LE MANS, France - In a momentous return to Circuit de la Sarthe, Ferrari AF Corse triumphed in the Centenary 24 Hours of Le Mans with the 499P Hypercar, marking the first outright win for the Prancing Horse since Masten Gregory, Ed Hugus and Jochen Rindt's victory decades ago in 1965.
The No. 51 Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi crossed the finish line a minute and 21 seconds ahead of the No. 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 HYBRID driven by Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa.
“It takes time to grasp what we did," Pier Guidi said. "Probably now, we are part of the history of Ferrari, the biggest brand in the world. As an Italian, I have dreamed of driving for this brand since childhood. Now it's real. We won Le Mans with a red car. It isn't easy to describe what you feel. It’s a mix of emotions.
"If you think about how much work there is behind this victory. We worked 24/7. We tried to give our best, but everyone worked non-stop, the engineers and the mechanics, for one year, and the work finally paid off.
Securing the final spot on the overall podium was the No. 2 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-Series.R, piloted by Alex Lynn, Earl Bamber and Richard Westbrook, who finished just one lap behind the race-winning Ferrari. The intense competition saw attrition take its toll, narrowing the battle for the lead between the No. 51 Ferrari and the No. 8 Toyota in the final hours.
However, the 499P showcased its superior speed in the latter half of the race. Although Pier Guidi encountered a mishap at the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight, the Ferrari swiftly regained the lead and established a substantial one-minute advantage over the Toyota. A pit stop power cycle in the 19th hour brought the Toyota back into contention, with both cars closely circulating on the track.
Nevertheless, the Ferrari had already begun to assert its dominance when Hirakawa suffered an off-track incident in the 23rd hour, which ultimately ended the battle between the Italian and Japanese manufacturers.
"It was very hard to challenge Ferrari but we never gave up hope and we tried everything to win Le Mans again," Hirakawa said. "We need to analyze this race and find areas to improve. Personally, I will learn from my mistake and come back stronger."
Despite the minor setback of another power cycle for the No. 51 Ferrari in the closing stages, Pier Guidi maintained a significant lead over the Toyota. This allowed him to resume the race comfortably and make history for Ferrari.
While the No. 2 Cadillac V-Series.R enjoyed a relatively trouble-free run despite a spin by Westbrook overnight, the sister No. 3 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac encountered a more eventful journey although they ended the race in fourth place.
The No. 3 Cadillac shared by Sebastien Bourdais, Renger van der Zande and Scott Dixon got rear-ended by an LMGTE Am car at the Dunlop Chicane, and later by one of the Team WRT LMP2s at Tertre Rouge in entirely separate incidents. These collisions hampered their progress, leaving them two laps behind in fourth overall.
The No. 50 Ferrari 499P of Nicklas Nielsen, Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina secured fifth place, despite facing setbacks such as an off-track incident at the Porsche Curves in heavy rain. Additionally, it lost multiple laps overnight due to a fluid leak in the energy recovery system.
Porsche experienced a disappointing race while Peugeot showed some potential. Peugeot's unconventional 9X8s initially engaged in the battle for the lead. However, a spin for Jean-Eric Vergne in the No. 93 car at Mulsanne Corner during wet weather conditions resulted in the team losing two laps, while Gustavo Menezes crashed the sister No. 94 car at the first chicane on the Mulsanne Straight during the early hours.
Both Peugeot cars had encountered hydraulic issues during the race, but Porsche faced even more significant challenges with its Penske-entered 963 LMDh cars. The No. 75 Porsche became the first Hypercar class retirement, due to a fuel pressure problem. A crash by the No. 6 Porsche of Kevin Estre at the Porsche Curves eliminated them from contention. Additionally, the No. 5 Porsche suffered delays due to a puncture, cooling system leak and a driveshaft issue in the final hour resulting in a ninth-place finish in the Hypercar class.
Glickenhaus, a small-scale manufacturer, capitalized on the late-race drama and secured an unexpected sixth place in the Hypercar class with the No. 708 entry driven by Olivier Pla, Romain Dumas and Ryan Briscoe. Their sister car, the No. 709 Glickenhaus 007 LMH, followed closely behind in seventh overall. Both Glickenhaus entries were able to get a respectable finish after both prototypes spun at the Indianapolis Corner in the final few hours.
