The legendary Le Mans 24-hour marathon celebrated its centenary this year: this race was first held in 1923. Recently, the daily competitions on the Sarte ring have lost their former luster: only a few cars made it to the start and the winner could be guessed long before the finish line.
The last race was truly memorable: Ferrari broke the hegemony of Toyota and achieved the first victory since 1965 and the tenth in its history in the most prestigious marathon in the world of circuits.
Relaunch of the 24 Hours of Le Mans
The hypercar category appeared at Le Mans in 2021, but the Glickenhouses and an outdated Alpin couldn’t hold their own against Toyota. However, in 2023, there was something of a franchise reboot: Ferrari unveiled a new hypercar, Porsche and Cadillac prepared vehicles, Peugeot was developing a prototype, and the troubled Wenwall was added. 16 crews in the main daily race classification – this hasn’t happened for over ten years!
However, in all honesty, they were not expecting a special fight in the paddock: Toyota, due to its experience and proven practices, stayed one step ahead of its competitors and had previously won at Sebring, Portimão and Spa. And the judges, it seems, trembled something: a few days before the start, the organizers decided to add additional ballast to the cars of the Japanese team. “Personally, I see a problem here. We are here for the good of the sport, it should be the main show,” said team principal Rob Lepin.
It started to rain more than once during the race.
Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
The judges’ decision really changed the balance of power: two Ferrari teams qualified for the front row, while the Toyotas fell behind. In the early laps, the Japanese managed to fight back, but the Scuderia gained a foothold and seized the initiative: Toyota’s lead not only diminished, but disappeared completely.
Also, during the night phase of the race, the No. 7 crew landed in a crash: Kamui Kobayashi landed in a crash involving the LMP2 prototype and the GT car. Meanwhile, Ferrari No. 50 struggled: due to technical problems, the crew lost five laps and withdrew from the fight for victory. In the final segment, the battle came down to a duel between the No. 51 Ferrari and the No. 8 Toyota.
From the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans:
Two hours before the finish line, the leaders were separated by 15 seconds and the Toyota crew gradually narrowed the gap. However, at some point, Ryo Hirakawa, the reigning 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, skidded under braking and crashed into the fender. The mistake cost the Japanese a minute, an unscheduled pit stop, one more. The gap in the fight for victory instantly reached almost a circle.
The rights of the video belong to the Automobile Club de l’Ouest. The video can be viewed on the FIA WEC YouTube channel.
Ferrari had a sure lead, it only remained to get the car to the finish line, but at the last pit stop the hypercar stalled. Fortunately, Per Guidi managed to start the car, there was enough separation with Toyota, and the Scuderia drivers reached the finish line safely, having covered 342 laps in one day. For Ferrari, this is the first victory since 1964 and the tenth in history: only Porsche and Audi have won the 24 Hours of Le Mans more often.
This is the third Le Mans victory for James Calado and Alessandro Pierre Guidi, having won the GTE Pro in 2019 and 2021 and are now winning the overall marathon. And for Antonio Giovinazzi, this is not only the first success on the Sarte circuit and the first victory in the WEC, but also the biggest triumph of his motorsport career.
Pit stop problem could have cost Ferrari victory
Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Second place went to Sebastien Buemi, Brendom Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa. For the sixth year in a row, Toyota drivers made it to the podium, but for the first time they did not stand on the top step. In the end, Hirakawa’s departure became decisive in the fight for victory, but there is a feeling that the additional ballast ultimately played a role and slowed down the strongest hypercars on track too much. Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook took the podium as bronze medalists: In the program’s debut year in endurance racing, Cadillac makes it to the top 3, this is a huge success for the team.
Kvyat and Lomko got off
The Russian drivers, unfortunately, could not reach the finish: in the night phase of the race, Daniil Kvyat and Reshad from Gerus, who was in the same team with Vladislav Lomko and Simon Pazhno, collided cars in the Porsche section with a difference of About an hour. Both cars were so broken that it was no longer possible to continue the race. An embarrassing retirement for both – both had chances to win in LMP2.
More about the Russians:
The strongest in this category are Jakub Smichovsky, Albert Costa and Fabio Scherer from Inter Europol Competition, and Robert Kubica’s team from Team WRT reaches the finish line for the second consecutive year. Robert Kubica and Louis Delétraz from Team WRT are coming. It was Kubica’s third Le Mans outing, and certainly not his last.
In the GT category, the only Chevrolet Corvette C8.R to start took a beautiful victory: Nikki Catsburg, Ben Keating and Nicholas Varrone from the factory team were two minutes ahead of Team ORT by TF’s Aston Martin and three minutes ahead of GR Racing’s Porsche 911 RSR-19.
NASCAR stock car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
We also noted the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 stock car, which was out of the standings, but quicker than the GT cars, but encountered technical issues on the course. The mechanics repaired the car and returned it to the track: under the checkered flag, Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller completed their 285th lap. Even allowing for the breakdown, it would allow them to qualify in the top 10 in the GT class.
The next 24 Hours of Le Mans will take place on June 15-16, 2024, with the WEC World Championship continuing a month later on July 9 when the Monza 6 Hours take place in Italy. And there is no doubt that Toyota’s performance and ballast balancing rules will be discussed in the paddock all this month.
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