Ferrari drive to their first 24 Hours in Le Mans Victory in 58 years
Print Deputy Editor Harry Craig reflects on Ferrari’s first win at Le Mans since 1965.
For the most iconic and successful brand in motorsport history, there hasn’t been much to celebrate for Ferrari in recent years. The Formula One team has been a constant cycle of mishaps and disappointment, enduring a 16-year championship drought that has wasted talents such as Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and now Charles Leclerc. However, the Italian marque’s sportscar team finally found success this month in their return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans after a fifty-year absence.
This year marked the centenary of the most famous sportscar race in the world, held annually at the Circuit de la Sarthe in northern France. Ferrari have enjoyed plenty of success at Le Mans in the past, with nine wins between 1949 and 1965, including a run of six consecutive wins that was ended by Ford in 1966 (and later depicted in the biopic Ford v Ferrari). Since 1973, however, the rosso corsa of Ferrari has been conspicuously absent from the top class of the Le Mans grid.
This changed in 2021, when Ferrari announced it would return to Le Mans in 2023 under the new Le Mans Hypercar regulations that replaced the failed LMP1 category. This new set of regulations was predicted to bring about a new belle époque for sportscar endurance racing, and so it has proved – in the inaugural edition of Le Mans run under the new regulations, Ferrari were joined by fellow manufacturers Toyota, Cadillac, Porsche and Peugeot, with Lamborghini, Alpine and BMW set to join next year. This marked a substantial change from the dying days of LMP1, when only Toyota was left.
For now, as Le Mans celebrated its centennial race, Ferrari have proved to be the class of the field. They upset favourites Toyota by locking out the front row in qualifying, and the #51 Ferrari took the chequered flag after 24 epic hours of racing at 15:00 on 11th June. Fittingly, the winning trio of drivers featured two Italians, Alessandro Pier Guidi and former F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi, alongside Brit James Calado, who upset the odds and end Toyota’s streak of five consecutive Le Mans victories.
It was not without fight for the Ferrari drivers, however. The first six hours after LeBron James waved the tricolour flag to start the race were calamitous, featuring heavy downpours of rain and almost as much safety car running as green flag racing. Ferrari, Toyota, Porsche, Cadillac and Peugeot continued to swap the lead well into the night as the headlights came on and only the hardiest of fans stayed tuned in. Mechanical issues, crashes and errors left two contenders come the morning light – Ferrari and Toyota.
It was left to Pier Guidi to bring the Ferrari home in one piece. In traditional Ferrari fashion, it wasn’t without a last-minute, heart-stopping panic – with 25 minutes left, Pier Guidi came in for his final pit stop and the car seemed unable to get going again, sitting in its box for what felt like an eternity. The Toyota crew saw a last glimmer of hope, but thankfully the Ferrari eventually got going again, and took victory.
This feat cannot be understated. A team winning in their first year at Le Mans is highly unexpected – particularly when, in the previous rounds of the World Endurance Championship this year, Toyota has looked to be a step ahead of the Italian team. This race also proved why, even in this era of sprint races and fast-paced action, endurance racing certainly still has a place, and we can enjoy many years of epic Le Mans action to come, unfolding across 24 hours.
Ferrari’s biggest fan, its Formula 1 superstar Charles Leclerc, was in the team’s Le Mans garage to see the prancing horse’s victory. It must have felt like a bizarre sight for him – an operationally near-perfect Ferrari team, with impeccable reliability and impressive race pace. Ironically, this Ferrari sportscar project was born out of a necessity for the Scuderia’s Formula 1 division to redirect resources following F1’s recently introduced budget cap.
Success is a rare thing at Ferrari nowadays, and in F1, this season looks to be one of the most disappointing in their history. Nonetheless, the victory of Pier Guidi, Giovinazzi and Calado ensures that the church bells of Maranello have rung out in celebration at least once this year – and perhaps usher in a new golden era for endurance racing.