24h Le Mans

Return to Glory: Ferrari Wins the 2023 Le Mans

Return to Glory: Ferrari Wins the 2023 Le Mans

24h Le Mans Centenary: 2023 | Written by Richard Kelley

Scuderia Ferrari ended their 50-year absence from the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a triumphant uncontested victory. It dramatically ended Toyota's four-year reign in the world's centenary running of the most iconic sports car race.

Ferrari last competed at Le Mans in 1973 but returned to Circuit de la Sarthe this year as a "new company" with a strong Hypercar team that has forged a new "contemporary" link between Ferrari, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the sold-out crowd of 300,000-plus dazzled spectators.

Ferrari AF Course team at Le Mans prior to the 2023 race. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

Over the past two years, Ferrari developed its two-car 499P World Endurance Championship program to go head-to-head with Toyota's two-car Gazoo Racing to end the Japanese' five-year winning streak at Le Mans.

Earlier in the week leading up to the race, Le Mans race officials revealed new "balance of performance" adjustments designed to level the Le Mans playing field. Among the changes was a modest additional minimum weight added to Toyota's dominant GR010s. Ferrari's pair of 499Ps responded by sweeping the front row in qualifying.

Pole sitter cars, #33 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R, #50 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P, #48 Idec Sport Oreca 07 - Gibson after the Hyperpole. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

The centenary celebration also marked the first year IMSA's top class was granted participation at Le Mans. Chip Ganassi's new Cadillac hypercars and Porsche with Roger Penske entered two cars each.

Once the race began, the Scuderia played an intense waiting game, letting primary challengers Porsche, Cadillac, Peugeot, and Toyota show their hand and their weaknesses amid scattered heavy downpours. Each opponent led a portion of the race until the challenges to stay close to the lead overstressed Porsche and Peugeot, and they fell away.

Toyota also gave up ground overnight when team leader Kamui Kobayashi's No. 9 crashed out of the race. That made it two versus one in favour of Ferrari until the Scuderia's No. 50 also dropped back with intermittent electrical problems.

#50 Ferrari 499P of Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen being pushed into the garage. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

That left a head-to-head fight between Ferrari's No. 51 trio of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi and the No. 8 Toyota. While the Ferrari team was able to stretch that lead out at times, Toyota's quick drivers and Scuderia's minor battery stall issue with their 499P Ferrari after one essential stop kept the cars within reach of one another.

With four hours to go, the Ferrari-Toyota no-holds-barred battle tightened dramatically. Then, with 1 hour and 44 minutes remaining, Toyota's Ryo Hirakawa locked the brakes and hit the wall at Arnage without warning. Suddenly, the Pier Guidi, Calado and Giovinazzi Ferrari had a three-minute lead and plenty of breathing room.

#51 Ferrari 499P of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi leads the #8 Toyota GR010 - Hybrid. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

The No 51 Ferrari team would experience just one more scare. It failed to re-fire again on the final pit stop of the day, leaving a tense 30 seconds of waiting. The car eventually fired, and the margin for error built up by the Toyota's mistake made the stall a non-issue.

With Toyota's pressure evaporated, Ferrari's trio of Pier Guidi, Calado and Giovinazzi were easy winners and had the honour of bringing the Ferrari brand back to glory. They had been waiting years for this opportunity in Ferrari's ranks.

Drivers of the #51 Ferrari 499P, Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi, celebrate after winning the 2023 24h Le Mans. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

Pier Guidi and Calado spent the bulk of the past decade in Ferrari's factory GTE-Pro cars, managed by the same AF Corse team that operates Ferrari's new Le Mans prototype program. Giovanazzi, meanwhile, was a Ferrari Formula 1 prospect whose open-wheel career stalled at Sauber and ultimately ended at the end of last season. Giovanazzi may have never raced in Rosso Corsa in a Grand Prix, but his Le Mans moment is more significant than any achievement the team has earned in Formula 1 since its last set of championships.

The No. 8 Toyota finished second, two minutes short of Toyota's sixth straight overall win. The Ganassi Cadillacs finished third and fourth, marking a successful race for the brand that saw all three of its cars finish on debut. Ferrari's second car finished fifth, one spot ahead of the top-finishing Porsche from Team Penske -their other two 963s had early retirements. After up-and-down days, the top finishers from Peugeot and Porsche finished eighth and ninth, respectively.

NASCAR last had a presence at Le Mans in 1976 and returned this year with a version of its second-year Next Gen car. The" Garage 56" car, fielded by Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, is the winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier in NASCAR's 75 years.

#24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 of Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller, Jenson Button in the field. Image Courtesy: Motorsport Images.

The No. 24 Camaro was in a class by itself, racing against no other cars. The initial goal was to finish the race and showcase NASCAR — but the Chad Knaus-led project was so outstanding that with about five hours remaining, it seemed as though the lineup of seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and former Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller might beat the entire 21-car GTE AM field. The trio finally finished 39th in the 62-car field — still good enough for 10th among the GTE cars.

Here’s hoping that the spirit revealed at the 2023 Le Mans Centenary paves the way for a return to the excitement, glory and unpredictability of racing in the next 100 years.

Follow the link below to read more stories from the 100 years of 24h Le Mans and discover our celebratory poster collection in cooperation with the Automobile Club de l'Ouest.

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