24 Hours of Le MansFIA WEC

24 Hours of Le Mans: Hour 24 – Lights to Flag Victory for Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez

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Toyota Gazoo Racing crossing the line in formation with their overall one-two at the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans
Credit: 24 Heures du Mans

Starting from pole position, the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing defied a suspect refueling issue to claim Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez‘s first overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. AF Corse‘s James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Côme Ledogar also held onto their dominant lead from hour one to bring home GTE glory for Ferrari.

Of all the six hour stints of racing, this one was the quietest with the only race to the line for victory coming from the LMP2 cars. Toyota successfully had enough of an advantage over the rest of the field to combat suspected refueling issues for both cars and take their fifth one-two overall finish at the Circuit de la Sarthe. From the start of the race the #7 Toyota had the advantage on the field, something that was not lost when the chequered flag flew.

The threat of the Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus on the Alpine Elf Matmut for third in class and overall faded away, leaving Alpine with a clean run to the final step of the podium. The #708 was close enough that if the Alpine had made a mistake it would pick up the third place finish, but not quick enough to put pressure on the French team for the position on track.

Impressively, however, all five Hypercars completed the 24 Hours of Le Mans with minimal incident and all were classified ahead of the LMP2s in the final overall result. Considering that this was Glickenhaus’ third race as a team, second race running two cars, this was an extremely successful result for the privateer team, a team many predicted would not see the chequered flag.

#31 Team WRT LMP2 class winner of the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans
Credit: 24 Heures du Mans

LMP2 saw heartbreak befall in a similar scenario to Toyota in 2016 when, on the final lap of the race at the Dunlop Curves, the class leading #41 Team WRT came to a halt on track. Since around hour 12, the pair of Team WRT cars – on Le Mans debut – had been dominating the class, holding strong formation at the front of the field. The #31 that lead most of the race suffered some damage and issues with the failure of its rear air jacks, which handed the net lead to the sister car, but both were still running in tandem, looking to bring the team home a spectacular one-two.

At the time of publishing, it is not known what caused the #41 to come to a stop, but the very deserving car did not even make classification as it was unable to cross the finish line within three minutes of the winning car taking the chequered flag. As per Le Mans regulations, even though the car completed only five laps less that the winning Toyota, more than some of the other cars that were classified, it is marked as a Did Not Finish (DNF) because of the failure to meet this requirement.

It was so close from going from bad to worse for Team WRT as the then third placed #28 JOTA in the hands of Tom Blomqvist was reeling in the #31 being driven by Robin Frijns. It had looked like the #28 was going to make the pass during the final lap, carving time out of Frijns rapidly, which would have seen Team WRT go from a solid one-two to no victory and a second place finish only, but a bold move from Frijns on the line saw him take the flag 0.7s ahead of Blomqvist. The disaster for the #41 also saw #65 Panis Racing promoted up to third on the grid, claiming a class podium for the French team.

With smoke pouring out of the left hand side of the car, the recovering #82 Risi Competizione was forced back into the pits for more repairs. Unfortunately, the car could not be fixed in time for the Italian team to take to the track for the final lap so it, alike the #41, was not classified at the end of the race. The only other LMP2 retiree of the race by the chequered flag was the #24 PR1 Motorsports Mathiasen, which withdrew from the race with 45 minutes to go.

The Garage 56 #84 entry of Association SRT41, piloted by able driver Matthieu Lahaye and paraplegic drivers Takuma Aoki and Nigel Bailly, successfully completed the 24 Hours of Le Mans, crossing the line 32nd in the overall standings. It is a significant achievement from the crew who drove a clean and consistent 24 hours.

#51 AF Corse LM GTE Pro class winner at the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans
Credit: 24 Heures du Mans

Alike Toyota, AF Corse never looked to be in any danger of losing the class victory aside from if a mechanical issue struck. Calado, Pier Guidi and Ledogar completed a flawless race and managed to avoid the incidents that hit the rest of the field. Nicky Catsburg, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor had looked like the ones to win it at the start of the race yesterday, but the advantage buffer the #51 Ferrari crew built over the 24 hours was too much for them to close down. They too did a great job to defend second from the challenging Porsches as the top three positions in Pro came across the line in the same order they were in at the end of hour 18 – third place going to the #92 Porsche GT Team.

The only drama that came to the GTE Pro field in the final six hours of racing was the brake failure moment for Frédéric Makowiecki who was sent soaring straight over the Ford Chicane. The car managed to continue with the brake failure being only a momentary issue, but the trip over the grass saw the rear of the Porsche completely torn off the #91. Porsche were happy for Makowiecki to continue, with only 30 minutes of racing left, but Race Control deemed the car unsafe and gave him a black and orange flag, forcing him to pit for repairs. Being in fourth and the next car down the road being the #52 AF Corse, 13 laps down on the Porsche, the repairs were done (in 4 minutes) and Makowiecki was back out on track without losing any positions.

#83 AF Corse LM GTE Am class winner at the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans
Credit: 24 Heures du Mans

With a two and a half minute lead on the #33 TF Sport, the #83 AF Corse crew made taking class victory look simple, bringing the car across the line to give Ferrari both Pro and Am victories. As the top three were so spread out, there was no threat of a position change by the end of the race, and #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari completed the podium.

Thomas Flohr had a scare in the #54 AF Corse machine with a few hours left to go as he was forced to pit from fourth in class to come into the pits with a suspect issue. Luckily the car was fine and he was able to return to the track to finish 11th in class. However, the same luck did not befall the #388 Rinaldi Racing which could not return to the track after an incident at the Dunlop Esses in the final two hours saw too much rear damage done to the Ferrari and there was not enough time left in the race for repairs.

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The Checkered Flag’s correspondent for the FIA World Endurance Championship. Working in motorsport as a hobby and as a professional: a Digital Account Manager at Patterrn offering Social Media and Digital Marketing for Brands, Teams and Drivers in all disciplines of motor racing.
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