until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

WEC/Le Mans

Winners and losers from Le Mans' record 2024 Hypercar fight

by Jack Cozens
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Records were broken at the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours as nine cars finished on the lead lap.

That was partly circumstantial given safety cars intervened for more than a quarter of the race - including a consecutive spell of well over four hours overnight due to incredibly heavy rain - but it was still indicative of a fierce fight for honours at the front.

And while that evolved into a battle between the same two manufacturers that contested the win last year, there was still prestige to fight for behind.

Who came up trumps and who fell short of expectations? Here's our pick of winners and losers in the Hypercar class from the World Endurance Championship centrepiece.

Winner: Ferrari

It's not just the fact that Ferrari defended its Le Mans 24 Hours victory, it's the manner in which it did it that was impressive.

Yes, every one of the record nine cars that finished on the lead lap had problems during the race; it wasn't as if the #50 was alone in experiencing some of its own. When has a winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours ever not had a setback of some kind?

What separates it from its competitors was the nature, and timing, of its setback - as a loose door forced a pitstop that took it out of sequence with its rivals for the win inside the final two hours.

When Nicklas Nielsen came in for a stop with more than 50 minutes left, then, it seemed improbable that he'd be able to run to the finish without one final stop.

That's how it appeared to the outside world, anyway - but Ferrari was confident in its estimations and could not have asked for a more level-headed driver to have behind the wheel. Nielsen was seemingly the coolest character in Le Mans as he assured Ferrari the energy conservation targets were under control.

Crucially, while last year's victory had a massive balance of performance asterisk hanging over it, Nielsen's win this time around alongside Miguel Molina and Antonio Fuoco has no such caveats.

And to top it off, Ferrari got its second factory car onto the podium too.

Loser: #83 Ferrari

What a rollercoaster this was for the AF Corse Ferrari #83 crew of Robert Kubica, Robert Shwartzman and Yifei Ye.

Kubica had something of a Jekyll-and-Hyde race, absolutely monstering his way from 12th at the start into the lead of the Le Mans 24 Hours, only to make contact with Dries Vanthoor in the night - while the car remained in the lead - with devastating consequences for the BMW driver.

Even after the resulting 30-second penalty the #83 fought its way back into the fight for victory. Having led more than 80 laps, it was cruel then that its charge was ended in the pitlane with smoke pouring from the front of the car as the race entered its final hours.

Winner: #7 Toyota

If the 'if they didn't have bad luck, they'd have no luck at all' idiom applied to anyone at Le Mans it's surely Toyota's #7 crew.

Of course, sometimes luck is of your own making. Kamui Kobayashi's qualifying spin was, after all, what prevented the car from advancing to the Hyperpole session and consigned it to last in the 23-car Hypercar field for the start. And while Nyck de Vries was hardly at fault for his clash with the #78 Lexus in warm-up it was avoidable.

Still, a runner-up finish was a mighty effort from a line-up that changed on the eve of the race, with Jose Maria Lopez - dropped over the winter for De Vries - brought back in to sub for the injured Mike Conway.

Lopez to his credit slotted in seamlessly and was properly quick in the closing stages as he tried to make up ground lost to two punctures, finding the limits of both car and track (including a spin at the Dunlop chicane) in pursuit of the leading Ferrari. Ultimately that spin and a power settings issue were a major blow, but so too was Toyota's decision to call Lopez's chase off and settle for second with half an hour remaining.

So, there was no fairytale ending for the stand-in super-sub and the car that started at the back of the pack, one that would've been entirely deserved. But the fact it was in the reckoning in the first place was a victory of sorts.

Loser: Alpine

Alpine had the most overt reliability concerns of the top-class competitors heading into the race, so a double-DNF might no come as a huge surprise.

That alone doesn't mean its failure to finish isn't a disappointment, though. Doubly so considering its Le Mans was done barely a quarter of the way through the 24 hours, with both cars retiring through engine failures (one in particularly spectacular fashion).

The single-lap speed looked good and this outing wasn't without positives. But a double failure that early on suggests there's a lot of work to do if Alpine wants to be a proper fixture at the front in 12 months' time.

Winner: Lamborghini

Lamborghini didn't have the eye-catching single-lap speed of fellow Le Mans 24 Hours Hypercar newcomers Alpine and BMW (though that's not to say it was underwhelming in qualifying, with its lead car a respectable 13th).

But the Le Mans 24 Hours is a marathon not a sprint and while those particular rivals fell by the wayside, the Iron Lynx-run Lamborghini effort delivered when it mattered.

The Race billed this as more likely to be a data-gathering exercise than one where Lamborghini fought it out at the front but while that was true, its performance with both cars was credible and, crucially, reliable.

The reward for that was a top-10 finish with its lead #63 car as it beat an established Peugeot squad on merit.

Loser: Peugeot

Measuring against the same yardstick as Lamborghini, Peugeot's not a loser. It got both cars to the finish without any technical issues.

But that, if anything, serves to underline how tepid this performance was in what is its third year back in the WEC. Notwithstanding the fact it is getting to grips with its 9X8 evo package, finishing 11th and 12th and two laps down simply isn't good enough.

Peugeot called this an "honourable performance" in the context of the strength-in-depth of the Hypercar field. If it really is clinging to that sentiment then you'd question whether it's got what it takes to take on the frontrunners.

Winner: Jota

Jota's #12 Porsche 963 has been the cream of the independent crop basically since it joined the WEC three races into the 2023 season, so the fact it led a privateer 1-2 from the sister #38 car at the flag wasn't necessarily a surprise.

But it was made all the more impressive by the herculean effort to get the car into the race in the first place. The damage sustained in Callum Ilott's crash right at the end of FP2 - after the car had made Hyperpole - required Jota to start from scratch with a new monocoque that somehow was ready for a shakedown on Friday evening at the Le Mans airfield nearby.

That the car ran faultlessly in the race was a triumph for Jota's mechanics.

Loser: Also Jota

Despite Jota getting the car prepared for the race, it's hard not to see this as a missed opportunity too.

The fact is the #12 car has been _The Privateer That Could_ in the WEC. It's been close to the points-leading #6 Porsche Penske all year, so there's every chance it could've been on par with the car that took pole position had its own 963 been able to grace Hyperpole.

As Will Stevens put it, "we are not here to finish eighth and we felt really good in the car all week".

It always felt like hopes of an unlikely privateer victory rested on the #12, and that those went up in smoke with Ilott's crash - one with wider-reaching consequences beyond the rebuild. That proved to be the case come the race.

Loser: BMW

Two big race-ruining impacts was not what BMW had in mind for its return to the top class at Le Mans.

Its M Hybrid V8 looked fast but edgy throughout practice and qualifying and ultimately it was a minor kerb strike that had major consequences for Robin Frijns, as the resulting off and barrier strike put paid to BMW's hopes with its #20 car.

Vanthoor was far more of a passenger in his frightening shunt after contact with the race-leading #83 Ferrari of Robert Kubica. But that came while Vanthoor was attempting to play catch-up following Marco Wittmann's off at Tertre Rouge in the early stages.

BMW was left clinging to a "conciliatory end" to the race as it scored a podium in the GT3 class, but it would've been hoping for so much more from its Hypercar effort.

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