TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s two GR010 HYBRID Hypercars were locked in a close battle at the front of the 90th Le Mans 24 Hours after six hours of intense competition at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
After a quarter of the race, the #7 GR010 HYBRID of 2021 winners Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López led the race by a slender 8.049secs.
The team’s challenge for a fifth consecutive Le Mans win began smoothly, and Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirawaka, in the #8 GR010 HYBRID which started from pole position, was running second after six hours. Before the race got underway, three-time Le Mans winner Kazuki Nakajima was the centre of attention when he delivered the 2021 winners’ trophy on the TOYOTA TOM’s 85C Group C car, as part of the starting ceremony. Kazuki’s father, Satoru, drove the car in Toyota’s first-ever Le Mans, in 1985, 37 years ago.
The two GR010 HYBRIDs led the 62-car field away at the traditional 4pm (local time) start, in front of a big crowd. Sébastien made a clean start and led from Mike in the #7, who closed the gap and pitted first. Sébastien followed a lap later and resumed in second, just behind his team-mate.
Mike held the lead for the remainder of his stint, which ended after around two hours when he handed the #7, and the lead of the race, over to José. Sébastien pitted on the following lap and Brendon resumed in the second-placed #8. José built an advantage of around 20 seconds by the start of the fourth hour but that gap was cut due to a combination of Brendon’s pace, which included setting the fastest lap of the race, and an unfortunate slow zone.
When José had a trip through the gravel on his out lap, Brendon took the lead and the GR010 HYBRIDs ran nose to tail for several laps before the next driver change, in the fifth hour.
Ryo took the wheel of the #8 and led Le Mans for the first time in his career, with Kamui just a second behind, and both having a healthy lead over the third-placed Glickenhaus. But that changed after the next stops, when Kamui edged ahead as Ryo was delayed by a GT car.
Traffic was a constant challenge and the gap at the front ebbed and flowed. Kamui entered the seventh hour of the race with a small advantage over Ryo as the sun set at La Sarthe.
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7): “All in all the stint was okay. At the beginning, I was just trying to manage things. I could see the other car was struggling with tyre degradation so I just tried to look after the tyres as much as possible and they stayed really consistent throughout the stint. We made a decent start and tried not to do anything silly. We were just keeping a good pace and tried to pull away from the rest. There is a good gap over the Glickenhaus already but it’s early days so we keep pushing.”
José María López (Driver, car #7): “I am a bit disappointed to have lost the lead but it’s a long race and a lot will happen. It was hard with the traffic, especially in the second and third stints, because I couldn’t find the right rhythm in the traffic so Brendon managed to catch up a bit. We lost a lot of time in a slow zone, then he got ahead during the pit stops when I went off briefly. I’m quite happy with the car and with our position because we are in the fight at the front.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8): “My stint was a bit difficult and it didn’t go so well, I pushed too hard on my tyres during early in the race and this damaged the rears so the next stints were not easy. The balance wasn’t perfect, but I think the car will come to us later in the race when the track temperatures drop during the night. It was a frustrating start for me but the potential of the car is there and there is a long way to go, so it’s all looking fine.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “It was a clean stint for me. This morning after the warm-up we moved the balance of the car a bit and Sébastien damaged the rear tyres on his first stint. We learned the lesson from that for the rest of the race and we are managing the rear tyres now. We think the balance will come back to us in the night when it gets a bit cooler. I think we have a fast car. I managed to get ahead of José and take the lead at the start of my third stint but it is still very close between our two cars.”
|Le Mans 24 Hours – 6 Hours
|#7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing
|#8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing
|#708 Glickenhaus Racing (Pla/Dumas/Derani)
|#709 Glickenhaus Racing (Briscoe/Westbrook/Mailleux)
|#38 JOTA (Gonzalez/Da Costa/Stevens)
|#37 COOL Racing (Ye/Taylor/Kruetten)