Toyota Gazoo Racing was victorious at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the third year in succession after a hard-fought victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
The #8 Toyota TS050 of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley secured victory at the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans after a hard-fought race that was full of attrition. Second was the #1 Rebellion R13 – Gibson of Bruno Senna, Norman Nato and Gustavo Menezes, with the sister #7 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and José Maria López in third.
The race began in bright sunshine with a threat of overnight rain in Western France, and it was the #7 car that started the best. The #8 struggled early on from brake duct issues, causing it to pit for repairs and relegating Buemi, Nakajima and Hartley to third on the road.
The pair of privateer Rebellions also made excellent starts to the race and appeared to be able to match the Toyotas’ pace – contrary to expectations. However, as the race progressed the works team’s quality showed and the #7 crew looked to have the race under control, with the #8 trailing by over a lap after its seven-minute repair stop.
Drama then befell the #7 Kobyabashi/Conway/Lopez crew, all of whom were searching for their maiden victory at Le Mans and banish the demons of last year’s heartbreak. An issue on the exhaust manifold at the halfway stage cost the team 17 minutes in the pits and pushed them down into fourth behind their teammates and both Rebellions.
As the sun rose, the #8 crew held a four-lap lead that they would go on to maintain and score a comfortable win. It is Kazuki Nakajima and Sébastien Buemi’s third victory in succession, and Hartley’s second for his second different manufacturer after Porsche.
In its Le Mans swansong, Rebellion Racing secured the best finish in its 12-year history with second overall. Only a couple of minor gremlins affected the Swiss team’s cars in what was a highly impressive, almost faultless performance. The sole remaining LMP1 car, from ByKolles Racing Team, retired on Saturday evening after alternator issues and a major crash for Bruno Spengler.
First Le Mans win for the Aston Martin Vantage AMR
In GTE Pro, victory went to the #97 Aston Martin AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell after a race-long battle with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra.
The race quickly turned into a fight between Aston Martin and AF Corse after some major problems for the pole-setting Porsche GT squad. Power steering issues plagued both the #91 and #92 cars’ pace, while other technical gremlins continued to affect the German works squad in what was a Le Mans to forget in Weißach.
Thanks to balance of performance, there was not much difference in pace between the Aston Martin Vantage AMR and the Ferrari 488 GTE. The first to drop out of contention for the class win was the #71 AF Corse car driven by Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina and Sam Bird. It lost four laps to the class leader due to a puncture and damage repairs.
The #95 Aston Martin of Nicky Thiim, Marco Sorensen and Richard Westbrook was unable to match the lead pace and slipped off the lead lap, before a pit-stop infringement in the closing stages put paid to any chances of the win. Still, a third-place finish was enough to maintain Thiim and Sorensen’s lead in the GTE drivers world championship.
In the end only a handful of seconds separated the #51 and #97 cars as the race reached its conclusion. Aston Martin appeared to have the upper hand, but a stroke of luck ultimately sealed the win for the British marque. A safety car was called just as the #97 car was completing its final pit stop, but driver Alex Lynn was able to exit the pit lane just before the pit exit was closed to wait for the next safety car.
LMP2 honours go to United Autosports
The most tension in the closing stages of the race came in LMP2, as the late safety car threw the strategy calls up in the air. Victory went to the #22 United Autosports crew of Paul di Rest, Phil Hanson and Felipe Albuquerque, with the latter taking the drivers’ title at the same time.
A hard-charging #38 JOTA Oreca of Anthony Davidson, Antonio Felix da Costa and Roberto Gonzalez put together an excellent performance but fell just short of the class win by around 30 seconds at the line. The third spot on the podium went the way of the #31 Panis Racing crew of Nico Jamin, Julien Canal and Matthieu Vaxiviere.
Electrical issues were the theme of the LMP2 class, with issues befalling the #16 and #26 G-Drive Racing crews amongst others. A final-hour puncture for Jean-Eric Vergne in the #26 Aurus 01 cost the Russian-entered team a podium place.
Elsewhere, the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca was disqualified for outside assistance after the car stopped on track in the early hours. A mechanic is alleged to have passed a replacement battery to driver Thomas Laurent, which contravenes the rules of the race.
One of the performances of the race came from IDEC Sport. The reigning ELMS champions saw both of their cars destroyed in free practice accidents on Thursday, necessitating complete rebuilds throughout Friday and overnight before the race. The #28 car came home 6th in class, while the #17 sister car finished 11th.
TF Sport make it a double Le Mans celebration for Aston Martin
#90 TF Sport gave their GTE Am title ambitions a major boost with victory at Le Mans. Salih Yoluc, Charlie Eastwood and Johnny Adam assumed the class lead in the night time and ultimately recorded a comfortable win for the British manufacturer.
There was chaos further behind, though, as the late safety car caused the second-, third- and fourth-placed cars to bunch up for a 30-minute sprint to the line.
Despite initially having the advantage of track position, Matteo Cairoli in the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR agonisingly slipped to fourth after being overtaken by both the #83 Ferrari and the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing cars. Matt Campbell held his nerve in the #77 machine to finish just three seconds ahead of the #83 crew.
Images © WEC-Magazin (Walter Schruff / Ton Kerdijk)