until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

WEC/Le Mans

Ferrari wins Le Mans 24 Hours on its top-class comeback

by Jack Cozens
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Ferrari defeated Toyota in the 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours as Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi claimed the manufacturer’s first win since returning to the top flight of sportscar racing in the World Endurance Championship.

A thrilling, sometimes wild ‘centenary’ race, so called in deference to the 100th anniversary of the first running of the Le Mans 24 Hours, featured an impressive 16-car Hypercar field that evolved into a two-car fight between the leading Ferrari and Toyota entries.

The winning #51 car at one point found itself in the gravel after Pier Guidi spun, but a mistake inside the final two hours from Toyota driver Ryo Hirakawa while close to and chasing the leading Ferrari gave the 499P breathing space until Pier Guidi was delayed at his final pitstop, though the car ultimately finished well over a minute clear.

The #8 Toyota that ended up second took the lead at the start of the race from the polesitting #50 Ferrari 499P soon after Jack Aitken crashed the Action Express Cadillac exiting the first Mulsanne chicane, an impact that required the first of a number of questionably lengthy safety car periods – from this year requiring the whole field to line up in order behind one car, rather than in three zones as was the case previously – to be thrown.

An offset fuel strategy for the #50 Ferrari allowed it to return to the lead in hour two, but the biggest shake-up then came early in the fourth hour when heavy rain arrived.

That allowed the #94 Peugeot, driven at that time by Gustavo Menezes, to briefly surge into the lead – though normal order was resumed when the track dried out with the Ferraris taking turns in the lead.

As night fell a second significant shower came and it was at this point that Pier Guidi found the gravel trap, in avoidance of cars that had spun ahead of him, allowing the #94 9X8 back into the lead – with the chasing #7 Toyota that had been elevated to second soon eliminated in a crash.

Kamui Kobayashi was caught up in a messy, four-car incident at Tertre Rouge that also involved the two LMP2 cars plus the JMW GTE Am Ferrari when a slow zone was implemented in that section. The #7 GR010 was stranded on track and later retired after midnight.

Two more contenders dropped out of the lead fight when Menezes crashed his Peugeot at the first Mulsanne chicane, while the #50 was also wheeled back into the pits while Ferrari investigated an issue and lost five laps.

Though the #2 Cadillac was still a factor – it would later drop away – by this point the #51 Ferrari and #8 Toyota had settled into their fight and began trading the lead with Calado and Buemi driving respectively, which set the tone for the hours to come.

A slow puncture for Hirakawa while leading allowed the Ferrari to close back in with Pier Guidi at the wheel at two-thirds distance, and the same driver ultimately made the final pass for the lead in his next stint as he passed Buemi on track with a bold move around the outside into the second Mulsanne chicane.

The gap between the two leading cars fluctuated between five and 15 seconds over the coming hours, but Toyota’s hopes were dealt a hammer blow when Hirakawa locked up into Arnage and the #8 GR010 snapped to the left, with Hirakawa pitting out of sequence once he’d recovered at the end of that lap.

There was late drama for the Ferrari crew as Pier Guidi was required to perform a reset at his final pitstop with under 25 minutes to go, but in truth that only brought the gap back down under one minute – a margin that went up again soon after anyway as Hirakawa stopped for the final time.

Victory was Ferrari’s first outright at Le Mans since 1965, and the first non-Toyota WEC victory of the 2023 season – the first race since a balance of performance change that handed Toyota a 37kg increase in minimum weight and 24kg to the Ferrari 499P.

Third went to the leading Cadillac entry, the Ganassi-run #2 V.Series.R finishing one lap down with Earl Bamber at the wheel.

Bamber was a lap clear at the finish of the #3 car and took the finish alongside the sister car and the Action Express entry that crashed at the start.

The #50 Ferrari was fifth, losing no further laps than the ones it did while it was worked on in the garage, with the leading independent entry – Glickenhaus’s #708 sixth, eight laps down.

It was promoted to that position in the final hour when the leading #5 Porsche Penske car slowed while Michael Christensen was at the wheel inside the final hour.

M23 3489 Fine

Christensen was able to return to the track before the finish, the #5 finishing ninth in the Hypercar classification behind the leading Peugeot – the #93 car driven at the finish by Paul di Resta that lost time in part through a spin for Jean-Eric Vergne as the night approached.

The customer Porsche 963 of Jota was 13th in the final order but had a starring role in the early stages as it rose from 60th in the starting order to take the lead in the fifth hour.

But its race unravelled from there; Ye Yifei ran deep at the Porsche Curves and hit the wall while leading the race, with the resulting damage costing the team 20 minutes in the pits. Antonio Felix da Costa later spin at Indianapolis and damaged the car’s front end, though the car did take the chequered flag with Will Stevens at the wheel.

The Inter Europol entry was the class of the LMP2 field – its winning margin of 21s over the #41 WRT that battled hard to stay in contention was flattered by a drive-through penalty assigned to Inter Europol’s #34 for overtaking under a safety car.

The GTE Am division was won by the #33 Corvette of Nicky Catsburg, Nicolas Varrone and Ben Keating that has dominated the class so far this year in the WEC, with a class-winning margin of two minutes.

Le Mans 24 Hours result

1. #51 Ferrari AF Corse (Ferrari 499P) – Alessandro Pier Guidi; James Calado; Antonio Giovinazzi 342 laps
2. #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing (Toyota GR010) – Sebastien Buemi; Brendon Hartley; Ryo Hirakawa +1m21.793s
3. #2 Cadillac Racing (Cadillac V-Series.R) – Earl Bamber; Alex Lynn; Richard Westbrook +1 lap
4. #3 Cadillac Racing (Cadillac V-Series.R) – Sebastien Bourdais; Renger Van Der Zande; Scott Dixon +2 laps
5. #50 Ferrari AF Corse (Ferrari 499P) – Antonio Fuoco; Miguel Molina; Nicklas Nielsen +5 laps
6. #708 Glickenhaus Racing (Glickenhaus 007) – Romain Dumas; Olivier Pla; Ryan Briscoe +7 laps
7. #709 Glickenhaus Racing (Glickenhaus 007) – Franck Mailleux; Nathanael Berthon; Esteban Gutierrez +9 laps
8. #93 Peugeot (Peugeot 9X8) – Paul Di Resta; Mikkel Jensen; Jean-Eric Vergne +12 laps
9. #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport (Porsche 963) – Dane Cameron; Michael Christensen; Fred Makowiecki +13 laps
10. #34 Inter Europol Competition (ORECA 07-Gibson) – Jakub Smiechowski; Albert Costa; Fabio Scherer +14 laps
26. #33 Corvette Racing (Chevrolet Corvette C8.R) – Nicky Catsburg; Ben Keating; Nicolas Varrone +29 laps

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