It’s Ferrari against the world in the 100th running of the world’s toughest car race.
The Italian supercar company has swerved around the hero category of the Le Mans 24 Hour classic for exactly 50 years but is back in 2023 with renewed enthusiasm.
It injected much-needed passion and excitement into this weekend’s centenary race by dominating practice and qualifying with the two fastest laps by its all-new 499P hybrid racer.
New hybrid rules and a new approach to even the competition at Le Mans, as well as the World Endurance Championship, have lured Ferrari back from the sidelines and into the spotlight.
But Porsche is back. And Peugeot. And the Toyota squad that has dominated in France in recent years is continuing its run at Le Mans.
Even Cadillac has joined the action and pursuit of a title which still means as much to everyday motorists around the world as victory in the Monaco Grand Prix or the Indianapolis 500.
“Truly, anything can happen – and the world will be watching,” the president of General Motors, Mark Reuss, told CarExpert.
He is a racer at heart, a former CEO of Holden, and the man who gave the green light to the Cadillac attack at Le Mans after a string of class wins with the Chevrolet Corvette.
“Getting an invitation to compete here is such an honour, for both Cadillac and Chevrolet. The opportunity to compete with the best in the world – drivers, teams and equipment – is exhilarating.”
Things went well for Cadillac in the build-up to the race, until they didn’t. The American prototype was third-fastest for a while in the battle for pole position, until a fuel line rupture triggered a spectacular fire. That’s Le Mans.
So Ferrari will start on the front row, ahead of a pair of Toyotas and then the repaired Cadillac.
Peugeot? The French favourites were not even quick enough to qualify for the pole-position shootout.
And that’s the thing about Le Mans. Everything is different, and for 2023 that even means a new generation of hybrid racers at the front of the field.
The total line-up is made up of 63 sports cars, not single-seaters, and each is shared by three drivers.
They run twice around the clock in a race which can even – as Toyota once proved – be lost on the very last lap.
In many ways, Le Mans is like a giant street party wrapped around a car race. There is a 24-hour amusement park, bars at all parts of the track, huge fields filled with campers. And that’s just the start…
Even so, the competition is deadly serious and ultra-competitive.
Porsche made its name as a legendary sports car brand with the best record at Le Mans – 19 overall wins – although Toyota has set the benchmark over recent years with five victories.
Ferrari? It ranks third on the all-time list, with nine wins, but the last time it was first to the flag was way back in 1965. So, why is the Italian brand back?
“This project for us is one of the most important projects of the motorsport for Ferrari, after Formula One,” said Antonello Coletta, global head of endurance racing for Ferrari, in the lead-up to this weekend’s race.
“I do not know if we have a chance to beat Toyota. I believe that it will not be easy. But, in any case, we are making all the efforts.”
- #50 Ferrari AF Corse, Antonio Fuoco: 3:22.982
- #51 Ferrari AF Corse, Alessandro Pier Guidi: +0.773
- #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing, Kamui Kobayashi: +1.285
- #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing, Brendon Hartley: +1.469
- #75 Porsche Penske Motorsport, Felipe Nasr: +1.549
- #2 Cadillac Racing, Earl Bamber: +2.188
- #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport, Frederic Makowiecki: +2.194
- #3 Cadillac Racing, Sebastian Bourdais: +2.539