No, I don’t actually follow the World Endurance Championship or any endurance format racing series with much attention. However, I’m always impressed by the engineering involved and the human spirit behind committing to a ludicrous exercise just to push our the limits of man and machine. Of the many races in the world of endurance racing, the 24 hours of Le Mans is the most iconic one of them all. It used to be the ultimate bragging right for carmakers, to have survived/won at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Guess what? It still is.
The 2020 round of the 24 Heures de Le Mans in the current WEC season was delayed due to the pandemic but did finally take place sans fans. The overall victory was claimed by the Toyota Gazoo Racing team for the third time in a row. Its LMP1 class TS050 Hybrid was able to outperform the rest of the field yet again. While they were the favourites to win, no 24-hour race is ever plain sailing and the Toyota crew had their own share of worries. While it was the No.7 crew that started from pole position (piloted by Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway & Jose Maria Lopez), it was the No.8 car (piloted by Sebastian Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendan Hartley) that was able to finish first. The No.7 car had a comfortable lead but it developed an issue with the exhaust manifold that meant it was in the garage for 30 minutes, slipping down a few spots. Still, they were able to clinch the final podium spot. Making this win a bit more special was the fact that it was the TS050’s last outing in the 24Hrs of Le Mans as the series moves onto the new hypercar class next season.
Splitting the Toyotas was the No.1 Rebellion car (piloted by Bruno Senna, Norman Sato and Gustavo Menezes). The team’s second entry, the No.3 car (piloted by Romain Dumas, Nathaniel Berthon and Louis Deletraz) finished fourth overall. This team’s own hurdles did allow the OEM team to surge ahead. Toyota’s No.8 car completed a total of 387 laps over the course of the race while the P2 Rebellion car had done 382 laps.
Moving onto the class winners, we have the LMP2 category. The class-win was taken by the #22 United Autosports’ ORECA O7 racecar, piloted by P.Hanson, F. Alburquerque and P. di Resta who finished 5th overall. This was the team’s fourth win this season and has all but confirmed them as the LMP2 constructor’s champions as well. In second place was the #38 Jota ORECA O7 (piloted by A.Davidson, A. Felix da Costa and R. Gonzalez). Meanwhile, third in the LMP2 category was claimed by the Panis Racing team’s #31 (also an ORECA 07) with N. Jamin, J. Canal and M. Vaxiviere at the wheel. This was a relatively closer finish as the #22 and #38 cars were on the same number of laps (370).
From protos to racing versions of road-going sports cars, the winners of the GTE-PRO class at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans were the crew of the #97 Aston Martin Vantage AMR from the Aston Martin Racing factory team. In fact, it crossed the chequered flag side-by-side with its fellow #95 car that secured third in class even though it was 3 laps behind. The winning car was piloted by Alex Lynn, Maxime Martin and Harry Tincknell while the P3 driver lineup comprised of Nicki Thimm, Marco Sorensen and Richard Westbrook. The two Vantages were split by the #51 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO of the AF Corse factory team competitor that was piloted by Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Sierra.
The double-podium was Aston Martin’s best-ever result at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The British outfit has secured class wins multiple times with the previous-gen Vantage GTE as well as the DBR9. The GTE Pros had done 41 laps fewer than the Toyota TS050 Hybrid that took overall victory and the class-winning Vantage AMR finished 20th overall.
The dominance of the Vantage AMR did not end in the PRO class as winners of the AM category at the 24 Hours of Le Mans also ran an Aston Martin Vantage. The TF-Sport team’s #90 Vantage was piloted to class-victory by Salih Yoluc, Charles Eastwood and Jonathan Adam. They finished ahead of Dempsey Proton Racing’s #77 Porsche 911 RSR that was being driven by Christian Ried, Ricardo Pera and Matt Campbell. Hot on the heels of the #77 Porsche was the #83 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO that took the final podium spot in the GTE AM class. The AF Corse team’s podium result was thanks to the efforts of F. Perrodo, E. Collard and N. Nielsen at the wheel.
You can check out the full classification for the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans here.
I also thought it worth mentioning that there were two teams running an all-female driver lineup at this year’s Le Mans, one in the LMP2 category and the other in the GTE AM. The LMP2 competitor was the #50 Richard Mille Team running an ORECA 07 that was piloted by Tatiana Calderon, Sophia Florsch and Beitske Visser. They secured 13th overall and were 9th in class. Meanwhile, the GTE AM female driver lineup was racing for the Iron Lynx team backed by Kessel Racing. Their #85 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO was piloted by Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Manuela Gostner to finish 34th overall and 9th in class. Nicknamed the Iron Dames, it was the trios second consecutive run at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Experienced drivers all of them and I hope to see a more varied and mixed lineup of racing drivers and crews in teams across various formats.
The 2021 WEC series will see the new Hypercar class phase out the current LMP1 category. We can expect to see the likes of Toyota, SCG and a few privateers running modified versions of the LMP1 cars. Other OEMs like Aston Martin and Peugeot have delayed their entry into the top category until 2022 due to the economic impact of the pandemic. This hypercar class allows teams to enter bespoke designs without homologation requirements. The min. weight is set at 1040kg and cars can use hybrid powertrains with the output fixed at 750bhp. Hybrid entrants have a power cap of 270bhp from the electric bits and there’ll be Balance-of-Power (BoP) system in place to try and level the playing field between hybrid and non-hybrid participants. The Auto Loons just might give it a go and follow the races of the 2021 WEC season for a change.