2021 WEC ROUND 4 24 HOURS OF LE MANS: PREVIEWTOYOTA GAZOO Racing AIMS FOR LE MANS HYPERCAR HISTORY
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing aims to defend its crown and make Hypercar history in the 89th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours next week.
Following a hat-trick of Le Mans victories with its TS050 HYBRID, this year the team competes with the new GR010 HYBRID Hypercar for the first time at the Circuit de la Sarthe and is determined to extend its winning run.
Reigning World Champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, in the #7 GR010 HYBRID, have endured heartbreak at Le Mans in recent years, particularly when mechanical issues denied them victory despite domination in 2019 and 2020. They go into the biggest race of the year following wins in the 6 Hours of Monza last month.
Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, however, have enjoyed a remarkable run, winning at La Sarthe for three consecutive years, including last year's triumph alongside Brendon Hartley. The #8 GR010 HYBRID trio lead the drivers' standings following wins in the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and 8 Hours of Portimao.
With double FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) points on offer, Le Mans is significant in the battle for world titles. TOYOTA GAZOO Racing holds a 30-point advantage over Alpine following three of six WEC races, while the #8 crew lead the drivers' standings by just six points from their #7 team-mates.
In addition to its quest for a fourth consecutive Le Mans win, the 2021 edition marks the 10th time Toyota has competed at La Sarthe with a hybrid-powered prototype. In the nine attempts so far, the team has won three times, earned five pole positions and finished on the podium a total of nine times.
This year, it faces Hypercar competition from Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, which enters two cars, as well as Alpine, which participates with a grandfathered LMP1 car. But the challenge of Le Mans comes from the gruelling nature of the event itself as well as from on-track rivals.
With around 25,000 gear changes, 4,000km at full throttle and over 2million wheel rotations in a typical race, Le Mans is a true test of endurance.
Preparations for the challenge began back in October 2020 when the GR010 HYBRID tested for the first time and, since then, eight further tests have been used to optimise the car's performance and reliability, in addition to the three WEC races. The final step in that journey will come on Sunday, the only official test day at the 13.626km Circuit de la Sarthe.
Two days of intense preparation lead into five hours of practice and a qualifying session on Wednesday. Thursday sees a further five hours of practice, either side of the 30-minute Hyperpole session at 9pm CEST, when TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will challenge for a fifth consecutive pole position.
The 89th Le Mans 24 Hours will begin at 4pm CEST on Saturday, in front of a reduced-capacity crowd of 50,000, when 62 cars and 186 drivers follow in the footsteps of legends, adding their own stories to a race which first took place in 1923.
Hisatake Murata, Team President:
“It is always a great honour to participate at Le Mans and we are proud to return as three-time winners. We are putting all our effort into extending that winning run by becoming the first Hypercar Le Mans winners. The engineers and mechanics have been working closely with the drivers to fine-tune the car, always with the target of being strong in Le Mans. It will not be an easy task because we face a tough fight with our Hypercar competitors, and the GR010 HYBRID will participate at Le Mans for the first time, which is always a technical challenge. I am happy to welcome fans back to the circuit, particularly for this race where they create such a special atmosphere. Thank you to the ACO for working so hard to make this happen. I am sure this will be a Le Mans to remember for everyone.”
Mike Conway (GR010 HYBRID #7):
“All the hard work during the year is for this race so I can't wait to get in the car and drive. Le Mans is a sprint race nowadays; we have to race as hard as we can for the complete 24 hours and control the race where possible. We know from experience that there are many factors which can come into play, and we've been unlucky in the past on the #7 car. But that doesn't change how we approach Le Mans as drivers. We will get our heads down and do all the preparation to be ready for the race, as we did in the past few years. Then we hope Le Mans is kind to us and we can finally get the win.”
Kamui Kobayashi (GR010 HYBRID #7):
“I look forward to Le Mans every year; it is the highlight of the season and the motivation for all our effort. It's a great experience to drive at Le Mans, particularly in qualifying when you have new tyres and low fuel. I have achieved the pole position three times already but the big target is to win the race. We have been so strong in the past few years on car #7 but always something happened and we couldn't get to the end without trouble. So we need to avoid any issues this year and keep pushing for a perfect race. We are all staying focused and optimistic.”
José María López (GR010 HYBRID #7):
“We become stronger thanks to difficult moments and I believe that is the case for car #7 at Le Mans. Now we don't think about what has happened in the past; we look forward and try to always improve, as a team and as drivers. It is like a family with Mike, Kamui and me, as well as our engineers and mechanics, and we all have the same target: to win Le Mans. As a team I believe we are stronger than ever and we know what we need to do. It is never easy at Le Mans and for sure this year will be a hard one, but we will give maximum effort.”
Sébastien Buemi (GR010 HYBRID #8):
“Le Mans is a special place and a special race for me. It's a part of my family and I remember hearing about my grandfather racing there in the 1960s. I remember visiting the Geneva Motor Show as a kid and getting my photo taken next to the Toyota TS020. Back then I could never imagine being here as a three-time winner. I am thankful to have the opportunity to fight for another victory but I know it will be a big challenge, with a new car and strong competitors. We know what it takes to win so we have to stick to our plan and make sure we avoid mistakes. Then we will see where we are on Sunday.”
Kazuki Nakajima (GR010 HYBRID #8):
“The atmosphere at Le Mans is incredible. When I raced at Le Mans for the first time in 2012 I was amazed by the sound and the passion of the fans. We really missed that last year so I am very pleased that we will see spectators back again. Le Mans is the most challenging race in the world and, as we all know from experience, anything can happen. We are all pushing hard for the GR010 HYBRID to be the first Hypercar winner; we will be fully focused on our job and hoping that luck is on our side. We can take nothing for granted but we will give everything to be in the centre of the podium again.”
Brendon Hartley (GR010 HYBRID #8):
“I fell in love with Le Mans from my first visit, which was a bit of a surprise to be honest. The atmosphere is incredible and I really enjoy the team element, everyone working together towards that one goal. All the mechanics and engineers make a super-human effort, the drivers all work together and share information. We have to work as one big team to be successful and that's what we've been doing to get our GR010 HYBRID ready for the biggest challenge. We all come to Le Mans dreaming of victory but there is a lot of hard work over the next days to give ourselves the best chance.”