09/21/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/20/2020 18:39
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing earned a third consecutive overall Le Mans 24 Hours win with the TS050 HYBRID after a turbulent and ultimately-successful race at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley completed over 5,000km of a gruelling race, held for only the second time in September, and won by five laps in the #8 TS050 HYBRID, to take the lead in the drivers' World Championship.
For Sébastien and Kazuki, this was their third consecutive Le Mans triumph and they join only seven previous drivers who have achieved that feat in the race's 97-year history, while Brendon won for the second time following his victory in 2017.
The pole position #7 TS050 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López had looked on course for their first win at La Sarthe until an exhaust problem, although they fought back to earn third place in a dramatic final 70 minutes.
Today's victory, in the penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), means TOYOTA GAZOO Racing is crowned Teams' World Champions, holding an unassailable 57-point lead over Rebellion Racing, its third title following those in 2014 and 2018-2019.
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.