Toyota GAZOO Racing once again dominated the proceedings at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The pole-sitting No. 7 Toyota TS050 was in charge for nearly the entire first half of the race. However, a turbo issue just past the halfway point resulted in a 30-minute stint in the garage. That allowed the No. 8 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima to make up the lap and change they were behind and take the overall lead. From there, they were able to hold on to give Toyota their third straight overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“I’m very happy for the team that at least one of [our cars] won the race,” Nakajima said after the race. “We started with a lot of problems at the beginning of the race. The other car ended up having bigger issues than us. Otherwise, we had a very good car. I’m quite happy with what we’ve done [today].”
The No. 7 Toyota was clearly the team to beat all weekend. Kamui Kobayashi was able to run away from the field at the start. Meanwhile, Buemi had to deal with Rebellion Racing’s Bruno Senna, whose car had split the Toyotas in qualifying. An early puncture resulted in the No. 8 ending up on an alternate pit strategy as compared to their rivals.
Despite that, Buemi was able to get in front of Senna on lap 10 to take second. Kobayashi was faster than the No. 8 and gradually pulled away to a lead of nearly a full minute by the end of the first hour.
The only non-factory outfit in LMP1, the ByKolles Racing Team, was not on the pace of the Toyotas or Rebellions. Their race ended in the sixth hour under unusual circumstances. The rear wing broke off of the car, sending Bruno Spengler spinning.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) September 19, 2020
Spengler was able to get the car back going and managed to drive it over seven miles to get back to the pits. However, the ByKolles team chose to retire the car after that.
The No. 7’s lead continued to expand until the halfway point of the race, when it was over a lap and a half. Then, the mechanical issues hit. Given the lead, it was more than five minutes before the No. 8 took the advantage. The 30-minute garage stint dropped the No. 7 Toyota from a lap and a half in front to seven laps down.
Hartley ended up with a lead of just more than a lap over Gustavo Menezes in the No. 1 Rebellion R13 and a speed advantage. From that point, all Buemi, Hartley and Nakajima had to do was keep their pace up and keep out of trouble to score the victory
The margin of victory was five laps over the No. 1 Rebellion R13 of Senna, Menezes and Norman Nato. The No. 7 Toyota of Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez was able to recover to third overall. The No. 3 Rebellion entry was fourth.
LMP2 saw United Autosports continue their impressive run of success. Filipe Albuquerque led from the pole in his ORECA 07-Gibson. Teammate Alex Brundle gave chase, while a number of other teams were right in the hunt as well.
Outside of United Autosports, the strongest teams in the class were Jackie Chan DC Racing’s No. 37, the G-Drive Racing No. 26, JOTA Sport’s No. 38 and the SO24-Has by GRAFF No. 39. All of these teams ran into problems.
The Jackie Chan No. 37 was disqualified from the race after Gabriel Aubry was found to have received outside assistance. Historically, that has always been a no-no. G-Drive Racing had a couple of long pit stops, while JOTA Sport was strong, but not strong enough. SO24-Has by GRAFF was still in the top five in class in the final hour, but James Allen crashed out of the race with 40 minutes to go in the Porsche Curves.
For a large chunk of the race, the two United Autosports entries ran one-two in class. The No. 32 led for a good chunk of the overnight hours, but Job van Uitert pitted just shy of the two-thirds’ mark with an oil leak. A 46-minute repair in the garage ended any hope of victory.
With United Autosports’ No. 32 eliminated from contention, only the JOTA Sport No. 38 had any real chance of wrestling victory away from United Autosports. However, they simply could not prevent United Autosports from tasting victory.
The win continues an incredible run for the No. 22 team. It is Albuquerque and Phil Hanson‘s sixth consecutive victory (three in the WEC and three in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS)). It also clinched the LMP2 championship for Albuquerque, Hanson and Paul Di Resta.
The margin of victory (shaved significantly due to a safety car period in the final hour) was 32.831 seconds over JOTA Sport’s Anthony Davidson, Roberto Gonzalez and Antonio Felix da Costa. Panis Racing’s Julian Canal, Nico Jamin and Matthieu Vaxiviere were two laps down in third, followed by Signatech Alpine Elf’s Thomas Laurent, Andre Negrao and Pierre Ragues. G-Drive Racing’s Jean-Eric Vergne, Roman Rusinov and Mikkel Jensen were three laps down in fifth.
While Signatech Alpine Elf and G-Drive Racing’s cars are billed as the Alpine A470 and the Aurus 01, respectively, they are really re-badged ORECA 07s. ORECA 07s comprised the top nine finishers in the LMP2 class. The best non-ORECA 07 was the Cetilar Racing Dallara P217 shared by Andrea Belicchi, Roberto Lacorte and Giorgio Sernagiotto, who ended up 10th in class, seven laps down.
