Toyota secure fifth consecutive victory as fans flock to Le Mans 24 Hours

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<span>Photograph: Jean-François Monier/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Jean-François Monier/AFP/Getty Images

Definitive proof, were any needed, that fans are the lifeblood of a great event came at the 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A hearty, full-throated roar of approval vied with the rolling thunder of the 62-car field, the unique atmosphere returning to its full glory for the first time since the pandemic, lending a celebratory air to the Circuit de la Sarthe where Toyota secured a fifth consecutive win in the vingt-quatre.

A crowd of 244,000 were in attendance, the campsites once more heaving and cloaked in the familiar miasma of barbecue smoke, sausages and pale skin alike sizzling in the sunshine. They thronged the circuit and were rewarded with some compelling racing across the full 24 hours.

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At the sharp end Toyota, the Japanese manufacturer that had for so long been denied a win here, proved they can claim a real mastery of this greatest 24. Victory was secured by the No 8 GR010 of Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, beating the sister car of last year’s winners Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López into second. The privateer Glickenhaus team put in a very creditable run to claim third in the hands of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Franck Mailleux.

Hartley acknowledged how hard fought the win had been. “We were battling so hard with the other car,” he said. “It was pretty stressful for the guys on the pit wall watching us go flat out until the other car had the problem, up until then it had been flat out against the sister car.”

Toyota, who only won the race for the first time in 2018, have been unassailable ever since and are now joining some rarified company in sportscar racing. They have surpassed Ford’s four wins at Le Mans and are one short of Bentley’s six. Admittedly they have not faced major manufacturer competition in recent years, but nonetheless their development into a formidable racing outfit must be acknowledged.

Toyota demonstrated it once more this year, even as the competition at the front was very much a two horse race. Enjoying a clear pace advantage in the top Le Mans Hypercar class they had the front row of the grid and from the off stretched their legs, the two cars entering a relentless battle as they proved evenly matched. Pounding in lap after lap at a sprint race pace, there was nothing to choose between them. The driver crews were fiercely competitive as the pair vied through the night and into dawn over the 8.4-mile track.

They exchanged the lead repeatedly over the first half of the race and there was rarely more than a 20-second gap between them for almost a full 16 hours before, with cruel luck, it was a single, tiniest of mechanical gremlins that proved the differentiator. López was the heartbroken victim, leading when he ground to a halt at Arnage, with an issue with the front hybrid motor. He was forced to reset the car and did get going again but had to pit and the team lost three minutes working on the issue.

The challengers rejoined a full lap down with eight hours to go but Toyota admirably opted not to relax into the one-two as it stood with the No 7 crew continuing an unabated pursuit as the clock ticked down. Kobayashi delivered some stunning laps and with four hours remaining had closed to within almost two minutes. It was a grand effort but with the No 8 car running metronomically at the front they maintained their advantage with flawless execution, ultimately taking the flag having completed 380 laps and two minutes up on their sister squad.

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They were greeted with an enthusiasm from the spectators undimmed by themselves making it through the 24 hours and Toyota rightly revelled in their success. However they can expect the challenge to ramp up considerably next year, when Peugeot, Ferrari and Porsche all return as manufacturers to compete for the win at La Sarthe. The Japanese Marque on this form will take some beating but a battle royale is very much on the cards.

The hugely competitive LMP2 class was won by the Jota Oreca-Gibson of Antonio Felix da Costa, Roberto Gonzalez and Will Stevens. Victory in GTE-Pro went to the Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki. TF Sport’s Aston Martin claimed the class win in GTE-Am with Ben Keating, Marco Sorensen and Henrique Chaves.

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