The #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López secured overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2021 ahead of the sister #8 car and the #36 Alpine. Ferrari were victorious in GTE Pro and GTE Am, while Team WRT took a dramatical final-lap win in LMP2.
The race began in inauspicious circumstances as a downpour swept the Circuit de la Sarthe shortly before the traditional waving of the Tricolore, signifying the start of the race. The conditions led the Race Director to direct the field to follow the safety car for two laps as the clock began ticking down.
After a short delay the race began in earnest, but a first-corner conflagration sent a number of cars spinning at the Dunlop Curve. The most severe incident saw the #708 Glickenhaus 007 LMH of Olivier Pla fail to slow sufficiently for the first left-hander and make contact with the #8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid of Sébastien Buemi.
Both cars appeared to be damaged, but neither pitted for repair work – preferring instead to wait until the first scheduled pit stops. The accident cost the #8 car a total of 90 seconds on the sister Toyota, a gap Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley would spend most of the race chasing.
Elsewhere in the Le Mans Hypercar class, the #708 and #709 Glickenhaus 007 LMHs and the #36 Alpine navigated the opening stages relatively comfortably following the first-lap incidents and settled into a steady rhythm.
However, an unfortunate spin by Nicolas Lapierre in the #36 car cost the French entry a minute or so at Indianapolis, and arguably a shot at leading the race in the opening stages. Glickenhaus also slipped down the tightly packed LMP2 field on the Saturday evening but the #708 at least soon found its feet and returned to join the rest of the Hypercar field by nightfall. The #709, on the other hand, struggled to match the lead tempo and lapped at roughly the same pace as the LMP2 cars.
Strategy-wise, the works Toyotas appeared capable of stretching to 15-lap stints – compared to steady 13- and 12-lap stints for the Glickenhauses and the Alpine respectively – but began to suffer intermittent issues in the pits as the race progressed.
Two slow punctures for the #7 car put it out of sync with the #8 machine on the pit stops. As a result, the #7 car’s lead varied from a handful of seconds to one and a half minutes depending on the stint progression.
Nightfall brings chaos
Drying conditions allowed the race to settle down somewhat, but the relative serenity was shattered by an enormous accident for the #98 Aston Martin Racing GTE Am car at the entry to Indianapolis. Driver Marco Gomes emerged from the wreck but appeared injured, although fortunately not too severely as the team later confirmed.
At 9pm, another shower passed over the circuit and caught out a number of LMP2 cars running on slick tyres. Firstly, the #32 United Autosports Oreca lost control at the first corner and careered into the sister #23 car at the first turn, leading to the immediate retirement of the #32 and a lengthy pit stop for repairs for the #23.
The other major incident involved Sophia Floersch in the #1 Richard Mille Racing Oreca, who was taken out by another LMP2 car at the entry to the Porsche Curves. Not only that, while attempting to recover her car, Floersch was then T-boned by the #74 Racing Team India Eurasia Ligier LMP2 car and was forced into immediate retirement.
The treacherous weather continued to plague the drivers as night turned to day, and just after 10pm the #56 Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR of Egidio Perfetti suffered a major accident at the first Mulsanne chicane. As the medical light system was triggered by the G forces involved in the shunt, Perfetti was forced to retire on the spot.
The next retirement was the GTE Am championship-leading #47 Cetilar Racing Ferrari, which made heavy contact with the barrier on the outside of Tertre Rouge. The Italian team were soon joined on the list of abandonments by the #25 G-Drive Racing LMP2 car after another shunt at the Dunlop Curve.
#8 challenges, #7 fights back
The battle for the lead entered a new phase in the early hours as the rain abated and the race settled down again. Pitlane issues began to impact the #7 car as well as the #8, causing the #7’s lead to be cut to a handful of seconds by the halfway stage of the race. However, an outstanding double stint by Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 car from 3am extended the advantage again to a manageable margin.
However, Kobayashi did cause a scare in the Toyota pit garage after outbreaking himself entering Indianapolis just after 4:30am. The Japanese driver was almost completely out of control and could very well have ended up in the tyre barrier. Fortunately for him, Kobayashi was able to stop in time and continue after a short stop.
With both works cars clearly nursing problems and not able to run at full stint lengths, there was a risk that the #8 car would slip back into the clutches of the chasing Alpine as the sun rose on Sunday morning. However, Toyota reported that a workaround had been identified for the problem and that all drivers had been notified on how to deal with it.
By late Sunday morning, the Japanese manufacturer held a solid one-two lead of around five laps over the #36 Alpine. However, with the French LMH machine running well, Toyota knew that any mistake or technical problem could have serious consequences.
