Victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2021 was sealed by the No. 7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing when Kamui Kobayashi took the chequered flag, after a dominant race for the Japanese manufacturer car, co-piloted with Mike Conway and José Maria Lopéz. This year’s 89th edition was a true race of attrition, characterized by changing conditions in the early stages which demanded absolute focus and ceaseless commitment. In Rolex’s 20th anniversary year as the Official Timepiece of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the endurance epic continues to be the definitive race against the clock, providing the definitive stage for these unrivalled machines to showcase their technological prowess.
Heavy showers preluded the start, meaning that the race got underway behind the safety car for only the second time in the race’s history. There was action from the first lap of green flag racing, with a number of incidents ensuing, as the teams negotiated the wet conditions and adapted to the evolving track. At the front, the No. 7 Toyota managed to stay out of trouble, showing great pace and reliability to build a steady lead, finally bringing their Hybrid GR010 home to take their maiden win ahead of their teammates in the No. 8.
Claiming the inaugural overall victory for the new Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) category at the Circuit de la Sarthe, the No. 7 drivers were awarded an Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona in recognition of their monumental achievement. Speaking ahead of the podium celebrations, Mike Conway said:
“It is an incredible feeling. We have had some bad luck at Le Mans – so, to get it done here, with the new Hypercar and with these team mates, it feels so good. You work so hard for this one and, each year, you forget how hard it is.”
This year’s race was the ultimate test of endurance, with just 44 of the 61 starters going the distance to complete the 24-hour marathon. The Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class was strongly contested, with intense battles throughout the field, up until the closing stages. In their Le Mans debut, Team WRT’s No. 31 ORECA 07-Gibson machine clinched victory, after late heartbreak for its No. 41 sister car who came to a sudden stop from the lead on the final lap of the race. Ferrari took honours in both the Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance (LMGTE) classes, with the No. 51 fending off rival manufacturers Corvette and Porsche to second and third place in the Pro category, while the No. 83 completed 340 laps to win in LMGTE Am.
Following the conclusion of this year’s race, Rolex Testimonee and record nine-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Tom Kristensen reflected:
“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. I am delighted for them all. 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.”
Endurance racing is a matter of synchronicity between different temporalities; the time in motion, as the clock counts down to the chequered flag, and the slightest of moments, when everything can change in a split second. When the driver masters both the course of their machine and that of time, they conquer the 24 Hours of Le Mans and this ultimate race against time.