Ferrari has made a triumphant return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, ending a 50-year hiatus by toppling the formidable Toyota in the centenary running of the world’s most iconic sports car race. The Italian automaker’s comeback was marked by a strategic and well-executed performance that saw them dominate the new hyperclass category, a testament to their enduring prowess in the world of motorsports.
Ferrari’s last appearance at Le Mans was in 1973, but this year they returned to the Circuit de la Sarthe as part of the new hyperclass category, which features hybrid technology. This category was born from a rules convergence that allowed competitors from the United States’ sports car series, IMSA, to compete at Le Mans, creating an enticing platform for automakers to showcase their street car technology.
Ferrari’s strategy was reminiscent of the narrative depicted in the film “Ford v Ferrari,” which focused on Ford’s successful effort to end Ferrari’s reign at Le Mans in 1963. This time, however, it was Ferrari aiming to topple a giant – the two-car Toyota Gazoo effort, which had entered the race on a five-year winning streak.
Toyota’s chances were dealt a blow before the race even began when race officials added additional weight to the dominant GR010s in a controversial “balance of performance” adjustment designed to level the playing field. Ferrari, with a pair of 499Ps, seized the opportunity and swept the front row in qualifying, handling every challenge from Toyota.
The Ferrari team, consisting of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, and Antonio Giovinazzi, emerged as the clear winners. Their victory was aided when Kamui Kobayashi of Toyota was wrecked out of the race, tipping the scales in favor of Ferrari. The trio had a solid lead even before defending race winner Ryō Hirakawa locked the brakes on his Toyota and hit the wall with less than two hours remaining.
The centenary marked the first year IMSA’s top class was granted participation at Le Mans, and the new hyperclass brought Cadillac back to both IMSA and WEC with Ganassi. The Ganassi Cadillacs were running third and fourth when Hirakawa spun, eliminating the defending champions’ chances at a repeat. However, it briefly created an opportunity for one or both Cadillacs to improve their finishing position.
NASCAR also had a presence at Le Mans this year with a version of its second-year Next Gen car. The “Garage 56” car was fielded by Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, and Goodyear, the winningest team, manufacturer, and tire supplier in NASCAR’s 75 years. Despite a brake issue and a later issue that required a gearbox change, the car finished the race, marking a significant achievement for the NASCAR effort.
Ferrari’s return to Le Mans after a 50-year absence and their victory over Toyota marks a significant moment in the history of the iconic race. The centenary running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans has not only seen the triumphant return of a motorsport giant but also the successful integration of American motorsport series into the event. As the checkered flag waved over the Circuit de la Sarthe, it was clear that this race had written a new chapter in the annals of motorsport history.
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