Toyota celebrated overall victory at the 24-hour race in Le Mans for the fifth time in a row. In the hypercar class, the competition was never able to jeopardize the double success of the Japanese works team. In the GT class, Porsche beat Ferrari in a thrilling final sprint.
Last year without any major factory competition, Toyota once again demonstrated its dominance in the Le Mans top class. With both factory racers, the Japanese confidently secured the double victory in the long-distance classic on Sunday (June 12). The pursuers in the top category showed technical weaknesses and never had the pace to keep up with the series winners.
Even before midnight, the lead over Glickenhaus's fastest competitor was extended to two laps. The only exciting question was which Toyota would ultimately take the winner's trophy. Sebastien Buemi in the GR010 Hybrid with starting number 8 fought a duel of seconds with Mike Conway in the sister car with number 7. Buemi asked several times over the radio whether the tough fight made sense in view of the large lead over the rest of the field and the long remaining distance may be.
But then the duel in the early morning was rectified a bit. After a small software hiccup, the number 7 car had to be restarted, which cost a few seconds. In addition, both cars were affected to different degrees by caution phases. At some point, the announcement came from the Toyota command post that both cars should control the speed and reduce the risk so as not to use the technology unnecessarily. So the order remained frozen until the finish.
Toyota changes winning car
This time Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa were able to celebrate in the end, after last year's sister car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez was at the top of the podium. "I trembled to the end. After our bad luck in 2016, I only believe in victory when we've crossed the finish line," Buemi grinned relieved after his fourth overall victory.
Although the success was finally achieved in gentle gear, the Swiss expressed his dissatisfaction with the handling of his Toyota during the race: "We adjusted the car more to understeer at the beginning because we expected that the balance would improve over the course of the race of the race to the front. But unfortunately we overdid it a bit. It wasn't easy, especially in the second part of the stint with worn tyres."
Third place went to the Glickenhaus Hypercar with starting number 709 with Ryan Briscoe Richard Westbrook and Franck Mailleux at the wheel. The second Glickenhaus fell back early with a problem with the rear left suspension. The Alpine, the fifth car in the top class, lost all chances early on with a clutch problem.So the way was clear for Toyota, which unfortunately didn't help the excitement. Most fans are certainly already looking forward to next year's edition, when Peugeot, Porsche and Ferrari finally want to compete for overall victory and finally break through the Toyota series.
JOTA dominates the LMP2 class
Not much happened at the top in the LMP2 either. René Rast started the race from pole position in the WRT Gibson Oreca, but was penalized in the first few meters after colliding with a competitor from United Autosports. A good five hours before the checkered flag, Robin Frijns then put the WRT racer into the guard rails in the Porsche curves and thus caused the final end.
So the JOTA racer with starting number 38 from Roberto Gonzalez, Antonio Felix Da Costa and Will Stevens took command early on. With a bit of luck timing the yellow phase, the trio built up a comfortable lead that was defended to the finish. In the end, second place went to the debutants from the newly formed Prema Orlen team with Robert Kubica, Louis Deletraz and Lorenzo Colombo at the wheel. The second JOTA racer with Oliver Rasmussen, Ed Jones and Jonathan Aberdein took third place on the podium.
Porsche benefits from bad luck with Ferrari
The GTE Pro class had the most excitement this year. The two works Corvette cars started strong, but had to give up the top positions before midnight for various reasons. The car with the starting number 63 lost time with a flat tire, the sister car with the #64 initially struggled with brake problems and was later bumped into the barrier by an LMP2 racer on the straight.
In the end, Porsche and Ferrari settled for victory among themselves. Because the 911 RSR still lacked optimal pace at the beginning, the AF Corse 488 GTE of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra suddenly found itself in the lead on Sunday morning. The Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki put a lot of pressure on, but initially couldn't find a way past.
But then a gradual flat tire on the Ferrari four and a half hours before the end made the decision in favor of Porsche. The extra pit stop cost around 40 seconds. In the end, the 911 crew brought this lead safely to the finish line - in front of the two factory Ferraris with starting numbers 51 and 52. It was the first GT victory for the Zuffenhausen-based company since 2018.
In the GTE-AM, Aston Martin cheer. The class win went to the TF Sport team of Ben Keating, Henrique Chaves and Marco Sörensen. The WeatherTech Porsche driven by Cooper MacNeil, Julien Andlauer and Thomas Merrill took second place. Bottom of the podium was the #98 Northwest Aston driven by Paul Dalla Lana, David Pittard and Nicki Thiim.