Toyota took a fifth consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours victory as its era of having no equal opposition at the event came to an end, but in doing so it set an ominous benchmark for the host of new manufacturer opposition it will face from next month onwards.
Peugeot delaying the arrival of its radical-looking new 9X8 to the next round of the World Endurance Championship at Monza in July meant it would be up to underdog Glickenhaus and the Alpine-branded old Rebellion LMP1 car to put Toyota under pressure at Le Mans.
Other than a bit of first-lap battling by Glickenhaus, though, the race was an all-Toyota affair up front.
They made it a close fight too, with little to choose – and some close racing – between the two Toyotas until the early hours of Sunday morning when a front hybrid problem on the car of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez prompted an on-track reset and a pit visit.
They didn’t lose second place, and were back on the lead lap by the finish, but team-mates Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa won with a two-minute margin in the closing stages.
It’s Buemi’s fourth Le Mans win, Hartley’s third and Hirakawa’s first.
As well as Peugeot’s imminent arrival, Toyota will face fresh opposition from Ferrari, Porsche and Cadillac next year, with a full Alpine effort and Lamborghini due in 2024 too, and BMW potentially if it takes its new car to the WEC as well as the IMSA SportsCar Championship.
With the current Alpine (which had led the points pre-Le Mans due to Toyota’s slightly messy start to the WEC season) having a run of technical problems almost from the outset, Glickenhaus had a clear shot at the final overall podium place.
Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Franck Mailleux claimed that spot with a smooth run, five laps off the Toyotas, with team-mates Olivier Pla, Romain Dumas and Pipo Derani having to battle back for fourth after an early Pla error.
The ultra-competitive LMP2 fight was split up by a dramatic first-corner clash between the polesitting WRT car of Rene Rast and United Autosports’ Will Owen, with the WRT-run Realteam entry of Ferdinand Habsburg caught up in it too.
Robert Kubica burst through into the class lead for Prema as a result, but Antonio Felix da Costa soon took control in the Jota car he shared with Will Stevens and Roberto Gonzalez.
Jota took two of the three podium spots, Oliver Rasmussen, Ed Jones and Jonathan Aberdein finishing third behind Prema trio Kubica, Louis Deletraz and Lorenzo Colombo.
The GTE Pro class has been one of Le Mans and the WEC’s competitive highlights in recent years, but organiser the ACO announced this week that it will be axed for 2023 as manufacturer participation dwindles – partly due to the number of them heading to the top class under the hypercar and LMDh rules. A new ‘GT3 Premium’ category will replace it.
GTE Pro had a suitably eventful Le Mans send-off, with Corvette, Porsche and Ferrari all having spells when they looked to be in control.
It ended in heartbreak for Corvette as Alexander Sims was taken out of the class lead by the wandering Algarve Pro LMP2 car of Francois Perrodo with just over six hours to go. Sims, Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner had got back into the lead after early transmission and brake problems.
A puncture for James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra’s Ferrari put it off-sequence on pitstops when leading and meant it was the Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki that ultimately emerged as the final GTE Pro Le Mans winner.
Aston Martin claimed the GTE Am class via TF Sport’s entry for Ben Keating, Marco Sorensen and Henrique Chaves Jr.