La Course du Siècle

God in heaven, Ferrari on earth

The curtain has fallen on “La Course du Siècle,” the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2023, as the Automobile Club de L ́Ouest (ACO), its organizer, called it. And once the race is over, it cannot be said that this epithet was an exaggeration.

Those who were at the Sarthe circuit in Le Mans last week and had the privilege of watching the fourth race of the World Endurance Championship (WEC) beheld an unforgettable spectacle, the likes of which had not been seen on the track for a long time. More than that, in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, for several reasons, history was made once again.

The victory of a car from the Cavalino Rampante in the overall classification had not taken place since 1965, when a Ferrari 259 won the race. And it was a double victory. Now, 58 years later, history has been made again. It is noteworthy that the house of Fiorano, on the one hand, returned to the biggest category of the WEC endurance world championship to win the biggest and most prestigious race in just over a year.

On the other hand, making a car from scratch adapted to the new regulations, Ferrari, in the words of Antonello Coletta, director of Ferrari Attivitá Sportive, after homologation of the 499P, had only five and a half months to prepare the car for competition. The presence in Le Mans was a true miracle, crowned last Sunday with the victory.

Regardless of the bad luck that befell their direct opponents, which also touched the number 50 AF Corse car entrusted to Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, and Nicklas Nielsen, the Italian cars proved to be fast and reliable, which was combined with the bet on Antonio Giovinazzi, the driver dismissed by Alfa Romeo’s Formula 1 team, and on GT drivers – Pier Guidi and James Calado won with Daniel Serra, at this track, the 2019 GTE Pro with the Ferrari 488 Evo and the same team – who were already working with the brand. This success began with winning the pole position, was confirmed during the race, and deserves to be applauded for the novelty it brought to the competition.

A new chapter

By dethroning Toyota, which succeeded the dominance of the Germans Audi and Porsche, after seven years, the Centennial race marks a new page in the history of WEC and the Le Mans 24 Hours. The next races, followed by the 6 Hours of Monza, will be decisive in seeing how far the Ferrari 499P can go and if in the next few years another single manufacturer dominates again.

Secondly, it should be noted that the transition from the old LPM1 category cars to the current Hypercars is already a success. This is the Hypercars’ third year and the presence of competitors in this category has practically tripled in one year. Whereas before there were five cars (2 Toyoya, 2 Glickenhaus and 1 Alpine), in 2021 and 2022, there are now fourteen, seven manufacturers and nine teams. And next year, BMW, Alpine and Lamborghini will join the grid.

Richard Mille, the FIA and the ACO are also to be congratulated for having hit the nail on the head in the transition to the new cars. The reduction in costs, the search for environmental balance where it was lacking in the past, the uncompromising defense of sustainability, and the substantial reduction in the carbon footprint are now unavoidable data that clearly show the path that must be followed, which will continue in the new GT3 cars, which will put an end, amid some criticism, to the current LMGTE Am and LMP2 cars. This will be subject to a limit of up to €100,000 and will use commercial tires.

In sporting terms, the results were excellent due to the greater competitiveness between cars and teams, and there was rivalry for the podium places until the end. With less than 30 minutes to go, the winning Ferrari entered the pits and for a moment there was suspense about its fate when the car, for a few seconds, was immobilized before it was able to return to the track. The Toyota of Buemi/Hartley/Hirakawa, last year’s winners, finished the race less than 1 minute 22 seconds behind car 51t. Meanwhile, in GTE Am, the Iron Dames car lost its place on the podium by 5,312 seconds, which in a 24-hour race is remarkable.

Cadillacs & Chevrolets

There were strong results from the North Americans. Although still underwhelming, the third and fourth places in the overall Cadillac of Bamber/Lynn/Westbrook and Bourdais/Van Der Zande/Dixon must be mentioned, as well as the victory of the Corvette Racing Chevrolet delivered to Catsburg/Keating/Varrone, combined with the good performance of the Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Nascar, which fulfilled the objectives: to reach the end and not be last.

As for the victors, the victory of Inter Europol’s 34th car in LMP2 should be noted, a category that also gave the first podium to a Luso-Angolan driver – Rui Andrade, Louis Delétras and Robert Kubica, were impeccable in the Oreca 07-Gibson with the number 41 -, ninth overall, ahead of the Duqueine Team’s car entrusted to Jani/Binder/Pino.

From others, like Porsche, given their experience and track record at Le Mans, with four cars at the start, more was expected, but the future started yesterday.

An impressive 325,000 people, with thousands traveling from as far away as Arizona, Japan, and New Zealand, as well as weather conditions, with plenty of sunshine, heat, and some rain on Saturday, bringing chaos to the track for a few moments, and the usual entertainment around the circuit; all contributed to the success.

In a race where tradition and history were always present – the Centennial trophy was brought to the track by the beautiful 1923 Chenard-Walker – the future was projected, doing justice to the motto “Speed, Endurance and Innovation.” There is no shortage of guarantees that the WEC is in good health and increasingly popular worldwide.

Let 2024 and the next hundred years come. Until then, Ferrari reigns. Gloria al Commendatore.

Sérgio de Almeida Correia, MDT, Le Mans

Categories Extra Times Features