Ferrari has secured its first overall Le Mans 24 Hours pole in half a century, with the 2023 event marking the end of Toyota’s run of six consecutive pole positions at the legendary event.
Antonio Fuoco – a former Ferrari Formula 1 junior and a simulator driver for its F1 team, who is part of the #50 World Endurance Championship crew with Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen – became the first Ferrari driver to prevail in a Le Mans pole battle since sometime F1 driver Arturo Merzario in 1973.
Having led a Ferrari 1-2 in the initial qualifying – which determined the participants in the decisive half-hour ‘hyperpole’ session – Fuoco trailed Ferrari stablemate Alessandro Pier Guidi after their opening runs by just 0.008s.
After a visit to the pits, Pier Guidi lowered the benchmark from a 3m23.897s to a 2m23.478s, only to have the latter lap chalked off almost immediately for a track limits infringement at Esses du Karting.
But it wouldn’t have been enough to keep him ahead of Fuoco anyway, the 27-year-old encountering GTE-shaped traffic at Indianapolis and yet still delivering a 3m22.982s to leapfrog his compatriot.
Toyota had been well adrift of the Ferraris with both cars in the early going, but Brendon Hartley then posted a very promising first sector in the #8 car – before having to abort the lap due to a red flag.
This had come because the #3 Cadillac, run by Chip Ganassi Racing and driven by Sebastien Bourdais, was first parked up in the run-off and then caught fire, freezing the session clock at 5m15s remaining.
RED FLAG 🔴
— FIA World Endurance Championship (@FIAWEC) June 8, 2023
It was enough time for hyperpole to be resumed after clean-up, but both Ferrari cars remained in the pits as the track went under green flag conditions again.
That proved perfectly reasonable, as the two Toyotas failed to mount a late challenge for pole – although both Kamui Kobayashi and Hartley posted personal-best laps with their final attempts, appearing to have ensured a second-row lockout.
But this was snatched away when Kobayashi’s lap was stricken off due to track limits, elevating Hartley and the #8 Toyota to third and Felipe Nasr in the Penske-run #75 Porsche to fourth.
The #7 Toyota ended up fifth on the grid, followed by the Earl Bamber-driven #2 Cadillac and Frederic Makowiecki in the #5 Porsche.
Bourdais and the #3 Cadillac had their best lap deleted for causing the red flag, and ultimately ended up eighth and last of the Hypercar class in the session.
The 1973 Merzario pole was not converted into a win, he and team-mate Carlos Pace finishing second behind the Matra of Henri Pescarolo and Gerard Larrousse.
And while Fuoco had already taken a WEC pole this season – for the Sebring opener – Toyota is thus far unbeaten in the races.
In the LMP2 class, pole went to the French IDEC Sport team, its #48 Oreca on song in the hands of multiple-time European Le Mans Series champion Paul-Loup Chatin.
The GTE pole went to 51-year-old Le Mans class winner Ben Keating in the #33 Corvette.