The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado, Allesandro Pier Guidi and Giovinazzi Antonio took a historic victory in the centenary race of the Le Mans 24 hours. 58 years after the last overall Ferrari victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe the team looked strong from the start having already claimed a front-row lockout in qualifying with the sister #50 car. The team was looking strong in the whole race but the Toyota #8 was never far behind with the pair trading the lead several times until a brake lockup from the Toyota in the final hours saw them lose too much time to catch the Ferrari.
The LMP2 result went to Inter Europol Competition whose #34 Oreco 07 Gibson with drivers Jakub Smiechowski, Albert Costa and Fabio Scherrer was the first Polish team to hit the top step of the Le Mans podium.
LMGTE-Am went the way of the #33 Corvette Racing team and drivers Ben Keating, Nicky Catsburg and Nicolas Varrone who will go down as the final winner of the class which is now retired.
In the final two hours of the race it was the battle for the overall lead in the race between James Calado in the Ferrari and Brendon Hartley in the Toyota that continued to captivate the spectators. Calado gradually extended his advantage, and the gap between the two cars now stood at 14 seconds. The Toyota team instructed Hartley to control the brake pressure, mindful of their tyres being on their third stint. However, Hartley briefly went off track at Mulsanne, highlighting the challenging conditions they were facing.
Toyota acknowledged their inferiority to Ferrari in terms of pace and strategy. They strategized to keep Sebastien Buemi fresh for the closing stages by asking Hartley if he could race a fourth stint. The team hoped to gain any advantage possible, but it seemed their efforts were falling short. Despite running their tyres for a third stint, Ferrari managed to gain four seconds on them during a pit stop.
Hartley pushed hard to close the gap to Calado, but the used tyres started causing him trouble. In a desperate move, Toyota opted to keep Hartley out for a fourth stint, aiming to maintain his rhythm and ensure Buemi’s readiness for the final stages of the race. The team equipped Hartley with fresh medium tyres, indicating a maximum attack approach.
As Calado headed to the pits and handed over the Ferrari to Antonio Giovinazzi, the gap between the two cars was approximately 15 seconds. Hartley managed to reduce the margin to 11 seconds, but Ferrari appeared to have control over the race, managing their advantage effectively.
Hartley’s pursuit continued as he closed in on the #50 sister Ferrari, but Miguel Molina’s pit stop allowed the Toyota to have a clear track. Hartley concluded his stint, giving his all for the team, and handed over to Ryo Hirakawa. The decision to switch drivers seemed puzzling to some, as keeping Hartley on the track and capitalizing on his rhythm could have been intuitive. However, the team likely considered the risk of mistakes due to exhaustion.
Ferrari called for another pit stop shortly after Toyota. Giovinazzi remained in the car and rejoined the track with a 15-second lead. Unfortunately for Toyota, Hirakawa experienced a lock-up and spun into the gravel, causing visible damage to the car. This incident cost them valuable time and significantly diminished their chances of victory.
With over one and a half hours remaining in the race, it seemed that Ferrari had a firm grip on the lead unless any disasters occurred. Holding a three-minute and 22-second advantage, they were unlikely to be caught, but Le Mans always held surprises.
Giovinazzi eventually headed to the pits, handing wheel over to Alessandro Pier Guidi for the final hour. With a two-minute lead and the Toyota yet to pit, Ferrari faced no threat whatsoever apart from a brief moment of concern when for the second time the Ferrari refused to restart, requiring a power cycle that cost valuable seconds. The time lost brought the Toyota to within a minute of the Ferrari but with 20 minutes of the race remaining all Pier Guidi had to do was cruise to the finish line.
Ferrari’s lead over Toyota remained comfortable, with over one and a half minutes separating the two cars. Ryo Hirakawa piloted the #8 Toyota on its way to the finish line. The Cadillacs followed in third and fourth place, with the #2 Cadillac driven by Earl Bamber leading Sebastien Bourdais’ #3. Antonio Fuoco and the #50 Ferrari completed the top five.
The LMP2 category delivered an exhilarating final-hour battle at Le Mans, captivating the massive crowd in attendance. The long-time leading No. 34 Inter Europol Competition Oreca-Gibson, driven by Fabio Scherer, found itself engaged in a thrilling fight with Louis Deletraz in the No. 41 Team WRT car.
With 37 minutes remaining Deletraz pitted for fuel with the leader stopping a lap later. Neither took tyres so the race to the end was on with Deletraz needing to make up 12 seconds on the Inter Europol car.
As the race entered its closing moments, the gap between Scherer and Deletraz narrowed to just nine seconds. However, Scherer showcased incredible skill and composure, successfully fending off Deletraz’s relentless attack. In a heart-pounding climax, Inter Europol Competition secured the victory, making them the first Polish team to win at Le Mans and in the World Endurance Championship and coming hot on the heels of their first podium finish in Spa.
Meanwhile, Robin Frijns of Team WRT demonstrated his determination as he hunted down the No. 30 Duqueine Racing entry in the final hour. Frijns appeared poised to secure a double podium finish for the team. However, Duqueine’s Neel Jani, alongside teammates Rene Binder and Nicolas Pino, ensured that they achieved their best-ever Le Mans result in LMP2, adding to the French team’s success.
The No. 36 Alpine ELF Team, piloted by Charles Milesi, Julien Canal, and Matthieu Vaxiviere, secured a commendable fourth place, showcasing their skill and competitiveness. The No. 31 Team WRT car, driven by Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg, and Rui Andrade, settled for fifth, reflecting their valiant effort.
IDEC Sport rounded out the top six positions, with Paul Loup Chatin, Laurents Horr, and Paul Lafargue at the wheel of their ‘Delage’ tribute car, further contributing to the excitement of the LMP2 category.
Overall, the battle for victory in the LMP2 class at Le Mans provided a memorable spectacle, leaving the crowd in awe of the skill, determination, and sheer excitement displayed by the competing teams and drivers.
Corvette Racing achieved a historic milestone at Le Mans as they secured their first-ever victory in the LMGTE Am category. Ben Keating, Nicolas Varrone, and Nicky Catsburg celebrated their hard-earned win after a challenging start to the race. Despite facing a damper problem in the early stages, the pole-winning car showcased remarkable resilience and determination to come out on top, simultaneously extending their lead in the World Endurance Championship standings.
For Keating, it marked his second consecutive Le Mans LMGTE Am victory, while Varrone became only the second Argentinian driver to taste victory at the renowned La Sarthe circuit. The #33 Corvette also made history as the first-ever GTE Am polesitter to finish on the overall podium, highlighting their exceptional performance.
Taking the runner-up position was ORT by TF Sport, who engaged in a late battle with the Iron Dames Porsche. Charlie Eastwood made a decisive move on Rahel Frey’s Iron Dames Porsche 911 RSR-19 at the iconic Mulsanne corner during the latter stages of the race. Eastwood celebrated the podium finish with teammates Ahmed Al Harthy and Michael Dinan.
Securing the final spot on the podium was the GR Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19 driven by Mike Wainwright, Riccardo Pera, and Ben Barker. The team improved on their fourth-place finish from the previous year, demonstrating their progress and competitiveness.
The Iron Dames trio of Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting, and Sarah Bovy put up a strong performance, securing a commendable fourth place. They were closely followed by the #54 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo, piloted by Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci, and Davide Rigon.
Completing the top six positions was the Northwest AMR Aston Martin, driven by Ian James, Alex Riberas, and Daniel Mancinelli, solidifying their respectable finish in the highly competitive LMGTE Am category.
Photos by FocusPackMedia
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