The battle for the final podium spot also began to hot up on Sunday morning. The #708 Glickenhaus, which continued to run extremely steadily throughout the night and early hours, were able to maintain a gap of around 1 minute while going one lap longer than the Alpine on each stint. If left to play out, the strategy would give Glickenhaus one pit stop of an advantage over the Alpine come the end of the race.
Toyota continued to manage its fuel-related issues into Sunday afternoon, in many cases shortening stints to five or six laps. With a sufficient buffer to the chasing Alpine and Glickenhaus, the team appeared confident that it could deal with the issue by limiting stints.
It was a nervy final few hours for the Toyota crew, but Mike Conway, José María López and Kamui Kobayashi safely brought their GR010 Hybrid home in first. After one third- and two second-place finishes for the trio in the past three years, including some awful luck in 2019, not many will have begrudged the #7 crew the overall victory.
The #8 car finished a comfortable second ahead of the #36 Alpine, with the pair of Glickenhauses in fourth and fifth overall.
AF Corse prevail in GTE Pro war of attrition
The #51 AF Corse Ferrari was victorious in the GTE Pro category after a race-long battle with the #63 Corvette C8.R. At times the cars were running very closely indeed, particularly during the night, with any gaps swiftly eliminated by safety car phases.
The #52 AF Corse Ferrari was also in contention for a solid finish, but a technical issue at the rear left of the car at dawn cost the team a significant amount of time. Both privateer Porsches, entered by Hub Auto Racing (#72) and WeatherTech Racing (#79), were forced into retirement on Sunday morning following accidents.
Porsche didn’t appear to have the outright pace to challenge the GTE Pro lead, and an early spin for the #92 911 RSR-19 was an added setback. However, some solid and consistent driving from both the #91 and #92 crews saw the German marque rise back through the GTE Pro and finish well in third and fourth.
Some smart pit tactics from the #51 AF Corse crew during one slow zone procedure saw the #51 AF Corse Ferrari eek out an advantage over the lead Corvette of around half a minute on Sunday morning. Despite the US team’s best efforts, the #51 crew of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Cóme Ledogar comfortably secured yet another class win for the Prancing Horse at Le Mans.
Corvette Racing finished an admirable second in its maiden appearance at the Circuit de la Sarthe with the C8.R. Third was the Porsche 911 RSR Kévin Estre, Michael Christensen and Neel Jani following an excellent recovery drive by the #92 crew.
LMP2 leader retires on final lap
Team WRT proved to be the class of the LMP2 field on the Belgian squad’s debut at Le Mans. The pair of Gibson-powered Oreca 07s showed almost bulletproof reliability – with an issue with the air jacks on the #31 car proving to be the only major problem either car suffered over the 24 hours.
The #41 appeared to gain an edge on the #31 machine as the race drew to a conclusion, thanks in no small part to a fantastic performance by the young silver-rated Chinese driver Yefei Ye. However, the race was turned on its head on the final lap as the #41 Oreca came to a standstill at the Forest Esses for as-yet unknown reasons.
The #41 car inherited the lead, but had to defend hard in front of the #28 JOTA car just 2.5 seconds behind. With most cars cruising to the finish, many were unaware that a class lead battle was raging behind them, and there was almost an accident as the cars crossed the finish line. Ultimately the #41 car crossed the line just 0.7s ahead of the #28 JOTA, with the #65 Panis Racing Oreca finishing third.
JOTA had made the early running in LMP2, at one point as high as second overall following the #8 Toyota’s first-lap foible. However, a mistake by Antonio Felix da Costa at the end of the start/finish straight saw the #38 machine end up in the gravel trap and severely delayed as a result.
Another contender for the win for much of the race was the #22 United Autosports Oreca. It was running comfortably in third position early on Sunday morning, before a spin in the Porsche Curves and a subsequent alternator issue forced the car into retirement.
GTE Am spoils go to dominant #83 AF Corse Ferrari
It was a dominant victory for the #83 AF Corse crew of Francois Perrodo, Niklas Nielsen and Alessio Rovera after an almost flawless run in the Ferrari 488 EVO GTE. TF Sport had challenged at points during the race in their #33 Aston Martin, but didn’t have the necessary good fortune to catch the class leader. Third was another Ferrari, the #80 Iron Lynx machine, which celebrated its best result so far this season and the team’s maiden WEC podium.
The #84 Association SRT41 crew successfully finished the race. Drivers Takuma Aoki, Nigel Bailly and Matthieu Lahaye crossed the finishing line 33rd in their Oreca 07, which ran in the CDNT (cars displaying new technology) class and was adapted for the needs of physically disabled drivers.