The partnership between Michelin and Toyota Gazoo Racing delivered a third consecutive triumph at Le Mans this weekend with the N°8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid crewed by Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima. Thanks to the long-lasting performance of its Pilot Sport range, Michelin not only succeeded in completing a record-breaking quintuple stint with a Rebellion prototype on the same four tyres, but also achieved a grand-slam result at the great French race for the second year running, accompanying United Autosports to victory in LMP2 and Aston Martins to the top step of the podium in LMGTE Pro and Am. Michelin dedicates these successes to all the passionate and loyal endurance racing fans who were unfortunately unable to attend the 88th edition of this legendary race which was held behind closed doors for the first time due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
With the race postponed from June to September, empty grandstands, a start half-an-hour earlier at 2:30pm local time and a particularly strict health and safety protocol, this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours will go down in history as an altogether unique event, yet it turned out to be as thrilling and uncompromising as ever.
Toyota Gazoo Racing prevailed at Le Mans for the third year in a row with its Michelin-shod N°8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid (Buemi/Hartley/Nakajima) which completed a total of 387 laps (5,273km). Its N°7 sister car – shared by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López– led for the first half of the race, only to run into misfortune yet again, this time due to turbo issues.
Toyota’s success marked a 23
The Michelin Pilot Sport’s durability and consistency allowed the LMP1 and LMP2 prototypes to run triple and even quadruple stints, while its LMGTE runners succeeded in double- or triple-stinting as a function of their respective strategies. Multi-stinting requires drivers to preserve their tyres as long as possible with the reward of shorter pit visits, representing a welcome saving of around 30 seconds per stop.
Underscoring the importance of this, a quadruple stint at the start of the race allowed the N°39 Oreca to take charge of the fiercely competitive LMP2 category, whilst the Proton and WeatherTech LMGTE Am teams completed triple stints at night on soft-compound tyres.
As for the Toyota TS050 Hybrids, they started the race with two quadruple stints of 44 laps each (600km on the same set of tyres) which saw them establish an early advantage over their pursuers. Later, the N°1 Rebellion went one better by completing five stints on the same rubber in the hands of Gustavo Menezes. The Californian covered 55 laps (750km) at an average speed of 239kph, a new record and the equivalent of more than two F1 grands prix, but on a single set of tyres.
“Our tyres demonstrated a level of performance and consistency never before seen at Le Mans,” acknowledged Pierre Alves, Manager of Michelin Motorsport’s Endurance Racing programme. “Our partners were able to complete triple, quadruple and even quintuple [C1] stints on the soft compound.”
The half-hour lost by the N°7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid shortly after mid-distance to allow for its turbo to be replaced elevated the similarly Michelin-shod Rebellions to second and third, although the Japanese prototype would recover third in the closing stages following a delay for the N°3 Rebellion. The N°1 Rebellion – in the hands of Gustavo Menezes, Norman Nato and Bruno Senna – went on to collect second place, with the fastest lap of the race to its credit (3m19.264s).
The LMP2 class was keenly contested, with a number of Michelin’s partner teams taking their turn at the front of the field. The N°39 and N°26 Orecas both led before the battle boiled down to an internal duel between United Autosports’ N°22 and N°32 Oreca entries. The latter ran into mechanical difficulties at dawn, granting the N°22 Oreca (Filipe Albuquerque / Paul Di Resta / Phil Hanson) what looked to be a clear path to victory after completing a series of very quick triple and quadruple stints on soft Michelin Pilot Sports. A late ‘splash ‘n dash’ refuelling stop eight minutes from the end almost cost them the win but, in a breathless conclusion to the race, they just held on.
In LMGTE Pro, the first part of the race was a Ferrari and Aston Martin affair, with four cars all equipped with Michelin Pilot Sport tyres running literally wheel-to-wheel as evening fell. Three safety car interventions would subsequently split this battle up, however, leading to a spectacular duel for glory between the N°97 Aston Martin and N°51 Ferrari, won by the former in the hands of Alex Lynn, Maxime Martin and Harry Tincknell. Both manufacturers adopted double-stint strategies.
In LMGTE Am, the Aston Martin Vantage quickly asserted its supremacy over its Porsche and Ferrari rivals who nonetheless refused to go down without a fight. The Michelin-shod N°90 TF Sport-run Aston Martin (Jonny Adam /Charlie Eastwood / Salih Yoluc[C1] ) steadily built up a margin over its pursuers, with the N°77 Porsche and N°83 Ferrari ultimately placing second and third following an epic late-race battle with the N°56 Porsche, all three of them running on Michelin tyres.
For the second consecutive year at Le Mans, Michelin swept the board with victory in all four classes. This weekend’s race was the last one to feature the LMP1 hybrid prototypes, which – in partnership with Michelin – have been unbeaten since 2012. From 2021, they will be replaced by the new Hypercars, to which Michelin will be the exclusive tyre-supplier.
2020 Le Mans 24 Hours – final positions:
Buemi/Hartley/Nakajima (Toyota TS050 Hybrid/Michelin), 387 laps
Menezes/Nato/Senna (Rebellion R13/Michelin), +5 laps
Conway/Kobayashi/López (Toyota TS050 Hybrid/Michelin), +6 laps
Berthon/Delétraz/Dumas (Rebellion R13/Michelin), +6 laps
Albuquerque[C2] /Di Resta/Hanson (Oreca-Gibson/Michelin[C3] ), +17 laps (1
Davidson/da Costa/González (Oreca-Gibson), +17 laps
Canal/Jamin/Vaxivière (Oreca-Gibson), +19 laps
Laurent/Negrão/Ragues (Alpine A470/Michelin), +20 laps
Jensen/Rusinov/Vergne (Aurus01/Michelin), +20 laps
Bradley/Chatin/Lafargue (Oreca-Gibson/Michelin), +21 laps