The last six hours of the 2021 edition of 24 hours of Le Mans was a typical long-distance race, until the very last lap.
Jan Magnussen had another near off-track moment in High Class Racing #49. As mentioned in the night report, it hadn’t been an easy race for the Danish team, and the race itself continued to tease them. So did the engine, so the team had to pit several times, changing several electronics.
IDEC Sport #48 went off the track through the Dunlop chicane when Patrick Pilet outbraked himself.
Glickenhaus Racing #709 got a 10-second pitstop penalty for refuelling the car when the engine was still running.
AF Corse Ferrari #51 was shortly in the garage to change brakes and do more than the planned service. They had the lead in GTE Pro since Corvette Racing #63 was in the pits for fuel and tire change.
Dempsey-Proton Porsche #88 had to crawl back to the pits due to a puncture in the left front tire. David Arnold managed to get the car back to the pits without causing too much damage.
Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #388 went over the gravel in Turn 1 when Christian Hook went side by side with Corvette Racing #64 and pulled away a bit late from the uneven battle. It triggered a Slow Zone, to get the car back to the asphalt.
There was a close battle for the third position in GTE Pro, where the two Porsches were very close to each other. While Estre was on new tires, Makowiecki was on much older ones – and it took a bit of time before the latter gave away the spot to the former.
Racing Team Nederland #29 had a wild tour down towards Tertre Rouge, where Giedo van der Garde went over the grass but managed to keep the car from the Armco.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 also had some problems staying on the asphalt in the pit entry, and cruised through the gravel and further into their pitstop.
Porsche #91 went off the track in Mulsanne corner, but Fred Mako could quickly continue.
There were problems for Risi Competizione #82, which came into the pits with a huge smoke behind the car.
AF Corse Ferrari #54 drove slowly into the pits with a problem, with Thomas Flohr behind the wheel.
There was a Full Course Yellow with four and a half hours left, when it was time to reattach floppies, clean up debris and stones from the track. Fortunately, it only took a few minutes before the race got restarted.
There were problems for Team WRT #41, who drove around with the left door open. Luckily, Louis Deletraz could close the door again, so they didn’t have to pit.
After twenty hours, Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 was still leading in Hypercar, Team WRT #31 in LMP2, DragonSpeed USA #21 in LMP2 Pro/Am, AF Corse Ferrari #51 in GTE Pro, and AF Corse Ferrari #83 with Nicklas Nielsen, Francois Perrodo, and Alessio Rovera in GTE Am.
Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #388 went off in the first chicane on the Mulsanne straight. Pierre Ehret rolled backwards and hit the tire wall, damaging the car’s rear. Luckily, the car bounced back from the tire wall and back to the asphalt, so he could drive to the pits. But there was debris all over the track and it required a short Slow Zone to clean it up.
Even though Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 had a big lead, they were still pushing hard. Jose Maria Lopez almost crashed into SRT41 #84 from behind, under braking to the Mulsanne straight.
PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports #24 had done well in the first twenty hours of the race, but then the technical problems began to come, and they had to pit a couple of times before unfortunately retiring.
Three hours before the chequered flag, there were some reports about rain on the track again, but it blew over quickly.
Both Toyotas started to have problems with the cars. They could no longer drive full stints and had to pit earlier and earlier.
TF Sport #95 had a spin in front of Iron Lynx Ferrari #85 and Toyota Gazoo Racing #7, who had to drive over the gravel to avoid it, between the Dunlop Bridge and Tertre Rouge. The stewards had several replays of the incident, and it turned out that #85 nudged #95 around – so they gave Iron Dames a 10-second pitstop penalty in their next stop.
Iron Lynx Ferrari #60 went over the run-off area in the second chicane on the Mulsanne straight, but could quickly recover.
Rinaldi Racing Ferrari #388 had to retire from the race since the damage from the run-off incident was too severe. Risi Competizione #82 was also out of the race due to an engine problem that couldn’t be solved.
Two hours before the finish, Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 still led the Hypercar category, Team WRT #31 in LMP2, DragonSpeed USA #21 in LMP2 Pro/Am, AF Corse Ferrari #51 in GTE Pro, and AF Corse Ferrari #83 with Nicklas Nielsen in GTE AM.
