Following three-straight Le Mans victories with its TS050 Hybrid, this year the Toyota Gazoo Racing team competes with the new GR010 Hybrid Hypercar for the first time at the Circuit de la Sarthe. (See 1 below) The team “is determined to extend its winning run.” It faces Hypercar competition from Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, which enters two cars, as well as Alpine, which participates with a grandfathered LMP1 car at the 13.626 km Circuit de la Sarthe.
Reigning World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid, have endured calamity at Le Mans, particularly when mechanical issues denied them victory despite domination in 2019 and 2020. They go into the biggest race of the year following wins in the 6 Hours of Monza last month. (Le Mans 2018 – Wrecks, Pit Stops, Safety Car – Pick Winners. Toyota Finally Wins P1 After Years of Breakdowns with a Record 388 Laps; C’est Bien – Corvette Racing off to Le Mans 24 Hour)
Then there’s Toyota’s Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. They are on a remarkable run, winning at the La Sarthe circuit (aka Le Mans) for three consecutive years, including last year’s coup alongside Brendon Hartley. The #8 GR010 Hybrid trio lead the drivers’ standings following wins in the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and 8 Hours of Portimao. They appear to be the favorites, at least until open track time and qualify occur.
There are double FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) points to win. This makes Le Mans a significant battle for world titles. Toyota Gazoo Racing holds a 30-point advantage over Alpine following three of six WEC races, while the #8 crew lead the drivers’ standings by a mere six points from their #7 team-mates.*
In addition to its quest for a fourth consecutive Le Mans win, the 2021 race is the 10th time Toyota has competed at La Sarthe with a Hybrid-powered prototype. In the nine attempts so far, the team has won three times, earned five pole positions and finished on the podium a total of nine times.
The race is grueling. Depending on the car setup, driver and track conditions – there are ~25,000 gear changes, 4,000 km at full throttle and more than 2-million wheel rotations in a typical race. Then there’s traffic with multiple classes with varying driver skills running in weather conditions that can see the long circuit in dry, hot sunshine at one end, while drenched in a downpour at the other. There are essentially five different races within the race. I guess that’s why Le Mans is called an endurance race. (FIA WEC – One-Two for Toyota at Rain Soaked Silverstone)
Toyota preparations for Le Mans began back in October 2020 when the GR010 Hybrid tested for the first time and, since then, eight further tests have been used to tweak the car’s performance and reliability, in addition to the three WEC races. The last step in that journey will come on this Sunday, the only official test day at the 13.626km Circuit de la Sarthe.
Next week, two days of preparation lead into five hours of practice and a qualifying session on Wednesday. Thursday sees five hours of practice, either side of the 30-minute Hyperpole session at 9pm CEST, when Toyota Gazoo Racing will challenge for a fifth consecutive pole position.
The 89th Le Mans 24 Hours will begin at 4pm CEST on Saturday 21 August in front of a mini- crowd of 50,000, when it’s expected 62 cars and 186 drivers will start a race legends, which first took place in 1923.
1 The Confusing Le Mans Top Classes
The top class in the FIA World Endurance Championship this year, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, is Hypercar. Two types are eligible: LMH (Le Mans Hypercar starting in 2021) and LMDh (Le Mans Daytona h starting in 2023). In 2023, both types of cars will hit the track together in the FIA WEC and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Therefore, they will be seen at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
For the 2021 Hypercar class, only cars compliant with Le Mans Hypercar technical regulations will be on the track. This allows for a variety of architectures, specifically watch for a hybrid system on the front axle. In 2023, constructors having voted to follow the LMDh regulations will compete in the Hypercar class. In LMDh there will be four chassis manufacturers: Dallara, Multimatic, Ligier and ORECA. The engine, bodywork and hybrid system will come from the automaker in a move to save what has become an absurdly expensive class of racing.
* Other 2021 Hypercar Competitors
- #708 – Glickenhaus 007 LMH – Luis Felipe Derani (BRA) – Franck Mailleux (FRA) – Olivier Pla (FRA)
- #709 – Glickenhaus 007 LMH – Ryan Briscoe (AUS) – Richard Westbrook (GBR) – Romain Dumas (FRA)
- #36 – Alpine A480-Gibson – André Negrão (BRA) – Nicolas Lapierre (FRA) – Matthieu Vaxivière (FRA)