Analysing the 88th Le Mans 24 Hours

The 88th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans took place without the presence of fans but still put on a show of action and drama throughout the race.

The motorsport world saw another of the world’s most iconic endurance races, but taking place on the deferred date of September 19-20 after COVID delayed the WEC proceedings.

The global situation put the event’s running in the first place in doubt, but Pierre Fillon (President of the Automobile Club l’Ouest) reassured Le Mans fans that the race would take place; this conformation was stated in uncertain circumstances.

Despite the eerie quietness of the grandstands and the evidently green fields surrounding the Circuit de la Sarthe, the ACO and the FIA worked to establish a condensed schedule.

There were thirteen entries that did not make it to participate, like the GTE-Am Kessel Racing and LMP1’s Ginetta LNT. This did leave 59 competitors in total to race.

The result of the annual race’s running meant that there was a plethora of talking points before, during and at the checkered flag.

Whilst it would be impossible to cover all, this article will take a look at several of the main talking points.

Pre-race appearances

As many Le Mans fanatics will know, the event begins well before any of the sessions take place; the parade is where the proceedings usually start.

Due to the global circumstances of COVID already enforcing a challenge on the likes of Pierre Fillon and Jean Todt (President of the FIA) to run the Le Mans 24H, it was unlikely for any form of driver-fan parade to take place in the local city of Le Mans.

Despite this significant difference, there were a few mentions such as the appearance of the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP LMP1 car, driven by Carlos Tavares.

The CEO and Chairman of the Managing Board of the PSA Group was the official starter for the 88th edition of Le Mans, having driven a lap of the track and ‘pay tribute to its past’ as they said.

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Peugeot, who asserted their intentions to return to top-tier endurance racing in 2022, have accumulated three Le Mans wins; one during the LMP1 era in 2009, and two in the Group C era.

One of the famous stories at Le Mans was their tragedy of 2010, when all four LMP1 Peugeot entries retired throughout irregardless of their promising pace that they had shown in the race.

Rewind: Triumph for Audi and despair for Peugeot at 2010 Le Mans 24H

Although, this car in particular also won the Sebring 12H and the Petit Le Mans during that year.

Another mention was the appearance of a spyder version of Toyota’s upcoming production supercar, the GR Super Sport.

A closed cockpit racing version of this will be the basis for their Le Mans Hypercar entry in 2021, and the car itself was driven by former Toyota regular Alex Wurz to transport the Grand-Trophy in which Toyota found themselves winning.

Alex Wurz, Advisor and Ambassador for TGR – Credit: Toyota GAZOO Racing

Ambasador and advisor for TGR Alex Wurz said: “It was an honour to drive this development version of the GR Super Sport for the first time in public, and especially at a circuit like Le Mans which is so closely connected to this car.

“I could feel the similarities between the GR Super Sport and the TS050 Hybrid in terms of performance, particularly the four-wheel drive and the hybrid system.

“But the engineers tell me this was only a small taste of the GR Super Sport’s true performance so I am super excited to drive it again one day in the near future.”

This vehicle is not to be confused with the Le Mans Hypercar edition that will appear in Season 9 of the WEC, in the sense that the car will be more bespoke to the championship and will feature a tailored aero-package(s).

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Throughout the event, the Goodyear blimp returned to Le Mans after 35 years of an absence at a European circuit.

It made regular appearances during Formula 1 and Le Mans 24H races in the ’70s and ’80s, having first appeared at Le Mans during the early ’30s. The blimp has also made a number of appearances at American motorsport events in recent times.

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It is the largest semi-rigid airship in the world to date, measuring 75m long, up to 19.5m wide, and 17.4m tall.

Porsche also donated the championship and Le Mans winning 919 Hybrid of 2016 to the ACO museum based at Le Mans.

Emanuele Pirro took his place as the grand marshal of the race, leading the 59-car field to commence the 24 hour race.

Porsche GT Team’s struggles

Competing in the GTE-Pro category, only with two fewer entries (four instead of two), they put on an impression of confident pace until the first and Hyperpole qualifying sessions.

