We had a mesmerizing 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ferrari took the overall victory from Toyota after a hiatus of 58 years! This was done in one of the most beautiful sports cars, the Ferrari 499P. This was the inaugural season of the Hypercar class, replacing LMP1. The drivers Antonio Giovinazzi aka Italian Jesus, Alessandro Pierre Guidi and Tom Calado were the winners, and the F1 team should learn something from them. But it wasn’t the easiest victory, so let’s look at a compilation of 24 hours of fighting tooth and nail. Not to mention Inter Europol took an LMP2 Class to win with Scherer/Costa/Smiechowski and an LMGTE Class win with Corvette Racing of Catsburg/Keating/Varrone.
But let’s understand the glorious moment and lead up to it. Ferrari AF Corse had taken the hyperbole with the other Ferrari Hypercar of Antonio Fuoco took the pole position but, during the race, they didn’t keep the lead after a bottle job of a strategy and rain in the night equaling the performance and pace a bit. They fell to P10 and slowly and steadily took the chequered flag to finish P5. But talking about the sharp end, it was a tussle. The first 12 hours were led by all the competing manufacturers, Toyota, Cadillac, Porsche and Peugeot, hit by safety car periods and rain. The contenders faltered one by one as the No.7 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi was taken out by the No.35 Alpine LMP2 and No.66 Ferrari GTE Am while slowing down early on in the night. Peugeot’s unfancied 9X8 was leading surprisingly until Gustavo Menezes binned into one of the Mulsanne Straight Chicanes. The Porsche 963 fell away early in the morning, needing garage repairs after suffering damage coincidentally on Porsche Curves. This left the No.2 and No.3 Cadillacs with that amazing engine burble 3rd and 4th.
This left the No.51 Ferrari to battle with the Toyota trio of Brendon Hartley, Sebastian Buemi and Rio Hirakawa. Interestingly Alessandro Piere Guidi spun out in the night, leaving the Scuderia in P4 when Giovinazzi and Calado fought hand over fist to bring it to P2. As the Golden Dawn was behind and early morning was up, a driver change of Guidi made him chase the Toyota, and the lead change happened in the pits as a longer-than-usual pit stop changed the lead for both drivers. James Calado was comfortably creating a lead, which was followed by a chase from Brendon Hartley.
In the last 90 minutes, when Guidi was driving again, Rio Hirakawa Spun out, almost gifting the victory to Ferrari, Ferrari didn’t look out of contention from then on, refuelling and working the strategy masterfully to take the win. The Toyota Pair was fighting like crazy, and Brendon was in my opinion, the absolute crème de la crème chasing the Scarlett hypercars.
The Cadillac trio of Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook rounded the podium after a strong showing with its sister car consisting of Sebastian Bourdais, Scott Dixon and Renger Van Der Zande in P4.
The LMP2 class was equally dramatic and needs to be mentioned. The Inter Europol car was driven by Swiss driver Fabio Scherer who had a broken or sprained left ankle and was fighting with the Team WRT for the win, which had Robert Kubica. His left ankle being sore was a huge problem, as it prevented him from braking quicker, but ironically the team from Poland, having a Swiss driver held the team with a Swiss Sponsor Polish driver to take the win. Honestly, this was a brilliant effort, which we simply don’t see in F1 due to the huge sums of money required to enter F1. The podium was rounded by another small team Duquiene which was French. Interestingly, Alpine was just P4 after the No.31 car was having some drama of its own.
The GTE class was won by the C8.R of Nicky Catsburg, Ben Keating, and Nicolas Varrone, which was a fitting end to this model as the Corvette racing team bowed out in favour of GT3 cars for 2024. This win was unexpected, after repairs which took almost 10 minutes for the front damper, which put them 2 laps behind and the safety car not allowing them to take a lap after some cars were released from the pits early. A smooth operation with a stellar pace allowed for a claw back to the lead by the 16th hour, and by the 21st hour, they established their lead.
However, this was at the expense of the all-female crewed Iron Dames outfit of pink Porsche 911 RSR of Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Sarah Bovy. Frey was demoted to another position after an overtake by the ORT by TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage. In the final reckoning, GR Racing Porsche of Michael Wainwright, Ben Barker and Riccardo Pera rounded the podium, which denied the female outfit a podium. Honestly, I didn’t know that there were almost 68 female drivers to compete at le mans until today, which makes this podium loss a little comforting as there will be more chances.
We shouldn’t also forget the Garage 56 effort of 7-time NASCAR Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson and the 2009 F1 World Champion Jenson Button, who was running the Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Stock Car at le mans! This was one of the most fun moments to see, and the stock car was stacking well under the Innovative Class, which also had the likes of Nissan Deltawing. This car was able to be at P29 very comfortably for most of the race in the hands of Button and JJ until gearbox issues took them to finish P38. On every Lap, the cheers were on for the stock car duo from the paddock, and it was so cool, especially under the golden dawn. Speaking of the golden dawn, what a pleasure that was, witnessing the cars in the early morning hours and overall seeing the close racing. In terms of overall race, it exceeded my expectations. Coming from F1, it had closer racing but did make me sleepy once in a while. This was more down to the fact that I wasn’t at the event. If you’re wondering how I watched it, I watched it by joining Indian F1 discord groups that pinned the stream links, which made it easy, and it didn’t even require any VPN. As a race, it is easy to get engrossed in it, but the early safety car procedures did make it a bit boring. Plus, the gaps between the cars from each class were only magnified when other cars from the different classes hampered the battles. The overtakes weren’t extraordinary but expecting that is too much as drivers know it’s a race of attrition, and they get to claw the lead. But what a way to round off the Triple Crown of Motorsport. We had an exciting Monaco, a thrilling Indy 500, and an awesome 24 hours of Le Mans in a Ferrari Win in their return!