Likely the surprise of the race was the complete lack of pace shown by the Porsche GT Team. Gianmaria Bruni won the class pole Friday and started the car Saturday. However, the No. 91 Porsche would never lead a lap. AF Corse’s James Calado was able to get past on the first lap. Bruni dropped down the order relatively quickly. By the end of the third lap, he was already sixth in class.
Neither of the Porsches were truly competitive during the race. As a result, the event was a battle between the two factory Aston Martins and AF Corse. For much of the week leading up to the race, Aston Martin Racing’s No. 97 had been the fastest car. That pace came out in the race.
Alex Lynn was able to take the lead away from Calado on lap 5. This set up what amounted to a two-car duel for most of the race. The second AF Corse Ferrari (No. 71) was in the hunt for the first few hours before dropping back.
The No. 51 Ferrari of Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra would trade the lead back and forth with Lynn, Harry Tincknell and Maxime Martin for much of the race. Lynn ultimately took the lead for good with 84 minutes to go, then held on for victory.
The safety car late in the race made the race a little less exciting. The No. 97 Aston Martin won by 93.164 seconds over Calado, Pier Guidi and Serra. The No. 95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim, Marco Sorensen and Richard Westbrook ended up three laps down in third. The No. 71 Ferrari of Sam Bird, Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina should have finished fourth. However, Rigon stopped on course during the final lap of the race and didn’t make it back around. Under Le Mans rules, that means that the No. 71 was not classified as a finisher. This is actually considered distinct from a simple retirement from the race since they completed enough of the event to earn points.
That elevated the Risi Competizione Ferrari of Sebastien Bourdais, Jules Gounon and Olivier Pla to fourth in class, seven laps down. The No. 91 Porsche of Bruni, Richard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki ended up fifth in class, 11 laps down.
The sole IMSA team in the class, Scuderia Corsa, actually ran well early on. Toni Vilander was able to get up to fifth in class. However, off-course excursions ended the team’s race early. In the 14th hour, Vilander collided with Racing Team Nederland’s Nyck de Vries entering Tertre Rouge, spinning both cars into the gravel.
After getting extricated from the trap, Vilander drove the Ferrari 488 GTE back to the pits for repairs. Once that was complete, Jeff Segal got in the car and went back out. He only managed to get through a couple of turns before an apparent suspension put the WeatherTech Ferrari off-course. Segal limped the car back to the pits, sparks flying. Once there, the team chose to retire the car.
GTE-Am saw Luzich Racing’s Ozz Negri start on pole in his Ferrari, but Team Project 1’s Matteo Cairoli was able to get the advantage quickly with Aston Martin Racing’s Ross Gunn in tow. Negri ran ok early on, but spun under braking for the Dunlop chicane in the first hour. This forced Dempsey-Proton Racing’s Thomas Preining through the gravel trap and into the tire barriers.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) September 19, 2020
At the time, it appeared that the crash put the No. 88 Porsche out of the race. That was not so. The team did lose nearly three hours trying to make repairs. Ultimately, they ended up 101 laps down on the class winners. This meant that while they did finish the race, they did not complete enough laps to be considered a finisher.
Much of the race ultimately was a two-car between between the two Aston Martin Vantages in the class. One was the factory-supported No. 98 shared by Gunn, Paul Dalla Lana and Augusto Farfus. The other was the No. 90 TF Sport entry shared by Charles Eastwood, Salih Yoluc and Jonny Adam. For much of the race, the two cars swapped the advantage.
Gunn was leading the class late in the 16th hour when a rear suspension issue forced the No. 98 to go into the garage for 20 minutes of repairs. That cost Aston Martin Racing any chance to double up. They would eventually recover to finish eighth in class.
From that point on, TF Sport led the remaining eight hours of the race to claim the class victory. The final margin of victory was 49.752 seconds over the No. 77 Porsche of Dempsey-Proton Racing’s Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Riccardo Pera. AF Corse’s Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Nielsen were third in their Ferrari. Team Project 1’s Cairoli, Egidio Perfetti and Larry Ten Voorde were fourth, a minute back. The Gulf Racing Porsche of Ben Barker, Michael Wainwright and Andrew Watson was two laps down in fifth.
The FIA World Endurance Championship will come to an end with the second Bapco 8 Hours of Bahrain on Nov. 14. Live coverage of the race will be split between Motor Trend and Motor Trend OnDemand.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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