unpredictable in the opening 10 hours, with so many incidents in the tricky, changeable conditions. Once it calmed down and the night hours wore on, WRT’s pair of ORECAs emerged as the favorites, both its ORECAs rapid and running a clean race while other contenders hit trouble.
The No. 31 was the better of the two for much of the second half, but an issue with the car’s air jacks cost it crucial time at each stop towards the end. In addition, Yifei Ye’s heroic effort behind the wheel of the No. 41 sister car assisted his crew’s charge to the lead. In the final hours the No. 41 took control and looked set to deny the No. 31 trio, leading home a historic 1-2 result for the GT3 stalwart team.
But, disaster struck on the final tour, as Ye stopped at the Dunlop Curves and couldn’t fire the car back up. It was a cruel twist of fate for himself, Louis Deletraz and Robert Kubica, who at times were the class of the field.
It meant that the lead changed hands right at the end, Robin Frijns in the No. 31 taking the lead whole having to fend off a hard-charging Tom Blomqvist in the No. 28 JOTA ORECA, which was delayed earlier in the race by a penalty.
The pair raced to the flag, Frijns narrowly avoiding the flag waver at the finish line, weaving through traffic in an attempt to hold back Blomqvist. It was a frantic end, full of emotions, with the winning margin just seven tenths of a second!
The No.7 @TGR_WEC GR010 Hybrid Hypercar takes comfortable victory in 89th running of @24hoursoflemans. @pechito37, @kamui_kobayashi and @Mikeconway26 seal victory to finally take win after several years of frustration at #LeMans24 and become first ever Hypercar race at Le Mans. pic.twitter.com/jEqC4tR01L
— WEC (@FIAWEC) August 22, 2021
The win for WRT, in its Le Mans debut, makes it the first Belgian team to win a WEC race in any class. It adds to the team’s many successes over the years, most of which have come in the GT3 ranks as an Audi customer/factory blessed team. This was certainly a head-turning performance for an outfit that has its eyes set firmly on being involved a top class program in future years. Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg and Charles Milesi were all deserved winners, but they will feel lucky to have snatched this one having mentally prepared themselves for a second-place finish.
— 24 Hours of Le Mans (@24hoursoflemans) August 22, 2021
JOTA, meanwhile, will be thrilled with second for its No. 28 crew. Sam Hignett and his crew were resigned to a third-place finish in the final hours, but kept pushing in case of late drama. The strategy paid off on this occasion.
Third on the road was Panis Racing, its No. 65 ORECA fast throughout and rewarded with a podium finish for Will Stevens, Julien Canal and James Allen.
Perhaps the biggest story of the category, beyond the thrilling end, was the tale of the cars that hit trouble. United Autosports and G-Drive Racing in particular will be disappointed to have seen their chances of winning ended by a series of incidents.
For United, its No. 23 ORECA finished just off the podium in fourth, two laps off the lead. It was almost a miracle that Paul Di Resta, Wayne Boyd and Alex Lynn even made it home, as the car survived being harpooned by the team’s No. 32 ORECA.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) August 21, 2021
Manual Maldonado caused the incident, losing control at Turn 1 as the second bout of rain which caught multiple drivers on slicks off guard, arrived. He went straight on up the hill and gave the No. 23 a direct hit to its left-side.
The No. 32 was an on the spot retirement, the No. 23 walking wounded for the rest of the race. United’s No. 22 meanwhile, suffered an alternator issue which put it out of contention.
G-Drive Racing’s challenge suffered a similar fate. The No. 25 had a big off on the hill at the Dunlop Bridge into the same set of tires on driver’s right that claimed multiple victims throughout the meeting. The No. 26, meanwhile, looked more than capable of winning the race, especially after a strong performance early from Franco Colapinto. Unfortunately though, the Le Mans rookie would let the team down, having a bizarre spin going into the Porsche Curves mere seconds after the aforementioned United crash.
The Aurus was seen coming out of nowhere, spinning in front of, and into, the Richard Mille ORECA, sending both into the barriers. Colapinto continued but repairs were required. Sophia Floersch wasn’t so lucky, and was hit again by the No. 74 Eurasia Ligier at speed while stranded in the middle of the track trying to get it fired. The all-female ORECA was, unsurprisingly, retired on the spot.
— 24 Hours of Le Mans (@24hoursoflemans) August 21, 2021
“It’s been difficult — Franco crashed and we lost 20-25 minutes and trying to recover,” G-Drive Racing driver Roman Rusinov said late in the race. “It’s hard because if we hadn’t crashed we would be leading by now — we are fast.”
JOTA’s “Mighty 38” was another entry to get caught out in tricky conditions. Anthony Davidson went off at Turn 1 into the gravel while leading in the opening hours. The former Peugeot factory driver owned up to the error, which caused an oil leak that lost the team multiple laps.
“I just lost it, plain and simple,” he said about the uncharacteristic mistake. “It was wet, a Porsche went off in front of me, distracted me. The whole circuit was dry to that point, and my memory was that the pit exit was much drier than it was. Hands up — it was my fault. It’s not normal that I ruin things for everyone, but this time I did.
“I was in the lead of the race, I didn’t want to give it up. It’s a balance with risk. I never throw it off with slicks in the wet, I’m always the one that survives. I’m gutted, because it was all going so well, the car was flying, a dream all week. I didn’t make any errors before the race, I chose the worst time to do it.”
Elsewhere in the class, DragonSpeed took the Pro/Am sub-class win, but by a tiny margin after Henrik Hedman was chased down by Job Van Uitert in the Racing Team Nederland ORECA in the final hour.
Also of note, Association SRT41’s modified Innovation Car ORECA featuring two disabled drivers, made the finish, completing 334 laps. It became the second invitational entry to finish the race since the ACO’s initiative for an unclassified innovative car to compete each year back in 2012; the other was also a prototype for disabled drivers, entered by Frederic Sausset.