Toyota Gazoo Racing completed a hat-trick of Le Mans 24 Hours wins as Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley piloted the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid to a third consecutive victory on the car’s swansong outing at La Sarthe.
It was a third win in a row for Nakajima and Buemi, who triumphed in 2018 and 2019 alongside Fernando Alonso, and a second win for Alonso’s replacement Hartley following his Porsche win in 2017.
For Toyota the spectator-less 2020 edition, in which the predicted rain threat never materialised, was another bittersweet rollercoaster journey. The Cologne-based outfit easily had the measure of the privateer Rebellion competition, but for the third year in a row its #7 crew of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez was denied a chance of a maiden Le Mans win due to mechanical issues.
During the long night, the #7 crew disappeared into the garage for 30 minutes to perform a turbo change, an issue which was eventually attributed to a problem on the exhaust manifold. At that point the #7 car had been leading by a lap after a front-right brake change for its #8 sibling, but then the #7 car lost seven laps and dropped to fourth behind the Rebellions. Further floor damage prevented Kobayashi, Conway and Lopez from recovering lost ground.
The two-car Rebellion team had some issues of its own, including a dislodged nose on the #1 Rebellion R-13 and a late slow stop for car #3, but the Swiss outfit came through and looked on its way to score a double podium on its Le Mans farewell.
The #1 Rebellion R-13 of Gustavo Menezes, Bruno Senna and Norman Nato finished second five laps behind the winning Toyota, but the #3 sister car of Romain Dumas, Nathanael Berthon and Louis Deletraz lost a podium spot with one hour to go after Deletraz went off at Indianapolis and tagged the tyre wall with his right rear, prompting a six-minute stop to fix a clutch issue.
Rebellion’s late misfortune handed Toyota’s #7 car third place overall.
The fifth and final car in a depleted LMP1 class, the #4 ByKolles ENSO CLM P1/01, retired on Saturday night after a crash for Bruno Spengler in the Esses when his rear wing failed, which curtailed another problematic run for the German privateer outfit that was also hit with an alternator problem.
LMP2: United Autosports continues miraculous run and takes LMP2 title
The 24-car LMP2 battle was a much more tightly contested affair for most of the race, in which the two-car United Autosports team proved the class of the field. The #22 Oreca of Paul di Resta, Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson, which had started the race from pole, took control when the #32 sister car of Alex Brundle, Job van Uitert and Will Owen hit trouble with an oil leak on Sunday morning.
That released the #38 JOTA Sport Oreca of Antonio Felix da Costa, Anthony Davidson and Roberto Gonzalez into second place. The #38 crew, which had to make an extra pitstop at night for driver discomfort, hovered around 1m30s behind the leading #22 car for much of the morning.
The battle for the class win came to life again in the final laps, when it became apparent that Hanson would need to make an additional stop for fuel. Hanson came out just six seconds ahead of Davidson, but was relieved when Davidson also dove into the pits for a splash with two laps to go.
Hanson brought the #22 car of the Anglo-American team to the finish some 40 seconds ahead of JOTA’s Davidson, provisionally clinching the FIA WEC LMP2 title.
The #26 G-Drive Aurus-badged Oreca of Roman Rusinov, Jean-Eric Vergne and Mikkel Jensen, which was hit by electrical problems overnight, was on its way to third until Vergne had to box with suspension damage in the final hour, dropping down to fifth.
G-Drive’s delay promoted the #31 Panis Racing Oreca of Mathieu Vaxiviere, Julien Canal and Nico Jamin to third. There was more late drama in LMP2 when James Allen suffered a hard crash at Porsche Curves in the fourth-placed #39 Graff Oreca, which elevated the #36 Signatech Alpine Oreca to fourth despite its early water leak.
There was a highly commendable sixth in class for the #28 IDEC Sport Oreca, a crew which faced an uphill battle to rebuild the car after a practice crash, lacked track time and was forced to start from the pitlane. Its #17 sister car faced a similar fate and also finished the race.
GTE: Aston Martin triumphs over Ferrari
The eight-car GTE Pro battle turned into a two-horse race between the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra and the #97 Aston Martin of Alex Lynn, Maxime Martin and Ford refugee Harry Tincknell.
The #97 Aston had a leg up on the Ferrari throughout the morning, a triumphant Lynn crossing the line some 1m40s ahead of his rival Calado to gift Aston Martin its first Le Mans GTE Pro win since 2017.
The sister cars of Aston Martin and Ferrari were initially in the hunt as well, but in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari Sam Bird suffered a puncture on Sunday morning, which wreaked havoc on the right-rear corner of the 488 GTE and cost it three laps. The #95 Aston also gradually lost time, which started on Saturday night when it was delayed under safety car conditions.
The #95 car driven by Marco Sorensen, Nicki Thiim and Richard Westbrook bagged third, while Rigon's #71 Ferrari suffered a broken gearbox on the last lap while running fourth. That promoted the #82 Risi Competizione Ferrari to fourth, following a damper failure that caused Sebastien Bourdais to spin off in the night.
Both factory Porsche entries endured a disastrous race. Gianmaria Bruni started on pole in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR-19 but immediately dropped down the order with an undiagnosed acceleration problem, which also plagued the sister #92 car throughout the race. The latter also spent a lot of time in the garage with a power steering issue.
The #91 car finished sixth ahead of the #92 entry, the last two finishing cars in class. The #63 WeatherTech Racing car retired after Toni Vilander clashed with Nyck de Vries in the #29 Racing Team Nederland Oreca LMP2.
In GTE Am, the #90 TF Sport Aston of Jonathan Adam, Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc romped home to a comfortable win to make it a clean sweep of wins in GTE for Aston Martin, after suspension issues for the factory-entered #98 Aston that was also in contention for most of the first half of the race.
A late safety car bunched up the three cars squabbling over the remaining GTE Am podium positions. In the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche Matteo Cairoli tried to hold off the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche of Matt Campbell and the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Nicklas Nielsen, but lost out in the second Mulsanne chicane and Mulsanne corner respectively.
Cairoli tried to retaliate in the Ford chicane, but made contact with Nielsen and remained in fourth. Campbell finished second for Dempsey-Proton, ahead of Nielsen’s AF Corse Ferrari.