In an unusual year, with the race held behind closed doors in September, the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans ended with a third consecutive win for Toyota Gazoo Racing. Thanks to the drivers in the #8 car, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, the Japanese manufacturer will thus keep the 24 Hours Grand Trophy for good.
Two high-profile personalities from the world of motor racing opened proceedings at the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans at 14:30 on 19 September 2020: Emanuele Pirro, five-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, officiated as Grand Marshal, while the CEO of Peugeot group PSA Carlos Tavares was the official race starter. Both men have a hand in the ongoing history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans: the Italian driver took his first 24 Hours win in 2000 while the automotive boss will oversee Peugeot’s return to Endurance racing in 2022.
Toyota will also go into the race’s history books with its TS050 Hybrid. After 20 attempts, the prototype earned the Japanese marque its first Le Mans win in 2018. The car, which raced its final 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, has now triumphed for the third time running (2018, 2019 and 2020), meaning Toyota gets to keep the Le Mans trophy for good. Buemi, Hartley and Nakajima formed the winning crew in the #8 car
The race marked the final appearance at Le Mans for the 1,000PS, four-wheel-drive TS050 HYBRID which has set a new standard in terms of efficiency and performance at La Sarthe. Using 35% less fuel than the first generation of LMP1 hybrids from 2012, the TS050 HYBRID performs around 10 seconds a lap faster. It holds the fastest-ever lap and the race lap record alongside its four consecutive pole positions and three victories.
Those achievements inspired the GR Super Sport, a hypercar born in Le Mans, so it was fitting that it made its public track debut moments before the race start. A customised development version completed a demonstration lap before returning the winners’ trophy just before the 2.30pm start, for which the #7 lined up on pole position, with the #8 in third.
Aside from 10 laps around the six-hour mark, the #7 held the advantage at the front of the field, building a one-lap lead by half distance. But shortly before 3am, with Kamui at the wheel, it suffered a drop in power which forced it into the garage. A damaged exhaust manifold was replaced in less than 30 minutes and Kamui re-joined in fourth place, six laps off the lead and four laps behind the third-placed #3 Rebellion.
That left the #8 in a clear lead, having recovered from its own troubles first with a puncture, then a debris-damaged brake duct which cost time at two pit stops before a 10-minute repair in the seventh hour. But they never gave up and fought back into second place before the issue for #7.
Now with a healthy lead, Sébastien, Kazuki and Brendon controlled the rest of the race from the front, establishing a five-lap lead. For the third consecutive year, Kazuki crossed the finish line to win the Le Mans 24 Hours, cementing his status as the most successful Japanese driver at La Sarthe.
Mike, Kamui and José initially made up ground on third place but the #7 sustained floor damage after hitting debris, which compromised aerodynamic performance. However, the podium battle came alive in the final hour when the #3 Rebellion first crashed on track and then could not exit the pits, allowing José to earn third, taking the flag six laps behind the sister #8 car and one lap adrift of the second-placed #1 Rebellion.
A significant points swing in favour of the #8 crew at Le Mans means the race for the drivers’ World Championship title therefore goes down to the last race of the 2019-2020 season, on 14 November in Bahrain. The #8 car holds a seven-point lead with a maximum of 39 available in Bahrain.
Hisatake Murata, Team President: “Again we have seen what a difficult challenge the Le Mans 24 Hours is; it is a true endurance test. We showed great team spirit and determination to overcome the early troubles for the #8 car, and winning three consecutive Le Mans with the TS050 HYBRID is a dream come true. Well done to everyone in the team on this achievement. However, we set ourselves the target of another one-two finish and I am sorry for the #7 drivers, mechanics and engineers who worked so hard and performed so well again. We are one team, so we all feel their pain. We missed experiencing these highs and lows with the fans at the track but I hope we can meet again here next year. Congratulations to Rebellion for their podium; they pushed us and once again earned our respect. Thank you to the ACO for giving us the chance to enjoy Le Mans despite the global circumstances this year.”
Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “I feel great. My team-mates and the team have done such an amazing job. The race once again showed how quickly the luck can turn here at Le Mans. When we started the race, I had the feeling everything was against us; slow zones, punctures and a problem with the brake cooling. But then all of a sudden things started to go well and we were leading the race then soon we were leading by five laps. Le Mans again proved that you never know what will happen until the race is over.”
Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It is special to be in the last TS050 HYBRID to win Le Mans and to achieve three victories in a row is fantastic. We had a race of ups and downs but everybody did a really good job, include our sister car. Somehow we seem to have a bit more luck than the other car. When the #7 car had the issue, it was all about winning the race for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing and this was quite tough. I am really happy to achieve it and be part of this team.”
Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID #8): “I am proud of my team-mates and the whole team around us. It has been a learning curve for me coming to this team. Séb and Kazuki have helped me getting up to speed in a very fast and complex race car. Today we had some little issues at the beginning but then we had a perfect race, thanks to an amazing group of engineers and mechanics behind the scenes. Everything was executed really well, so a big thank you to TOYOTA GAZOO Racing.”
Le Mans 24 Hours results:
1st#8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing387 laps
2nd#1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato)+5 laps
3rd#7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing+6 laps
4th#3 Rebellion (Dumas/Berthon/Deletraz)+6 laps
5th#22 United Autosports (Hanson/Albuquerque/di Resta)+17 laps
6th#38 JOTA (Davidson/da Costa/Gonzalez)+17 laps