Hyperpole Qualifying Classification Class Position Team Time Diff.
12 1 #91 Porsche GT Team 3m50.874s
13 2 #51 AF Corse 3m51.115s 0.241s
14 3 #95 Aston Martin Racing 3m51.241s 0.126s
15 4 #97 Aston Martin Racing 3m51.324s 0.083s
16 5 #71 AF Corse 3m51.515s 0.191s
17 6 #92 Porsche GT Team 3m51.770s 0.255s

In light of the Balance of Performance measures set for the GTE cars, no significant changes led to the expectation that Porsche would have speed the assert themselves against the (2019) Pro reigning winners of the #51 AF Corse.

Porsche qualified both first and last during Hyperpole in the GTE-Pro category; their IMSA GTLM cars did not enter Le Mans 2020, so they only had two manufacturer entries rather than the usual four.

In the initial qualifying session, they just got the P5 and P6 places to get through into Hyperpole.

The race itself was one to forget for the works team, having suffered an early power steering issue in the #92 only five hours into the race.

Their sister car suffered technical problems too – at around 6am on Sunday morning, the #91 car had to pit for around 20 minutes down to repairs at the electrical system.

Credit: FIA WEC / Harry Parvin

Alexander Stehlig, Head of Operations of their FIA WEC commitments, gave his thoughts during the remaining quarter of the race:

“After the fault on the No. 92 car early on in the race, this morning the sister car had to pit for repairs on the electrics.

“We’re of course continuing at maximum speed, because this is not just about bringing home a success at Le Mans, it’s also about earning important points in the overall classification of the World Endurance Championship.”

By the end, they finished P5 and P6 in-class whilst the AMRs secured a double-podium finish to claim both the (GTE-Pro) drivers’ and constructors’ championship.

The abundance of problems in LMP2

One interesting revelation during such a demanding endurance event, was the number of electrical and reliability issues that affected most of the 24 class entries despite the fierce battles throughout.

After the very first racing lap, the #36 two-time reigning LMP2 winners pitted to go in the garage and address a water pressure/coolant issue. This revolved around the main factor of high temperatures on oil, water, and the associated components that other teams’ issues had risen from.

Credit: FIA WEC / Harry Parvin

The #29 faced problems shortly after which saw that car also face a temporary trip to the team’s garage after a longer one at 30 minutes into the race.

Also, the #33 High Class Racing started facing electrical-based reliability issues which eventually had them amongst the six LMP2 retirements.

Aside from the #20 Duqueine Team’s contact with the #22 that led them to retire, the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing encountered several issues as early as 6 hours in when Adrian Aubrey had to perform an electrical reset on the car at Arnage, after leading the LMP2 class since the start.

The car was stationary for 30 minutes until it then spent a further hour in the garage. Here, they fell out of the fight for the lead to drop 20 laps after an extensive job to replace several electrical components.

Heading into the 10th hour, the #26 G-Drive Racing of Roman Rusinov had to stop on his outlap on the Mulsanne to also perform an electrical reset. After performing it/stopping six times over two laps, the car was in the garage for a quick work-on.

Their #16 G-Drive by Algarve retired an hour before due to fuel and electrical issues.

With almost 13 hours left, the #37 was disqualified for impeding the sporting codes after it stopped again.

The stewards’ decision read:

“The car stopped on track, the driver exited the car and phone called his team.

“A member of the team met the driver and supplied a component which the driver fitted to the car. The car was then able to continue.

“During the hearing, the team representative admitted to these facts. He also stated that the car would not have been able to continue without this fix.

“This is a breach of Article 12.3.9 of 24 Hours of Le Mans Supplementary Regulations.

“The penalty in the regulations is disqualification.”

Another notable moment of disaster was when the #26 fell out of the fight for the podium with only 44 minutes to go after Jean Eric-Vergne suffered a suspension failure into the Indianapolis right-hander.

The car pitted for repairs and went back out, finishing in fifth place (LMP2).

Honorable mentions

In an amongst the the troubled LMP2 cars, the rookie Richard Mille Racing Team squad stayed out of trouble throughout.

As the first LMP all-female lineup, they were keen to show their potential as their first event as a trio (Tatiana Calderon, Sophia Floersch and Beitske Visser) and finished ninth in LMP2 and 13th overall.

