until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

WEC/Le Mans

Off-sequence Ferrari beats Toyota to Le Mans victory again

by Jack Cozens
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Ferrari denied Toyota victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours for a second year in a row as Nicklas Nielsen executed an unlikely final stint to win the World Endurance Championship centrepiece by less than 15 seconds.

In a 2024 edition that included multiple interventions - including extended safety car running of more than four hours in the night as a deluge arrived - and had nine of the 23-strong Hypercar class entries finish on the lead lap, the scrap for victory ultimately boiled down to another Ferrari vs Toyota head-to-head.

That was spearheaded by the #50 Ferrari - running out of kilter on strategy with the rest of the frontrunners - and the #7 Toyota crew that had encountered all sorts of issues in its preparations for the race.

Toyota thought it had the upper hand in the race's closing stages as Ferrari brought Nielsen in with 51 minutes to go, which should have left requiring one final visit to the pits.

That was a consequence of Ferrari having to bring Nielsen in off-sequence inside the final two hours when the #50's right-hand-side door came loose.

The #7 Toyota, driven in the final stint by Jose Maria Lopez, came in from the lead for its final stop less than 10 minutes later and resumed just ahead of the sister #8 car knowing it was good to make the finish.

But Ferrari seemed confident it could manage its way to the finish as Nielsen - who was particularly assured over the radio, asking the team to "just let me go with the flow" - mitigated his time loss to the pursuing Toyotas.

Toyota ultimately revised its understanding and effectively conceded the fight with half an hour remaning, telling Lopez - who lost 13s on one lap alone with a power issue - over the radio that it did not think Ferrari needed to stop again and insisting its priority was "to bring home P2" while 30s in arrears.

Though that gap was halved in the final laps, Nielsen's run to the line - amid increasing heavy rainfall once more - was straightforward and well-managed as he, Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina netted victory a year after the sister #51 car won the race on Ferrari's Le Mans comeback.

It also denied the #7 an improbable victory from 23rd and last among the Hypercar contenders at the start.

That was as a consequence of Kamui Kobayashi spinning and causing a red flag in qualifying, for which his lap - one that would've been good enough for the Hyperpole session - was deleted.

Lopez too was only a late call-up to join Kobayashi and Nyck de Vries after regular driver Mike Conway fractured his ribs and collarbone in a cycling accident.

Ferrar ended up with two cars on the podium, with last year's #51 winning crew of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Antonio Giovinazzi and James Calado denying the polesitting #6 Porsche third place by a mere second over the line.

That was despite the #51 picking up a five-second penalty that it served at its final stop for spinning the #8 Toyota with two hours remaining.

The second Toyota was sixth after that contact and fifth at the finish - Sebastien Buemi having briefly been allowed ahead of Lopez before his own final stop - and split the #6 Porsche 963 from its sister #5 car, with the #2 Cadillac seventh with IndyCar champion Alex Palou at the wheel at the finish.

The factory #50 and #51 Ferrari entries had picked up the mantle of challenging for victory from the customer #83 car that led much of the early stages.

What was an eventful race for the AF Corse entry ultimately came to a premature end with smoke pouring from its brakes while Robert Shwartzman was running fourth. It was one of six Hypercar entries that failed to make the finish.

That car had earlier received a 30-second penalty when Robert Kubica - who at the start of the race had charged from 12th into the lead - clashed with the BMW of Dries Vanthoor, a huge impact that eliminated that car on the spot, while the Formula 1 grand prix winner was leading.

BMW did get one car to the finish but the sister #20 M Hybrid V8, which Robin Frijns crashed in the second hour of the race, was severely delayed and completed just 96 laps. It was the last classified car still running at the chequered flag in 47th.

Alpine's first top class Le Mans 24 Hours with its A424 LMDh barely made quarter-distance.

Its #35 was on the lead lap in 13th place with Ferdinand Habsburg at the wheel when its engine gave way in spectacular fashion in the fifth hour.

The sister #36 car was then brought into the garage by Nicolas Lapierre around an hour later with what Alpine later confirmed was also an engine issue.

The Jota-run customer Porsche 963s were the final cars on the lead lap in eighth and ninth, the #12 entry of Callum Ilott, Norman Nato and Will Stevens finishing ahead of the #38 car of Jenson Button, Phil Hansen and Oliver Rasmussen.

The Iron Lynx-run Lamborghini effort got both of its cars to the chequered flag two laps down on the race-winning Ferrari.

Its #63 SC63 of Daniil Kvyat, Mirko Bortolotti and Edoardo Mortara beat the best of the Peugeots - the #94 of Paul di Resta, Loic Duval and Stoffel Vandoorne - to the final spot in the top 10 by eight seconds.

Oliver Jarvis, Bijoy Garg and Nolan Siegel gave the United Autosports team a second Le Mans 24 Hours win in the LMP2 class from the Inter Europol Competition entry.

The United Autosports crew's margin of victory was 18s at the finish, with the top five cars in class all within 40s.

The LMGT3 class that's at the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time in 2024 was won by the Manthey EMA Porsche entry spearheaded by sportscar racing veteran Richard Lietz.

Lietz was at the wheel at the finish and was a lap to the good on the WRT BMW M4 driver by Augusto Farfus.

MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi was in contention for class victory on his Le Mans 24 Hours debut in the other WRT entry, but the car he shared with Maxime Martin and Ahmad Al Harthy retired overnight when Al Harthy crashed exiting the Dunlop chicane.

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