Ferrari ended a 50-year absence from the 24 Hours of Le Mans by toppling mighty Toyota in the centenary year of the iconic race at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
100 years after the first running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in what was the 91st edition of Le Mans, 62 cars participated in three classes – Hypercar, LMP2, and LMGTE Am – all of them running on 100% sustainably produced fuel specially-developed by TotalEnergies.
The #50 Ferrari 499P started the 24 Hours of Le Mans Centenary in pole position, courtesy of Antonio Fuoco banking the fastest lap in the half-hour shoot-out. The #51 Ferrari sister car was second fastest to lock out the front row of the grid, ahead of the two Toyota GR010-Hybrids.
Several personalities were spotted soaking up the Centenary atmosphere next to the 62 competitors during the grid ceremony – among them Charles Leclerc, Dua Lipa and Tom Brady.
In a stunning display of the essence of Le Mans, shortly before the traditional grid ceremony, a memorable collection of cars that have marked the history of the race took to the track for two laps of honour. Among them were the Lorraine-Dietrich B3-6, the 1951 Porsche 356 SL Coupé (the very first Porsche to have entered Le Mans), the 1972 Matra MS670, the 1980 Rondeau M379, and the amazing sounding 1991 Mazda 787B.
Following the traditional fighter jet flypast by the Patrouille de France, all eyes then turned to basketball idol LeBron James, the celebrity starter of the centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 62 cars roared down the main straight across the start line to signal the start of what would be one of the most exciting and challenging 24 hours in the 100-year history of this iconic race, founded by Emile Coquille, Georges Durand and Charles Faroux in 1923.
Hypercar: Nail Biting to the End
The long-awaited Centenary event delivered on its bold promises, with heady entertainment on and off the track throughout the event. Suspense ran high throughout, with battles, bumps and run-offs keeping fans and teams on their toes until the very last lap on Sunday. The 100-year-old race had the last word, as always, crowning Ferrari as the winner, 58 years after the Prancing Horse’s last victory on the famous track in the Sarthe.
All eyes were on the 16 Hypercars on the grid, the top tier of what was a thrilling combination of quality and quantity. Seven manufacturers were represented – Ferrari, Porsche, Toyota, Cadillac, Peugeot, Glickenhaus and Vanwall – with most fielding debut models.
The first few metres confirmed impressions formed during free practice and qualifying. The Ferrari 499P and Toyota GR010 Hybrid Hypercars were both fast and immaculately prepared. After starting in third place, Sébastien Buemi shot straight into the lead in the #8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid before reaching Indianapolis. Mike Conway was just as determined in the sister car. The #8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid and the #51 Ferrari 499P kept everybody guessing until the final stretch. An inexhaustible tit for tat pursued as the two heavyweight marques went blow for blow, switching positions throughout the race, but it was Ferrari that held out to the end to pip the Toyota by a slight margin. Before a record crowd of 325,000 spectators, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi steered the Ferrari 499P Hypercar to victory to celebrate a majestic return of the Prancing Horse to Le Mans.
This centenary victory brings Ferrari’s total victories at Le Mans to a round 10, topping off their previous titles earned in 1949, 1954, 1958 and from 1960 to 1965. Winning the “race of the century” is particularly special as the Maranello-based team will have the added privilege of keeping the unique Centenary Trophy, specially made by the Monnaie de Paris (Paris Mint) in conjunction with Rolex, the headline sponsor of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Hypercar Top 5:
- Ferrari 499P #51 Ferrari AF Corse – Alessandro Pier Guidi / James Calado / Antonio Giovinazzi (342 laps)
- Toyota GR010 Hybrid #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing – Sébastien Buemi / Brendon Hartley / Ryō Hirakawa (1’21”793 behind)
- Cadillac V-Series.R #2 Cadillac Racing – Earl Bamber / Alex Lynn / Richard Westbrook (1 lap behind)
- Cadillac V-Series.R #3 Cadillac Racing – Sébastien Bourdais / Renger Van Der Zande / Scott Dixon (2 laps behind)
- Ferrari 499P #50 Ferrari AF Corse – Antonio Fuoco / Miguel Molina / Nicklas Nielsen (5 laps behind)
LMP2: Consistency Beats Raw Speed
Idec Sport’s #48 Oreca 07-Gibson, driven by Paul-Loup Chatin, held on to its class pole position as the race got underway. Robert Kubica in the #41 Oreca 07-Gibson for Team WRT and Pietro Fittipaldi in the #28 Oreca 07-Gibson fielded by JOTA were hot on his heels, piling on the pressure for a hotly contested LMP2 battle.
As the night progressed, the #34 Oreca 07-Gibson of Inter Europol Competition driven by Jakub Smiechowski, Albert Costa and Fabio Scherer, stepped up and held on to its lead for the rest of the race. Despite a drive-through penalty on Sunday and an escapade into the gravel at Mulsanne for Albert Costa, the Polish team didn’t budge, staying clear of any accidents or incidents that would hamper their chances to remain ahead of Team WRT.
LMP2 Class Winner:
Oreca 07-Gibson #34 Inter Europol Competition – Jakub Smiechowski / Albert Costa / Fabio Scherer – 10th (14 laps behind the overall race winning Ferrari Hypercar)
LMGTE Am: Corvette Racing, the ultimate victory
The final appearance of the GTE class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, before the arrival of GT3 class next year, set the stage for a tense race. The LMGTE Am morphed into a race for survival, beleaguered by accidents and technical hitches that got the better of many contenders – 12 of the 21 cars that entered did not go the distance. A relentless tussle for top place, in which the Iron Dames – Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey – played a dominant part, ultimately went the way of the Corvette drivers who ended on the top step of the podium.
LMGTE Am Class Winner
Chevrolet Corvette C8.R #33 Corvette Racing – Nicky Catsburg / Ben Keating / Nicolas Varrone – 26th (29 laps behind the overall race winning Ferrari Hypercar)
The return of the innovative car class Garage 56 announced in February 2022 saw the 24 Hours of the Le Mans welcome NASCAR to the race. The public were smitten with the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and its illustrious line-up of drivers – Jenson Button, Mike Rockenfeller and Jimmie Johnson – and, of course, the distinctive sound of its V8 engine. The car overcame a flurry of late-stage mechanical problems to finish the race 57 laps behind the overall race winning Ferrari Hypercar.
The 92nd edition of Le Mans 24 Hours will take place on 15-16 June 2024, and is already expected to feature a field unlike anything seen before, including more entries in the Hypercar category, and the addition of the GT3 category, with even more new entrants. Here’s to a new and exciting era of endurance racing!