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Ferrari victorious! 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours Race Report

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Ferrari victorious! 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours Race Report

Ferrari AF Corse 499P #50

The greatest race in the world provided another 24 hour rollercoaster ride with drama, controversy and truly epic driving from start to finish. Ken Pearson has been watching.

Ferrari have done it again. Twelve months on from their last victorious visit, it was the turn of the #50 499P to lift the trophy for winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, beating a resurgent #8 Toyota GR010 and last year’s winner - the #51 Ferrari 499P to the top step of the podium. The LMP2 class was won by the #22 United Autosports ORECA 07, ahead of the #34 Inter Europol and #28 IDEC Sport efforts, while in the production-based LMGT3 category, top honours went to Manthey EMA with the #91 Porsche 911, leading the #31 BMW M4 and the #88 Proton Competition Ford Mustang.

That is how to condense one of the most action-packed races I have ever witnessed into a few sentences, but that only just begins to scratch the surface of the race. So how did we get here?

The race

As the red lights went out and the French flag fell, 62 cars accelerated together and began the race towards the history books. The 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans got underway in dramatic fashion, with the 23 top-class Hypercars running side by side, neck and neck for the majority of the first lap. The story was repeated in the LMP2, LMP2 Pro/Am and LMGT3 categories, with nobody wanting to give up an inch of space.

The drivers remembered that the race would last 24 hours rather than 24 minutes, and the race very quickly began to settle into a rhythm, with the prototypes catching the GTs within a few laps and the navigation of lapped traffic starting. As I said in my preview article, anything can happen at Le Mans and it usually does; within the first hour, the #15 BMW M Hybrid V8 spun, the #47 COOL Racing LMP2 car took a trip to the garage, and the pre-race favourite for the LMP2 Pro/Am class - the #23 United Autosports entry - spun at the first turn. This was all in the first hour. Away from the walls and pits though, the trio of Ferrari 499Ps took the leading positions from the Cadillac V-Series.Rs and Porsche 963s that had qualified ahead of them.


2024 Le Mans 24 Hours start

The forecasted rain arrived in the second hour, with a few teams in all classes opting to switch from slick to grooved tyres a little too early. The rain passed, and the cars that stayed out on track on slicks found themselves with a healthy gap to the cars that took the gamble on tyres. The first big barrier bender of the race came courtesy of the #54 Vista AF Corse Ferrari 296 that spun at the Dunlop Chicane and made heavy contact with the wall.

With four hours down, the Ferraris led the way in the Hypercar class, with four of the six Porsches in the top ten and Toyota in the mix after moving through the field. The ORECA 07-only LMP2 class had 8 cars on the lead lap, and the LMGT3 class saw Valentino Rossi enjoying a 70-second lead over the chasing Porsches, Lamborghinis and McLarens.

The competitive run of the #35 Alpine A424 came to a shuddering halt as its engine failed on track. The car stopped in a cloud of smoke, prompting driver Ferdinand Hapsburg to jump out of the car and run to safety, resulting in an instant retirement; if the driver goes more than 10 metres from their car, it counts as an abandonment. An hour later, the sister car was pulled into the garage, mechanics swarmed the engine bay and a short while later the retirement of the #36 Alpine was confirmed.

As afternoon turned to evening, the rain fell once more but the class leaders remained the same. Le Mans once again lulled me into a false sense of security as the track dried out, the evening turned to night, and the leading #83 Ferrari 499P made contact with the #15 BMW while lapping it on the Mulsanne Straight. This turned the BMW and sent it straight into the barrier at around 200 mph, instantly ending its race, and handing a 30-second stop and hold penalty for the #83. With 7 hours elapsed, the first safety car period began, and would last for 90 minutes. The race would restart with heavy rain coming down.


