Toyota won the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race for the fourth year in a row and with a one-two formation finish on Sunday as the number seven crew’s jinx ended in style at the Sarthe circuit.
Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi took the chequered flag, with teammates Mike Conway of Britain and Argentine Jose Maria Lopez watching on.
“Now, finally,” gasped the former F1 driver as he crossed the line with the car having led the race through rain and shine.
The Japanese manufacturer’s number eight car — with Swiss Sebastien Buemi, Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima and New Zealander Brendon Hartley — had won the last three Le Mans but had to settle for the runner-up position two laps behind.
Le Mans victory: 4 in a row!! ?????#LeMans24 #GoHyper #ToyotaGAZOORacing pic.twitter.com/4gPPsFpMYT
— TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WEC (@TGR_WEC) August 22, 2021
The Alpine A480-Gibson driven by Brazilian Andre Negrao and French pair Nicolas Lapierre and Matthieu Vaxiviere completed the podium.
Kobayashi had qualified fastest in four of the last five Le Mans but until Sunday he and his teammates, the reigning world endurance champions, had yet to win the greatest race on the sportscar calendar.
Last year the crew lost half an hour in the garage with a turbo problem, that could have proved terminal, just after the halfway mark and finished third.
In 2019 the number seven car led most of the way but had to stop twice at the end of the race, once for a puncture and then because of a wrong tyre change during the initial stop which dropped it to second place.
In 2017 Kobayashi and Conway missed out due to a burned-out clutch.
“We had so many chances to win Le Mans but we always lost, and finally we won,” Kobayashi told record nine-times Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, now working for Eurosport.
“I think we are more together as a team,” he added when asked what they had done differently. “We can’t do anything special in Le Mans but we try to be together, we believe in each other as a team.
“I think we are stronger as a team. I think that’s why we made it this time.”
Lopez agreed: “When you suffer like we suffered in the years before, I think it’s special. The first one is always very special,” said the first Argentine winner since Jose Froilan Gonzalez in 1954.
This year’s Le Mans, watched by 50,000 fans after racing behind closed doors in 2020, is the 89th edition and the first of the new Hypercar era, with Toyota lining up as clear favourites — albeit in a race where little is certain.
Only five Hypercars, the replacement for the old LMP1 category, were in the 61-car field but that is set to change with Peugeot entering the fray next year followed in 2023 by Audi, Ferrari and Porsche and more to come.
The wet start, after two extra laps behind the safety car on Saturday, saw plenty of collisions and spins early on with the number eight Toyota shunted from behind by Frenchman Olivier Pla in the number 708 Glickenhaus.
The eight car moved back into second place after 90 minutes and stayed there, but lost further time to vibrations and refuelling issues.
The LMP2 honours went to the Belgian WRT team of Robin Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg and Charles Milesi in the number 31 Oreca with AF Corse Ferraris winning the LMGTE Pro and Am categories.
The race in north-west France is due to return to its traditional mid-June slot next year.