“I really enjoyed working with Beitske, Tatiana and the whole team.” – Sophia Floersch

After the IDEC Sport’s calamities after the mechanics were faced with repairing both of their cars after they both crashed in FP2, just 20 minutes between each other.

The cars missed qualifying and the FP3 night-session, meaning that they started the race at the back of the field and one lap behind.

Patrick Pilet was drafted in as early as 1am on the day (from a phone call) to make a last-minute debut in an LMP at Le Mans rather than his usual GT participations. He replaced a recovering Dwight Merriman.

His stints were strong and both cars set about their climb up the field to eventually finish sixth (#28) and 11th (#17) in-class.

A hidden mystery was of the #71 AF Corse, which stopped on the final lap without a sign of smoke to hint any major mechanical failure.

The issue looked to be electrical-based, but ended up being the 45th classified car in the 49 car field irregardless.

The team struggled overall to fight as the best finisher was the #83 which claimed a podium in GTE-Am, and finished ahead of their Pro entries too.

Speaking of GTE-Am, the #88 Dempsey-Proton managed to finally finished Le Mans after a chain of Le Mans retirements since 2017, and their GTE-Am podium finish in ’16.

Dom Bastien also made his debut in that car and became the oldest competitor at Le Mans at 74 years old and 295 days old.

The Le Mans winners in each class

Winning at this globally-recognised motorsport event sits at the top of the priority list for any competitor, just after the target to make it to the end of the 24 hours.

The overall winners were the Toyota GAZOO Racing LMP1 team, who just joined the likes of Audi and Porsche on claiming three consecutive Le Mans victories in the WEC era (even if two of the Porsche’s wins came at a cost on the Toyotas).

The Japanese squad finally managed to win the Le Mans 24H in respect of their past six podium finishes (pre-2017) and suitably competitive Le Mans packages.

In LMP2, the #22 United Autosports claimed their seventh consecutive endurance victory in line with their ELMS and WEC commitments. Their Le Mans victory came down to a fight between them and the #38 JOTA which found itself pitting with around 10 minutes to go.

The United Autosports team were in delight – Credit: FIA WEC / Marius Hecker

The GTE-Pro class was won by the #97 Aston Martin, an outcome which saw the team win both GTE-Pro (drivers’ and manufacturers) championships.

Another AMR car was the #90 TF Sport which made its first Le Mans appearance in the newer Vantage GTE (2018-spec) and its driver crew of Salih Yolus, Jonny Adam (who has now won Le Mans in two categories), and Charlie Eastwood.

Salih Yoluc gave his reaction: “We’ve had pretty bad luck over the last three years so we were pretty determined to turn that upside down this time.

“A lot of hard work went into preparing the race, the car, and everything else.

“I’m very happy that we won here as a team and I was really happy to be the first Turkish person to win Le Mans.”

A farewell to Rebellion Racing and to LMP1 (Hybrid) at Le Mans

The 88th running of the Le Mans 24H was also Round 7, and the penultimate race, of Season 8.

This Le Mans ends an enriching era of Hybrid LMP1 endurance prototypes, and the final round in Bahrain will only host the two TGRs as the sole LMP1 competitors.

Credit: FIA WEC / Harry Parvin

This is due to Rebellion Racing’s decision to ultimately end their 13-14 year journey in endurance racing, as explored in Last Lap’s tribute to Rebellion following their confirmation of this news earlier in the year.

Rebellion: 13 years of endurance racing coming to an end

One of their most committed drivers, Bruno Senna, was part of the team’s best-ever P2 finish in his eighth Le Mans participation.

Toyota made the move to return to Le Mans and to endurance racing in 2012, having asserted their intentions to participate in the LMP1-Hybrid category.

With eight complete WEC seasons on the horizon, Toyota found themselves at the end of the LMP1 line and look to continue their success in this series with two entries in the Le Mans Hypercar category.

Rebellion, however, will be stepping back their motorsport duties with a focus on their Dakar pursuits having participated in the 2020 edition that took place earlier this year.

This iconic race was one different to the others previously, in light of the deferred date and fanless surroundings.

It was also the same at providing extensive multi-class action in every category as each team faced the challenges of endurance and perseverance with those that were at it to get their cars to the end.