How dominant Toyotas put on a show to win Le Mans 2022
Toyota scored its fifth win on the trot at the Le Mans 24 Hours, but once again let its two cars battle it out. The #7 entry of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa eventually defeated the rival #8 crew after an intense battle that was only decided by a minor technical problem for Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi
Toyota once again put on a show at the Le Mans 24 Hours in the absence of any real opposition. The hoped-for challenge from Glickenhaus never materialised and Alpine had neither the pace nor the reliability to make a fight of it, but the two Japanese cars battled hard deep into the race. The contest was only decided in favour of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa in the final third of the blue-riband round of the World Endurance Championship when an electrical glitch delayed the sister car.
The internecine battle at Toyota Gazoo Racing last weekend was reminiscent of Le Mans 2018. This 90th running of the 24 Hours didn’t have the storylines of 2018 and the night-time comeback drive by Buemi, Fernando Alonso and Kazuki Nakajima, but it was no less frenetic. Probably more so: for the better part of the 16 hours that this race raged at full pelt.
The winning #8 Toyota GR010 HYBRID and the #7 entry were separated by a matter of seconds for most of those 15 and a bit hours. It was a minor technical issue for the car shared by 2021 winners Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez that settled the outcome. The #7 car only briefly dropped a lap down, though it still ended a shade over two minutes down at the chequered flag despite the best efforts of its crew. That included new fastest laps from both Kobayashi and then Lopez.
It was, said Hartley, an “amazing race because we were pushing each other so hard”. Only when their in-house rivals were delayed were he and his team-mates “able to back it right off and bring it home because we had the gap”. He could have added that it was a fitting battle for the first Le Mans held in front of a proper crowd for the first time in three years.
“We were giving it everything,” said Hartley. “There was nothing left on the table, I think by either crew. I do spare a thought for our team-mates in the other car because it was so close until they had that little technical issue.”
The issue of which Hartley talked was a glitch with the hybrid system that required a recycle of the second-placed Toyota Le Mans Hypercar, or rather a series of reboots. Lopez had to go through all the necessary procedures once out on track after he slowed between Indianapolis and Arnage and then pulled hard right after he exited the slowest corner on the 8.47-mile Circuit de la Sarthe. And then he had to do it again twice over back in the pits.
Lopez lost just over a minute on track and just over two in the pits. The gap between the two Toyotas stood at 2m40s after Hartley’s next scheduled stop a couple of laps later. The race, to all intents and purposes, was over.
Buemi, Hartley and Hirakawa gave Toyota its fifth consecutive win after a tight inter-team battle with the #8 crew
Photo by: Nikolaz Godet
Toyota didn’t go into detail about the problem on the #7 car, except to say that it concerned the front-axle motor generator unit. Temporary on-track resets aren’t unknown for Toyota.
The racing was largely against the clock, of course, this being an all-Toyota battle. There were only two passes out on track during the course of the race in its carefully choreographed world. The first change of lead happened during the first round of pitstops.
Buemi converted Hartley’s pole position into the race lead, but was never able to pull much more than three seconds over Conway. The Brit got ahead after the end of the first hour. He stopped a lap earlier than his team-mate and got the undercut.
"As far as I know, our crew didn’t have one off, one chicane-cutting moment or one contact. That was our plan. I’m so happy with my team-mate Ryo: he’s gone from strength to strength" Brendon Hartley
Conway quickly eased away and by the next round of stops was 15 or so seconds up the road from Buemi. The Swiss driver had rooted his rear tyres – the new wider 15in Michelins to which the GR010 has swapped for this season – though he was able to stem the tide through to the respective handovers by the top two to Lopez and Hartley.
Buemi had, he explained, “cooked the rear tyres and had to live with it” for three stints. Part of the reason was the #8 drivers went for a slightly more aggressive set-up than their team-mates. It cost them at the beginning before the track rubbered in.
A 20s lead for Lopez disappeared in hour four when he had a quick off on an out-lap at the Mulsanne second chicane. Kobayashi swept past Hirakawa as the Hypercar newcomer got traffic exiting the pits after they’d each done a stint in the respective mounts. The lead swapped one way then the other at the next three rounds of stops, so close were the two cars.
Buemi had to cede position to the faster Conway at the newly renamed Daytona Chicane on the Mulsanne, in hour eight, but was back ahead in the next pit cycle. Lopez then got badly caught out by a slow zone, and suddenly Hartley found himself with a 30s lead in hour nine.
Lopez was the fastest of all the Toyota drivers in car #7 but had to settle for second with Conway and Kobayashi
Photo by: Nick Dungan / Motorsport Images
One of these virtual safety car zones in which the cars are limited to 80km/h (50mph) worked in favour of #7 around dawn. Lopez’s lead then stood at 25s when the hybrid problem kicked in.
