One of the most famous events in motorsport took place on Sunday, August 22, and Alpine made it extra special.
Shortly before the start ceremony, Alpine celebrated its passion for motorsport by bringing together its best ambassadors and frontrunners behind the wheel of competition and road cars in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
In this prestigious setting, the brand also demonstrated the full extent of its savoir-faire and stunned the world in becoming the first to run an F1 car on the Circuit de la Sarthe with Fernando Alonso at the wheel.
After this highlight in Le Mans, the rain arrived less than an hour before the race.
Like its rivals, the team used Michelin grooved tyres on its A480 for the first time this year.
Nicolas Lapierre was tasked to start on the wet track and made a superb pass on the n°8 Toyota to move up to second place.
Lapierre said “It was great to see all the fans with French flags and Alpine colours. We missed them so much last year. We felt a great support all over the week and we would like to thank them.
“This third place is not what we expected, but it is the best we could have done today. Toyota were stronger than us. We must accept that, congratulate them and work even harder even if we can be proud of what we have achieved for a first 24 Hours of Le Mans start in the top-flight category.”
Caught out when accelerating coming out of Indianapolis, Lapierre then began an impressive comeback from seventeenth place to re-enter the top ten in less than two laps, then the top five three laps later.
A series of fastest times on an increasingly dry track saw Alpine take the lead before the first pit-stop when the team switched to slick tyres.
Lapierre came back out in fifth place and continued pushing hard to move up to third place after nearly two and a half hours of the race.
Despite the pitfalls and several caution periods that were not favourable to the team, André Negrão and Matthieu Vaxiviere also gave everything they had.
The crew’s junior member had to deal with an unscheduled change of the rear bodywork assembly due to a problem with the lights.
That was followed by an off-track excursion at the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight at 11:10 pm.
While Vaxiviere lost more than four minutes in the process, he managed to get going before handing over to Lapierre, who once again charged back to third place.
From then on, the battle with the n° 708 Glickenhaus for the final step of the podium place heated up. In the late hours of the evening, Negrão continued at the same pace despite a slow right-rear puncture.
Negrão said “Every time I come to Le Mans with Nicolas, we finish on the podium together and we have a new kid with us this year in Matthieu.
“It’s a great result for Alpine and for the team that has worked hard alongside us to meet the challenge of the Hypercar class and its new regulations, new processes and a new car for us.
“We weren’t close enough to the leaders to capitalise on their technical issues and both Glickenhaus were also very strong on this track. We managed to outrun them in the final hours and it was a great satisfaction.”
The team then adjusted its tyre strategy by tripling the stints of its drivers to save fresh tyres for the final stretch.
In this intense tactical duel, with several tough on-track battles, the trio emerged from the dreaded night in contention for the podium thanks to a flawless performance by the technical team.
Despite a trip through the gravel trap, Lapierre accelerated the pace in the dawn fog to put his teammates in an ideal position.
Under the impetus of Negrão and Alpine Elf Matmut Endurance Team tacticians, the team took advantage of a slow zone to slightly anticipate Vaxiviere’s return to the track.
Vaxiviere said “From the start of the race we saw quite quickly and clearly that the Toyotas had solid pace. We had to be flawless while pushing our limits. I made a mistake, which I accept, but we were able to get going without losing too much time.
“We stayed committed to our philosophy and our approach, we never overreacted and we managed to get this podium of which we can be proud. The team did a perfect job as they have done since the beginning of the year.”
The decision proved crucial as the Frenchman undercut his rival and set the pace to pull away from his closest challenger by over two minutes.
With three hours to go, Lapierre followed him and applied the finishing touches to the race to make up over a lap to the leaders.
Despite a neutralisation at the beginning of the final hour, the team kept its composure, demonstrating its mastery with a lightning-fast refuelling with half an hour to go to make it a quadruple stint for Lapierre.
In the waning minutes of the race, the Alpine A480 was in control, taking the chequered flag shortly after 4 pm in third place by more than half a lap over its rival, despite making three more stops.
The result was witnessed by Laurent Rossi, Alpine CEO and Luca de Meo, Groupe Renault CEO, emphasising the importance of the 2021 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Alpine.
Philippe Sinault, Team Principal Alpine Elf Matmut Endurance Team, said “Alpine definitely loves Le Mans. As I stood in blue on the podium, I realised that this is such a great story going on. While victory would have been fantastic to reinforce the legend of Alpine and Le Mans, we have no reason to be disappointed.
“It is an excellent result, achieved after an extremely difficult and tricky race. We are a small team with only one car. We can’t afford to make any mistakes and we came very close to throwing it all away during the night.
“We quickly realised that we could not match the level of performance of the winners and we focused all of our attention on this important podium for all the people who support us.
“After this race, I think that we also have a more accurate picture of the field. Lastly, I am thinking of Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, a man who knew how to break the conventions of his time by being simple, efficient, serious, passionate and incredibly humble in order to perform incredibly well.”
This performance also sees the crew of Nicolas Lapierre, André Negrão, and Matthieu Vaxiviere consolidate their third place in the FIA Hypercar Endurance World Championship and Alpine’s second position in the manufacturers’ classification ahead of the next meeting in Bahrain on 28-30 October.