The 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans automobile endurance race is happening this weekend at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. It is traditionally held in June of each year, but because of 2020’s bizarre circumstances, it will be only the fourth time in the 97-year history of Le Mans that the endurance event will take place outside the month of June — the first time being its very first race back in 1923 when it was held in May, the second time in 1956 when it was held in July, and the third in 1968 when domestic issues in France forced the event to be moved to September.
This 2020, it will be the first time that no spectators will be allowed to enter the circuit to witness the event. It will definitely be a run unlike any of its races before, as 250,000 passionate endurance racing fans typically come to attend and cheer.
Moreover, the much-anticipated city center scrutineering and drivers’ parade activities will also not be held this year. Some adjustments to the traditional timetable were also made – with a grueling, almost 11 hours of practice and qualifying scheduled last Thursday.
“The Le Mans 24 Hours is the highlight of our year! It is the main target and always the biggest challenge,” expressed Toyota Gazoo Racing Team President, Hisatake Murata. He explained how they were very proud to be preparing for the race as two-time winners, and that they had pledged to give their all in order to hopefully win a third consecutive Le Mans.
In 2018 and 2019, the four-wheel drive TS050 Hybrid won the Le Mans endurance races, back-to-back. They were beautiful victories as a culmination of their racing success, after the 1,000ps TS050 Hybrid came as close as just within two laps of victory during its debut run in 2016. This year, it takes on the Le Mans challenge one last time at the end of the LMP1 era. It is thus an extra exciting race tomorrow, to see if Toyota Gazoo Racing will indeed take permanent possession of the current winners’ trophy.
“Normally we look forward to sharing this challenge with the fans at the circuit, who create a unique atmosphere with their passion for endurance racing,” Murata pointed out. Adding that “We will miss them this year, so it will be a very unusual edition but we are grateful to the ACO for overcoming the difficult circumstances and giving us the opportunity to share the spirit of Le Mans once again.”
The TS050 Hybrid is definitely a vehicle that’s one for the books – shining as Toyota’s first Le Mans winner, and also as the fastest car ever on the Circuit de la Sarthe! The fastest-time record being set during Kamui Kobayashi’s pole position lap back in 2017 (which spoke volumes about the sheer speed of the TS050 Hybrid).
“I have won 3 world titles but Le Mans has always been my dream,” exclaimed Jose Maria Lopez, crew member of the TS050 that is a contender for first place. Further stating that “I am in the best team! The TS050 Hybrid is an incredible machine and I have the best teammates, so the target is clearly the center of the podium!”
He then continued with saying that Le Mans is extremely tough, and that the reality is that many drivers in the past have come very close to winning first place, but did not necessarily succeed. Therefore, the situation is still very unpredictable and exciting.
This year, two TS050 Hybrid vehicles will compete against four other LMP1 vehicles on the 60-car grid, with the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) titles at stake. Le Mans is the second to the last round of the 2019-2020 WEC season; and the #7 TS050 Hybrid crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez (who won last month at Spa), lead the current scores by 12 points.
Meanwhile, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima (who are Le Mans winners from the last two years, with Nakajima being the first ever Japanese to achieve a back-to-back win), along with their teammate Brendon Hartley, are second in ranking, with 51 points available next weekend.
With the team’s sixth pole position (its fourth pole in succession), this achievement puts Toyota in a tie with Peugeot in third place in overall poles.
This Saturday’s 24 Hours of Le Mans flags off at 2:30pm French local time (8:30pm in Manila) and will run all the way into darkness for about half of the race. It will end on Sunday afternoon at 2:30pm. Goodluck, Team Toyota Gazoo Racing!