TOYOTA GAZOO secures fourth consecutive Le Mans victory with dominant #7 win

The Hypercar era at Le Mans 24 Hours has begun with a win for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, who completed a one-two with the #7 car – driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López – atop the podium, while last year’s winners Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley finished second.

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Not only was this the team’s fourth consecutive win of the season, and fourth Le Mans 24 Hours win in four years, it was also the first time the #7 team had even won the race. After they came third after leading at 12 hours last year, this was an emotional victory for the three pilots of the GR010 Hybrid.

Tough setback, strong recovery for #8

The omens were good for the TOYOTA GAZOO cars: they locked out the front row in the qualifying ‘Hyperpole’ stage, with Kamui Kobayashi – who set the record for the fastest-ever Le Mans lap in 2017 – securing pole with a lap of 3:23.900. Interviewed after the Hyperpole, he said, “I could have gone even quicker!” Brendon Hartley in the #8 was just 0.295 seconds slower.

The race was due to start at 4pm on Saturday 21 August, but conditions were anything but kind: amid unrelenting rain, one formation lap wasn’t judged to be enough to ensure that the track was safe. After two more formation laps, the race finally got underway – and there was drama almost immediately.

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The #8, with Buemi at the wheel, was hit from behind going into the first chicane, and spun out – meaning it would need to attack the race from the back of the field. This is what they did, with impressive results – it took just an hour to get back up to third. Now with Mike Conway in control, the #8 eventually overtook the #38 car to regain second place.

The #7 was largely unaffected by all these goings-on – but then it had trouble of its own to deal with, when it suffered a rear puncture, and then another almost immediately after. Some early pit stops were required – but the #7 team held on to its lead as evening turned to night.

#7 makes it look easy

At 12 hours, it was clear that this was a two-way race between the two GR010 Hybrids. The #7 had a lead of just over half a minute – but it was having the easier time of things, as further issues prevented the #8 from mounting a persistent challenge. With an unsolved issue in the fuel system, it was pitting earlier and earlier, until the team developed a creative counter-measure that involved activating specified settings at pre-set points on the track.

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“That proved crucial when the #7 developed a similar issue: armed with their knowledge, the team could manage the situation and keep stint lengths the same.

As a result, there was no chance of losing the lead. Having been dominant almost from start to finish, the #7 crossed the finish line as the first ever Hypercar champion at Le Mans. They made it look easy – though, of course, it never is.

Winners pay tribute to teamwork

Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López had all achieved something they had never done before – and it showed in their reactions after the race. “It is simply amazing.,” said Kobayashi. “We came so far for so many years but, up to now, we couldn’t win Le Mans. All those experiences make the victory even more special. Mike and Kamui are like brothers to me and I have seen them doing things in the car which are just amazing.”

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“It was a hard race,” Mike Conway added. “We knew we had an issue on the car for the last six hours and that could have been a really big problem, but the team came up with a solution to keep us going. All credit to them for getting a one-two finish.”

And Kamui Kobayashi said: “It is an amazing feeling to be here as a Le Mans winner. We had to go through so many experiences over the years, some of them very difficult, to get here. I always knew Le Mans requires luck to win and we needed some luck today as well. We had to do a special procedure just to keep the running. Normally the race would end there for us but somehow we survived.”

Kazuki Nakajima summed up how the #8 drivers felt: “It is a victory for the whole team and car #8 is part of the team, so we are happy. Car #7 have been unlucky over the years and finally they won. They totally deserve it.”