The overall race-winning No. 51 Ferrari 499P completed the race with a total of 342 laps, the fewest number of laps for a Le Mans winner since Audi in 2001.
In the LMP2 class, the Polish-backed Inter Europol Competition team emerged as the surprise winners with the No. 34 Oreca 07-Gibson driven by Jakub Smiechowski, Albert Costa and Fabio Scherer.
Notably, Scherer sustained a foot injury during the race when his left foot was run over by the No. 33 Corvette C8.R during a pit stop. Despite the setback, Inter Europol clinched its first FIA World Endurance Championship win on the prestigious Le Mans stage.
In the LMGTE Am class, Corvette Racing closed out the GTE era at Le Mans with a triumphant victory before the class will shift to LMGT3 in 2024. Over the race weekend, it was reported this would be the final Le Mans outgoing for the factory-backed Corvette team, due to the new LMGT3 regulations preventing factory support, starting next year.
Corvette encountered early setbacks such as spending 10 minutes in the garage to replace a front damper and losing two laps. Additionally, they could not regain a lap during an early safety car period. However, a flawless performance coupled with impressive speed from Nicky Catsburg, Nico Varrone and Ben Keating allowed them to recover lost ground.
"The way we won it is special," Keating said. "To feel like it was out of reach and then watch this team claw back and get victory out defeat’s grasp was really special. It was really nice to feel like I was a part of that.
"It’s one of those deals where you can look at every member of the team on this win, and you know everyone contributed. That makes it special.”
One of the most popular cars on the grid this year was the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 entry fielded by Hendrick Motorsports that saw a star-studded driver lineup. This included seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button and Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller.
While the car finished 39th overall due to an issue with the drive line, there is no doubt that having a NASCAR Cup car roaring around Circuit de la Sarthe with an American V8 motor share the field with traditional Le Mans prototypes and GT cars resulted in a massive media splash for the race, bringing much more attention to the race than usual. It was also a major hit with the fans and everyone at HMS felt genuine joy for finishing the 24-hour race.
My heart is full,” Johnson said. “For all the reasons we know – coming here with NASCAR, Hendrick, Chevrolet, Goodyear. Many of the people here working were on different teams that I won races and championships with. There were so many familiar faces, to have this experience was just off the charts. My bucket is full. I’m really happy.
“The fan reception – whether it was at the parade, or on the cool-down lap just now. Even the corner marshals were going nuts. Everything was just incredible.”
Entering the race, some were concerned that the NASCAR Cup car might be way off the pace compared to the LMGTE Am cars or may not have the reliability to last all 24 hours. At most, NASCAR's longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, is typically a race that lasts for over four hours. The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 went the full distance to see the checkered flag and it was a huge accomplishment for the whole NASCAR industry.
In regards to any concerns over the car's pace, the Next Gen car's fastest lap during the race was 3:50.512 and right on target with the GT field. To the relief of team owner, Rick Hendrick, his car showed up big time on the world stage in a showing that won't be forgotten anytime soon.
“It makes me proud for our sport,” Hendrick said. “The last thing I’d want to do is for us to come over here and fall on our nose. That’s what I was worried about. From the very beginning with Chad (Knaus) and Greg (Ives), I said we’ve got to do this right. We don’t spare any expense.
"Our NASCAR teams can do any kind of race they want to do. I mean, they got the talent, they've got the engineers, and they got a lot of smart people and they can do whatever.”
A 62-car grid started the race but only 40 cars were classified after the twice-around-the-clock French endurance classic, marking the lowest figure since 2015.
After a grueling 24 hours, here are the overall podium finishers at Le Mans:
1. J. Calado, A. Giovinazzi, A. Pier Guidi, No. 51 Ferrari AF Corse - Ferrari 499P
2. S. Buemi, B. Hartley, R. Hirakawa, No. 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing - Toyota GR010 HYBRID
3. E. Bamber, A. Lynn, R. Westbrook, No. 2 Chip Ganassi Racing - Cadillac V-Series.R
The FIA World Endurance Championship will visit Italy next on July 9 for the 6 Hours of Monza.