Toyota Gazoo Racing won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the fourth year in a row this past weekend, though this marked the first victory for a gas/electric hybrid car in the Le Mans Hypercar category in the round-the-clock race at the Circuit de la Sarth.
Toyota finished 1-2 in the 89th Le Mans race with the No. 7 Toyota, driven by Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamul Kobayashi, claiming its first Le Mans victory, and just ahead of No. 8 car teammates Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley in a photo-op finish, although the No. 7 car was actually 2 laps ahead; Buemi and Nakajima had won the previous three years.
“It is an incredible feeling,” Conway said. “We have had some bad luck at Le Mans – so, to get it done here, with the new Hypercar and with these teammates, it feels so good. You work so hard for this one and, each year, you forget how hard it is.”
The race started with 61 cars and finished with 44 completing the full 24 hours.
Hypercars swept the top five places, an Alpine AA80 fourth and the pair of American Glickenhaus oo7 LMHs fifth and sixth.
The race marked the debut of the hypercars, a new category of hybrid-powered racing machines that is attracting manufacturers back to Le Mans, including Porsche and Peugeot.
Cars produced from Oreca dominated the Le Mans Prototype 2 category, taking overall positions 7 through 11. Seventh overall and first in class was the 07-Gibson team entry after its teammate suddenly stopped while leading on the last lap.
Ferraris won the Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance category ahead of Corvette and Porsche.
Observing the race was 9-time winner Tom Kristensen, who was quoted in a Rolex news release: “It has been great to be back at Circuit de la Sarthe and, especially, to witness a brilliant victory for the No. 7 Toyota, after so many years of coming so close – with three pole positions and leading the race on three occasions – finally they got their deserved win.
“It was a very eventful race, as the rain came at the worst time, before the race start and then again as darkness fell.
“But the No. 7 team delivered a fantastic display of determination and strategic know-how to execute the perfect race – being pushed to the limit, the drivers were completely in tune with their new Hypercar machine.
“Mike Conway is one of the most hard-working, genuine drivers; the ultra-fast Kamui Kobayashi now has his well-earned Le Mans win; and Argentina finally has another winner of this historic race with ‘Pechito’ (José Maria López), the first since José Froilán Gonzalez in 1954.”
Kobayashi had qualified the No. 7 Toyota for the pole position. It was his fourth such performance, putting him within one of the record held by Jacky Ickx.