There could soon be an internal battle in LMP2 when Team WRT #41 slowly but surely caught up with their sister car #31. #31 is the FIA WEC car, while #41 is the ELMS car. Pointwise, all the cars not participating in the FIA WEC are invisible, so it wouldn’t matter for the team who won. #31 had problems with their air jacks and had to use an air pillow to raise the car.
There was drama for the leading LMP2 Pro/Am car when Ben Hanley suddenly slowed down on the track. There was no visible damage on the car – it simply drove slowly. He managed to bring the car back to the pits, where the team refuelled the car, cleaned the headlights, and sent him on his way again.
The two Team WRT cars had met, and actually swapped positions in their latest pitstop, where #41 was now ahead of #31.
Porsche #91 had a wild tour over the Ford chicane, which ripped the rear bumper and the diffusor off the car. Fred Makowiecki drove the car for an entire lap before he had to pit and get a new rear mounted on the car. It triggered a Full Course Yellow, so that the debris could be cleaned up.
Racing Team Nederland #29 went off the track, but Job van Uitert quickly recovered.
Some of the LMP2 cars were close on fuel, so the question was who had to pit again and who could drive to the finish.
Realteam Racing #70 was one of them who had to pit again, as well as Racing Team Nederland #29. It gave DragonSpeed USA #21 a huge advantage as they had pitted half an hour before the race ended.
There was still a battle in the LMP2 category with a few minutes left, since P3 still wasn’t decided. JOTA #28 caught up with Team WRT #31 fast, and the gap went down to only a few seconds when the cars started their last lap.
There was a big drama ahead when the leading Team WRT #41 stalled after the Dunlop Bridge – on the last lap of the race! Even though it was down the hill, they couldn’t get the car to restart. And suddenly, the battle between #31 and #28 became a battle for victory. They fought all the way to the finish line, where there were slower cars ahead, who had gotten the chequered flag and were celebrating their victory.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 with Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez and Mike Conway won the race for the first time, after having finished behind their teammates in so many years, ahead of the sister car #8 with Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley, while Alpine Elf Matmut #36 with Nicolas Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Andre Negrao finished third. While #36 finished four laps behind the winning Toyota, Glickenhaus Racing #708 was on the same lap after an almost flawless race, apart from the first corner. Glickenhaus Racing #709 finished three laps behind them, but all five Hypercars completed the race.
Team WRT #31 held on all the way to the finish line, so Robin Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg and Yifei Ye could take the win – three Le Mans debutants, for a debuting team. JOTA #28 with Sean Gelael, Tom Blomqvist and Stoffel Vandoorne finished second, only 0,727 behind, and Panis Racing #65 with Julien Canal, Will Stevens and James Allen was P3, for the second year in a row.
DragonSpeed USA #21 with Juan Pablo Montoya, Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley won the LMP2 Pro/Am category, ahead of Racing Team Nederland #29 with Job van Uitert, Frits van Eerd and Giedo van der Garde.
High Class Racing #20 with Dennis Andersen, Ricky Taylor and Marco Sørensen finished P13 in LMP2, and fourth in LMP2 Pro/Am, while the sister car #49 with Jan Magnussen, Kevin Magnussen and Anders Fjordbach finished in P17 in the LMP2 category.
AF Corse Ferrari #51 with James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Come Ledogar won the GTE Pro category, which was the second time for Calado and Pier Guidi and the first time for Ledogar. Corvette Racing #63 with Jordan Taylor, Antonio Garcia and Nicky Catsburg finished second, and Neel Jani, Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen in Porsche #92 was P3.
Nicklas Nielsen, Francois Perrodo and Alessio Rovera won the GTE Am category with AF Corse Ferrari #83, which was their first victory. Perrodo has now been on the podium eight out of nine times he has raced at Le Mans, and it was Nielsen’s second podium in two attempts – and the second 24-hour race win in a month, since he also won Spa 24 Hours with Iron Lynx Ferrari. TF Sport Aston Martin #33 with Felipe Fraga, Dylan Pereira and Ben Keating finished second, while Iron Lynx Ferrari #80 with Rino Mastronardi, Matteo Cressoni and Callum Ilott was third.
Iron Lynx Ferrari #85 with Rahel Frey, Sarah Bovy and Michelle Gatting finished P9, which was exactly the same result as the two other times they participated at Le Mans.
As mentioned earlier, Nicki Thiim retired with Aston Martin Racing #98, and Mikkel Jensen with Kessel Racing Ferrari #57.
We’ll do an update with the points when all the cars have been through technical check tomorrow.