In a year of worldwide unpredictability, it was almost a relief that Toyota achieved what was expected from them, with the third win in a row for the #8 crew. However, once again, it was a case of proverbial bad luck for the #7 crew that gave the result to them, and at least proved once again that the race itself is as much part of the opposition as is the other cars on the track.
The decisive moment that decided the winner came after half distance when the turbocharger unit failed on the #7, requiring a 30 minute pitstop to change the unit, while the only non-standard stop for the #8 was to sort front brake issues. The longer stop for the #7 promoted the Rebellions into the podium positions, but the leading Toyota was able to continue to pull away, using its superior pace off the corners to offset any advantages the Rebellions had with their shorter accumulated pitstop times or ultimate top speeds. The #7 car did catch the slower Rebellion #3 to snatch the third step at the end, some 6 laps back from the winner.
Hisatake Murata, Team President commented, “Again we have seen what a difficult challenge the Le Mans 24 Hours is; it is a true endurance test. We showed great team spirit and determination to overcome the early troubles for the #8 car, and winning three consecutive Le Mans with the TS050 HYBRID is a dream come true. Well done to everyone in the team on this achievement. However, we set ourselves the target of another one-two finish and I am sorry for the #7 drivers, mechanics and engineers who worked so hard and performed so well again."
The final entrant in the class, Bykolles, sadly found a new way of failing to finish the race, the rear wing separated itself as the car was at speed approaching La Chapelle, and the loss of stability caused it to hit the barriers hard. The damage was compounded when the car hit the barriers at Tertre Rouge while trying to return to the pits for repairs, but this proved to be the final action prior to retirement.
LMP2 proved to be a happy hunting ground for United Autosports, who have dominated the class in WEC and ELMS races recently. It was just a case of which of their cars would have the cleanest run as initially both the #22 and #32 took turns in leading before the #32 suffered a cracked oil line which resulted in a long pitstop and a drop from contention.
Into the reckoning came the #38 Jota Sport team, who admitted they did not have the ultimate pace, yet came within 33 seconds of the win. On reflection, if an unscheduled pitstop to refit seat belts that had accidentally been undone by Antonio Felix da Costa had not occurred, the #mighty38 might have achieved another famous win.
A late safety car period, caused by the crash by the #39 So24-Has by Graff Oreca, caused some consternation amongst over fuel levels for both the #22 and #38 teams. The #22 knew they had no choice but to make a late splash and dash, the #38 hoping the safety car would stay out for longer to minimise the running time at the end. But their hopes were dashed when the safety car period ended and the #38 had to also pit for a splash to reach the chequered flag.
Several of the championship front running cars hit early problems, the Signatech-Alpine and Racing Team Nederland cars both suffering identical water leaks, and the G-Drive #26 suffered a sensor failure that dropped them from contention.
In GTE Pro, the qualifying pace of the Porsche GT team disappeared once the race had started, along with their legendary reliability, and they were never in contention. Instead it was a race long battle between Aston Martin and Ferrari, at times literally inches apart as they tailed each other along the straights. Eventually, the #97 Aston Martin would gain the initiative over the lead #51 Ferrari, with a gap of just 90 seconds at the finish. The Dane Train #95 Aston would take the final step in the class podium in a secure, if lonely, third place.
And it was another Aston Martin on the top step of the GTE Am podium, with TF Sport again taking top step at Le Mans and for the fourth time this season. Salih Yoluc commented afterwards, "A lot of hard work went into the preparation of pretty much everything. I am very happy to be here as part of the team and to be the first Turkish winner at Le Mans.”
It could have so easily have been an Aston Martin 1-2, with the #98 AMR car also running at the head of the class throughout the night, but just before sunrise, the #98 Aston Martin suffered a suspension failure that dropped it out of contention.
Second and third became a fraught race in the final hour, after the cars were released behind the same safety car pack. the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche Racing making the decisive moves to hold off the #83 AF Corse Ferrari, and then #77 and #83 passing the #56 Team Project 1 to take the lower steps at the end.
Given the background of the Covid-19 restrictions, the race control team, led by Eduardo Freitas, should be congratulated for the way it was managed events. The use of Safety car periods was kept to an absolute minimum, while slow zones were deliberately used to allow sometimes lengthy track barrier repairs to be effected without shutting down the entire track. Also, thanks have to go to the trackside marshals who, though reduced in number to normal levels and missing many of their brethren from other countries, did a superb job.
The next race, the final round of Season 8 of the World Endurance Championship, is the 8 Hours of Bahrain, which will be held on 14th November 2020.
Report: Steve Tarrant
Photos: FIAWEC / AdrenalMedia.com