The two Toyotas were close, though not as close as in 2020 or 2021. The lap-time averages show that #7 had the edge over #8. Lopez was quickest of all, though he was the only one of the six Toyota drivers to make a significant mistake. Hartley paid testament to his team-mates, TGR newcomer Hirakawa in particular, for bringing their GR010 through the race without drama.
“As far as I know, our crew didn’t have one off, one chicane-cutting moment or one contact,” he said. “That was our plan. I’m so happy with my team-mate Ryo: he’s gone from strength to strength.”
The same could be said for Glickenhaus, though the American marque’s Pipo-engined 007 LMH wasn’t at the point where it could take the fight to Toyota. The two cars weren’t consistently quick enough for that, though Olivier Pla proved its one-lap pace with a personal best in the race only two hundredths behind Lopez’s fastest lap.
What the 007s couldn’t do was match the GR010s on a consistent basis. A rear-tyre delamination problem affected the #709 entry shared by Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe and Franck Mailleux early on, while a Glickenhaus was never as fast as a Toyota straight after one of the 30-odd slow zone interruptions.
The #708 car lost time early on with an engine sensor problem, but the sister car Pla shared with Romain Dumas and Pipo Derani wasn’t much more than two minutes off the lead when Pla looped it on an out-lap at Tertre Rouge shortly after 2300. A toe-link was damaged when he nudged the barriers, resulting in a nine-minute stop for repairs.
Even with an engine sensor problem of its own, the car was able to claw its way back ahead of the best of the LMP2s to take fourth at the finish, albeit 10 laps in arrears. The other car went five laps down in the final hour.
“That’s a win for us,” said Westbrook of his podium finish with Briscoe and Mailleux. “We have to be honest with ourselves: we’re a little team with only a fraction of the resources of Toyota.
The #709 Glickenhaus shared by Briscoe, Westbrook and Mailleux had a largely clean run but didn't have the pace to threaten Toyota
Photo by: Rainier Ehrhardt
“It would have been nice to put them under a bit more pressure. We had enough to let them know we were there or thereabouts, but not to chase them down to fight them.
“To be honest, in our car we settled for a podium very early on. We had to change the tyre pressures after our early problems and lost a bit of performance as a result. We weren’t as strong as the Toyotas in the night; we always knew that was going to be the case. But whichever way you look at it third is a good result.”
Alpine was nowhere with its Gibson-engined grandfathered LMP1 design, 10 months on from its podium finish at Le Mans and three from its victory in the Sebring WEC round. The Signatech-run car ended up 18 laps in arrears in 23rd position in the hands of Nicolas Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Andre Negrao after a series of delays: the electronic clutch control unit and then an ignition coil needed replacing, before Vaxiviere went off at the end of the Porsche Curves overtaking a GTE Am Porsche on Sunday morning, resulting in a 20-minute stop for repairs.
No explanation of BoP changes is given and rarely do you get any guidance on the revisions from either organisation. But it was easy to interpret the final change for Alpine as a slap on the wrist for sandbagging
Yet the reality was that the Alpine would have finished no better than fourth in the Hypercar class ahead of the delayed #708 Glickenhaus without those problems. The French car was the better part of three seconds a lap slower than the Toyotas and more than a second down on its rival for the best-of-the-rest spot.
The Alpine received a Balance of Performance hit ahead of the race, having been given a break between the Wednesday and Thursday practice and qualifying days. The power allowed to its Gibson V8 went up by 7kW or 9bhp and was then reduced by 10kW or 13bhp on Friday. That put it more than 40bhp down on the level with which the Alpine finished third at Le Mans last August.
The Friday change came after Lapierre found nearly five seconds between first qualifying on Wednesday and the Hyperpole session on Friday to end up within spitting distance of the Toyotas. Whether that was too close for the rulemakers, race organiser the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and the FIA, or whether they decided that Alpine had been playing games isn’t entirely clear.
No explanation of BoP changes is given on their publication and rarely do you get any guidance on the revisions from either organisation. But it was easy to interpret the final change as a slap on the wrist for sandbagging.
The Alpine had an eventful race and lacked the pace to be in contention even without its reliability problems
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
Lapierre dismissed the idea that Alpine had been hiding its performance at the test day the Sunday ahead of race week and then on the opening day of practice and qualifying. He reckoned that there were other factors in play.
“The car was really working in the conditions and I had a beautiful lap – I had a slipstream from an LMP2 car as well,” he said. “The 7kW is worth between five and seven tenths.”
This was the last Le Mans that Toyota is going to have things all its own way with the arrival of Peugeot and Ferrari next year with their LMHs and Porsche and Cadillac with LMDhs. But at least the Japanese manufacturer did the crowd proud. There were just the 20 lead changes.
Toyota won't have things all its own way next year as Peugeot, Ferrari, Porsche and Cadillac enter the fray
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
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