Race Weekend Central

Ferrari AF Corse Wins 24 Hours of Le Mans

The No. 51 Ferrari 499P of James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi claimed victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans Sunday morning (June 11) in France. It is the first-ever victory for the Ferrari 499P and breaks a streak of five consecutive Toyota wins at the Circuit de la Sarthe. It is also the first overall win for Ferrari at Le Mans since 1965.

“I have no words,” Pier Guidi said after the checkered flag. “I’ve been doing this since I was a little kid. Now, with Ferrari winning at Le Mans is a special day.”

The margin of victory was 81.793 seconds over Toyota GAZOO Racing’s No. 8 shared by Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa. Third went to Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 2 Cadillac V-Series.R for Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook, more than two minutes behind. The No. 3 Cadillac of Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon and Renger van der Zande were two laps in fourth, while the No. 50 Ferrari of pole winner Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen were fifth.

The race started with mixed conditions as it had raced on one portion of the Mulsanne straight and the Daytona chicane prior to the green. That caught a number of drivers out, most notably Action Express Racing’s Jack Aitken. Aitken lost control exiting the chicane and hit the wall on the first lap.

At the same time as Aitken’s crash, Inter Europol Competition’s Mark Kvamme got himself stuck in the gravel at the Daytona chicane. The repairs and necessary extrication of Kvamme from the trap brought out a safety car period. Aitken was able to limp the car back to the pits, but had to spend 90 minutes in the garage repairing the damage.

Nielsen started the No. 50 Ferrari on pole, but got swamped by the No. 8 Toyota of Buemi before the safety car came out. The new safety car procedure took up much of the rest of the first hour to get everyone in line.

While Ferrari had an overall pace advantage, Toyota was quicker early in the race. Mike Conway was able to get past Nielsen after the safety car period ended to take second, but the Hypercar class in general was something of a scrum early on.

The rain returned with a highly localized vengeance late in the third hour. With everyone on slicks, heavy rains poured on the run to the Porsche curves. That resulted in a number of cars crashing.

The only car eliminated here was the Ferrari of Richard Mille AF Corse’s Lilou Wadoux, who spun at a high rate of speed into the runoff. Everyone else was able to continue. A long safety car period due to conditions and barrier repairs after GR Racing’s Riccardo Pera hit the wall came out of it.

An alternate pit strategy put Hertz Team JOTA’s Yifei Ye in the overall lead in his customer Porsche 963. The customer Porsche was every bit as fast as the factory cars, but an error resulted in Ye crashing from the lead in the Porsche curves.

The team would lose four laps in the garage getting repairs. Additional issues meant that the team ended up finishing 40th overall.

The lead shuffled around in the early evening between Toyota, Ferrari and Peugeot. A slow zone was declared towards the end of the eighth hour but a number of drivers have different strategies in the run up to the slow zone. Trouble struck when Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Kamui Kobayashi was struck from behind right before a slow zone by Signatech Alpine’s Memo Rojas.

JMW Motorsport’s Louis Prette was also involved (he’s in the Ferrari that gets airborne in the video above). Both Kobayashi and Prette were out on the spot.

As the sun came up, the No. 8 Toyota with Hirakawa driving was leading overall, but just barely. The car had some damage on it from the overnight hours and was losing pace to the No. 51 Ferrari.

A long pit stop in the 16th hour to make repairs allowed Calado to take the overall lead. Aside from pit stops, the AF Corse-run factory squad did not give up the advantage for the rest of the way.

In LMP2, IDEC Sport’s Paul-Loup Chatin started from the class pole and led early, but it was JOTA Sport’s No. 28 that had topped the practice charts nearly all week that took control.

Eventually, the race evolved into a three-way battle between Inter Europol Competition’s No. 34, Team WRT’s No. 41 and Duqueine Team’s No. 30. The three squad traded the lead back and forth for the final 16 hours.

Despite radio problems in the final couple of hours that saw the team get a reprimand from the stewards for using a handheld pit board, the Inter Europol Competition No. 34 claimed the class victory in 10th overall. In addition to the radio issues, Smiechowski accidentally had his foot run over during the race by Corvette Racing’s Ben Keating. Despite the pain, Smiechowski was able to power through to help the team claim victory.

Their margin of victory was 21.015 seconds over Team WRT’s No. 41 for Rui Andrade, Louis Deletraz and Robert Kubica. Duqueine Team’s Rene Binder, Neel Jani and Nico Pino were a lap down in third, followed by Signatech Alpine’s Julien Canal, Charles Milesi and Matthew Vaxiviere. Team WRT’s No. 31 for Robin Frijns, Sean Gelael and Ferdinand Habsburg were fifth.

GTE-Am saw Corvette Racing’s Keating start from the class pole and run well early. However, a damper broke early on, forcing Keating to the garage. He would resume two laps down to the rest of the GTE-Am field.

Once Nicky Catsburg got in the car, he pushed extremely hard to make up time. At some times, Catsburg was five seconds a lap faster than his immediate competition and moved back up to 11th in class. Even with the substantial pace from Catsburg, Keating and Nico Varrone, it took all the way to the two-thirds’ mark for the team to get back on the lead lap.

Another strong stint from Catsburg got the team within a sniff of the podium. With four hours to go, Varrone turned in the fastest GTE-Am laps of the whole weekend to get into the lead. From there, Corvette Racing was able to hold on to take the class win.

Due to the positioning of the overall leaders, Corvette Racing won by a full lap of the ORT by TF Aston Martin shared by Ahmad Al-Harthy, Michael Dinan and Charlie Eastwood. Despite the crash in the rain, GR Racing’s Pera, Ben Barker and Michael Wainwright were third in their Porsche, followed closely by the Iron Dames Porsche of Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting. AF Corse’s Francesco Castellacci, Thomas Flohr and Davide Rigon were fifth.

The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Next Gen Cup car ran very competitively during the race. It ran more or less trouble-free for the first 18 hours and was running ahead of the GTE-Am leaders off and on, based on pit strategy.

Trouble struck in the 21st hour when transmission issues surfaced in the Next Gen car. It is not the same type of transmission that is run in the regular Next Gen cup car. That is a five-speed sequential transaxle. This was a six-speed transmission with paddle shifters that turned traitor.

After a significant amount of work, the team was able to get the car back out. The team of Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller were able to complete the race in 39th overall, 57 laps down. The car completed 285 laps, or 2413.1 miles.

Overall, the race had a lot of attrition. 22 of the 62 starters failed to finish, a significant increase over last year, where 54 cars were still running at the finish (one was not classified as a finisher due to not completing enough laps). Three Hypercars failed to finish, seven in the LMP2 class (including five LMP2 Pro-Am) teams and 12 in GTE-Am. Of those 22 DNFs, at least 11 were due to crashes.

FIA WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP 24 HOURS OF LE MANS UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

The next race for WEC teams is the 6 Hours of Monza at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on July 9. Coverage of that race will be split between Motor Trend and MotorTrend+.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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John D Wyckoff

Even though it really wasn’t a walk in the park for them. It good to see someone other than Cadillac or Toyota who have been dominant in the past win. Hopefully Ferrari will focus some attention on F1 since they’re getting their butt handed to them there.

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