ADVERTISEMENT
Podium - Team - #51 FERRARI AF CORSE / Ferrari 499P - 24 Hours of Le Mans - Centenary Edition - Circuit de la Sarthe - Le Mans - France -

Ferrari triumph at Le Mans a victory for all, even Toyota

Podium - Team - #51 AF CORSE / Ferrari 499P - 24 Hours of Le Mans - Centenary Edition - Circuit de la Sarthe - LeMans - France -

Ferrari triumphing at the 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours on Sunday is a victory for everyone in motorsport, even their illustrious rivals they beat in a bruising contest, that lasted until the final hour of the Race of the Century.

Indeed Le Mans 2023 lived up to its billing and more. Consider the milestones alone: Ferrari’s 10th outright victory at the world’s greatest race, their first since 1965, following an era in which the Enzo Ferrari-run team ‘owned’ Circuit de la Sarthe. Also, this year marked their return to the premier class of sportscar racing since they ditched their programme to focus on Formula 1 back in 1973.

Furthermore, it was the Centenary of the great race, the 91st held thus far since 1923 at the very same venue. A prelude to a stellar couple of days of a Le Mans race that was packed with drama from lap one, crashes, safety cars, yellow flags, rain, and everything that the event flings at those who dare take up the challenge.

ADVERTISEMENT

Making the #51 Ferrari victory even sweeter was the manner in which Alessandro Pier Guidi, Antonio Givovinazzi and James Calado scored it, going wheel to wheel on several occasions with their feisty rivals as they hustled for the lead several times. With Pier Guidi going AWOL on the gravel, and the pesky starter motor cost that nearly cost them the race.

Those final moments, as the #51 sat idle, the crew staring in growing disbelief, all under the eyes of Ferrari big boss John Elkann and his entourage above the pit box. Waiting for what seemed an eternity, until a bloke in Red gesticulated with a pointing finger to the driver in the cockpit.

Finally, it fired up! Peeled out of the pits, to the roar of the crowd across the road in the packed-to-capacity grandstands, still a third of a lap ahead of the furiously chasing #8 Toyota whose Ryo Hirakawa had his own misadventures, collecting damage the car due to an excursion into the kitty litter when it really mattered. An own goal if you wish. And game over, in retrospect.

How Ferrari operated at Le Mans is a lesson to their error-prone Formula 1 pitwall

ferrari pitstop lemans

However, nothing could overshadow the superb work done by the winning drivers as a collective and the crew of the #51 Ferrari 499P! In fact, the Formula 1 folks at Maranello will do well and learn how to react under huge pressure. That final stop again has to be referred to. With the car stubbornly not starting, there was no panic, no indecisiveness.

You always felt Ferrari had a plan, even when the #50 car hit trouble and was out of contention for the win, and again when the #51 was gravelled as well as the ‘protesting’ starter motor. In other words, on track and in the pits, they had to work for every minute of the 1140 minutes that made up the race. The least errors, on all fronts, is what won the race for them.

For their illustrious rivals Porsche, Toyota, Cadillac and Peugeot – other than themselves winning – the next best thing was a Ferrari victory for the sheer publicity the Reds garner when they compete with such great success, with Le Mans and Hypercar WEC a booming stage for them to perform, after all they do sell sportscars not single-seaters.

It is the exact booster injection WEC needed for their Hypercars to really kick-off as they have now, and thus rewarding the abovementioned manufacturers with untold publicity for the series. Imagine the homecoming that massive 100-Year trophy is going to get when the triumphant Ferrari team resume business at Round 5 of the Championship at Monza in a month’s time!

The biggest moment in the careers of Gio, James and Alessandro

Motorsport: 100 Jahre nach der Premiere: Ferrari gewinnt bei Rückkehr in Le Mans

For 29-year-old Giovinazzi, whose Formula 1 career funded by Ferrari did not live up to expectations, winning Le Mans means he can plot a career in the WEC which is only going to grow from strength to strength on the evidence of the buzz generated by Hypercars and the iconic event itself now that Ferrari is back and winning. Because they are still the most widely loved racing team in the world, no matter their fortunes in F1.

Speaking after his greatest day, the Italian was visibly emotional when he told reporters: “When you’re a kid and you’re a racing driver, you have a few races that you watch all the time. It’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indianapolis and then, of course for me it was Monza F1 and so it was one of my dreams. Today the dream came true.

“I haven’t been on the podium since Spa 2016, in the then GP2. I haven’t won a race since 2016. So to get back on the podium, especially here at Le Mans, was great. I must confess I cried because in my life I have made so many sacrifices.

“After so many years full of disappointments, in the end, I always believed in my talent. What Ferrari has done here today… Last year in July we had this car on the track for the first time, now we have won Le Mans, so as a team we should be proud,” beamed Giovinazzi.

Calado: We were properly on the limit and there was nothing spared

le-mans-24-hours-of-lemans-20-2

Confirming that these days with the remarkable top Hypercars being so reliable, Le Mans is, in fact, a ‘sprint’ endurance race, after battling Toyota’s Brendon Hartley Calado, said after his sweetest victory, “Yeah, well, I think Brendan will tell you also, we were properly on the limit and there was nothing spared.

“We were pushing so hard as we could and at that time, both cars were very, very similar in terms of pace. We are quite surprised we made it to the end because that was our biggest fear.

“The team did an amazing job, also strategy-wise. It’s only our fourth race with this car so it’s an amazing achievement. Whatever happened, I was proud of the guys, these two did an amazing job as well. So thankful to Ferrari and yeah, it was a great race,” declared Calado.

His teammate 39-year-old Italian teammate Pier Gudi, who had a heart-stopping incident when he beached the  Ferrari in gravel spoke of it during the post-race press conference: “To be honest it was a difficult moment. Trying to avoid a collision, I went on the wet and went in the gravel trap. The marshals were quick and in the end, they did an amazing job, because I didn’t lose a lap. And then with the next safety car, I was back in the game.

“Of course, the minutes in the gravel trap was not a nice feeling at all… everything was lost, I was in the lead. It was a shame. But there was still a long time to go and we know in the Le Mans 24 Hours everything can happen. I didn’t give up, I tried to push, and then when I was back in the game, I said: Ok, we can do it.”

And do it they did. Perhaps their most famous victory at Le Mans by 81.793 seconds to their rivals. Ferrari are back where they belong, the absence too long… ask Italy!