Kobayashi says “unreal” to win Le Mans after years of grief

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Le Mans (France) (AFP)

Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi admitted winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans was “a bit unreal” after he, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez finally managed after years of bad luck to claim Toyota’s fourth consecutive success in the event. iconic Sunday.

Toyota’s second car, winner in the past three years, took second place with Kazuki Nakajima, Sébastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley sharing the wheel.

After 1,440 minutes, 370 laps, over 5,000 kilometers and 33 pit stops, Toyota’s number seven car avoided the misfortune that had ruined its chances in 2017, 2019 and last year of passing the checkered flag at the end of the legendary endurance test of motorsport, to the last.

Nakajima stopped behind Kobayashi in the lead car shortly before the finish to ensure that they crossed the line practically in tandem, albeit with two laps separating them in the standings.

“We had so many experiences before we got there. At Le Mans you always have to work and this time too we had problems during the race,” said former F1 driver Kobayashi.

“It was not easy, we tried to maximize what we could do to survive and we did it. It’s a bit unreal. A lot of times Le Mans only brought us bad luck, but today ‘ today we win. That’s great. “

Conway said he cried “like a little girl” after seeing Kobayashi take the checkered flag.

“We’ve come close so many times, and to do it here with the new hypercar also with these boys … the teammates have done an amazing job as always,” Conway told Eurosport.

“I was crying like a little girl. It’s a bit of everything, you work so hard for it every year that you forget how hard it is.”

In third position, four laps behind, came the rival of the elite Hypercar Alpine category of André Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Matthieu Vaxiviere.

US director Jim Glickenhaus’s two entries, at 71 pit supervision events in a stetson, completed the top five.

Stands and campsites were once again occupied after last year’s Le Mans behind closed doors, with coronavirus restrictions keeping the traditional crowd of 250,000 at home.

With capacity capped at 20 percent, the 50,000 die-hard fans who burned midnight oil were treated to another demonstration of Toyota’s dominance as Le Mans ushered in the Hypercar era.

Kobayashi, a former F1 driver with Toyota and Sauber, secured first place on the grid after setting the fastest qualifying time on Friday.

Last year he and his teammates started from pole but finished third after a long pit stop for a turbo change.

– Traitor –

In 2019, they only went ahead for a puncture of one hour to put an end to their hopes of victory.

They also took second place in 2018 and the year before, Kobayashi and Conway were part of the team that took pole but failed to finish with clutch issues.

Wet start for the Le Mans grid on Saturday JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER AFP

The start on Saturday of the 89th edition of Le Mans was rich in splendor, as befits one of the flagships of motorsport,

At 4:00 p.m. sharp, the turbocharged machines, more powerful than Napoleon’s army, set off on the track.

But breaking with tradition, organizers allowed them three training laps to adapt to the conditions, made dangerous by heavy rains shortly before Ferrari president John Elkann gave the pilots centuries-old instruction. fearless “Start Your Engines”.

Conway was behind the wheel of Toyota’s number seven car at the start and despite a puncture, he carved out a lead of 1:13 before handing the wheel to Kobayashi.

Buemi started from second on the grid but was involved in a collision with rival Glickenhaus on the first lap before the two Toyotas settled into a comfortable 1-2.

Overnight, with windshield wipers happily unemployed as the rain stayed away, Toyota’s number seven car remained in control except for a moment of cardiac arrest when Kobayashi was off the track, the sister car briefly hitting the front before resuming normal service.

By dawn, their advantage grew to around three minutes when, with Buemi at the wheel, the number eight car slowed to a stop with refueling issues.

Kobayashi on night duty at Le Mans
Kobayashi on night duty at Le Mans Jean-François MONIER AFP

After a reset, Buemi was operational again, albeit a lap behind.

Conway passed the baton to Kobayashi for the closing hour and with the car rolling smoothly, the team were finally able to carve their names on the iconic race’s winners list.


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