McLaren 720S GT3 EVO leaving the pit lane
A Hertz Team Jota mechanic catches a nap

Night racing is always a sight to behold, with the bright LED lights of the cars blinding the TV cameras as the cars continued to press on in the darkness. Unfortunately in 2024, we wouldn’t get much of it. Drama quickly ensued with the #46 BMW M4 GT3 hitting the barrier and the #30 Duqueine LMP2 lost drive, coming to a rest in a cloud of smoke. The resurgent #8 Toyota cycled to the front of the field, pulling out a lead over the rest of the Hypercars, while the #183 AF Corse LMP2 gained a 2 minute lead over its class. In the GT class, the two Porsches led the two McLarens as the rain intensified, leading to a long safety car period.

The race would remain neutralised until dawn, with the strobe light-equipped 911 Turbo S finally releasing the field to get back to racing after four hours. The running order remained steady, but that wouldn’t remain the case for long. The #4 Porsche 963 lost the rear end on the run down to the fastest corner on the circuit - Indianapolis. A fast right-hander comes at the end of a 1 mile long run from the end of the Mulsanne straight, where drivers slow from over 200 mph to around 70 for a sharp left. The #4 spun around and went sideways into the tyre wall, maintaining most of its straight line speed, instantly wrecking the car. Shortly after that accident was cleared, the #27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 put two tyres on damp tarmac in the same corner, sending it sideways into the tyre wall and putting the car on its roof. The car was second in class at the time.

So another safety car followed to repair the barrier, but the drama continued with the #93 Peugeot failing to stop at Indianapolis, and the #3 Cadillac which had worked its way into contention in the overall standings ground to a halt on track with an engine issue. Six-time IndyCar champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon managed to return the car to the pits using electric power, where a major oil leak was discovered. The sister #2 car would lead the field back to the green flag, being hunted by two cars from Porsche, Toyota and Ferrari. LMP2 was led by the British team Vector Sport with their #10 ORECA, and the #87 Akkodis ASP Lexus RC F was at the head of the LMGT3 class. With less than 6 hours to go, I still had no idea who’d be victorious.

With four hours to go, the top 9 Hypercars remained on the lead lap, with different strategies crossing over to mix up the running order every 40 minutes. Ferrari lost one of the three strings in their bow, with the #83 499P smoking its way into the pits, following a hybrid system fault. The two Toyotas found a new turn of pace and continued their march through the field. In LMP2, last year’s winners Inter Europol took advantage of the #183 AF Corse car running wide to take a lunge for the lead. The remaining BMW M4 GT3 worked its way towards the front of its class, with the #31 closing in on the #91 Porsche 911.

The ebb and flow continued with continuous green flag running. Rain started once more with two hours to go, prompting a flurry of pit stops. The #50 Ferrari had moved back to the top of the leaderboard, with the #8 Toyota in second. The third place #51 Ferrari made a late move on the Toyota at Mulsanne corner, causing Brendon Hartley to spin and lose about 20 seconds. Avenging its sister car, the #7 muscled its way past the #51 and taking the lead when the #50 Ferrari had to pit to repair a faulty door.


#34 Inter Europol ORECA 07 completes a lap on three wheels
The LMGT3 field runs together

Meanwhile, the pro drivers took control of the cars in the mixed-ability LMP2 and LMGT3 classes. Oliver Jarvis led the way for the #22 United Autosports ORECA, a lap ahead of the rest of the field. The battle between Porsche and BMW for top honours in the GT3 class continued, with the #91 911 and #31 M4 switching positions into the final 90 minutes. I’ve not seen a more tense final phase of the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 2011, when Audi had to perform flawlessly to convert their slim lead over Peugeot into an overall win. They did - by just 13 seconds.

It all came down to the final round of pit stops; the #50 Ferrari was the first to come in, filling the tank and staying on old tyres to maintain track position. The #2 Cadillac’s pace fell away as the track got wetter, so it became a game of tortoise vs hare as the #50 had to save as much fuel as possible to reach the chequered flag, while the #7 Toyota had to take 6 seconds per lap out of the leader’s advantage just to reach its rear wing.

Jose Maria Lopez drove like a man possessed, dive bombing slower traffic and showing no mercy as he chased the leader, but team orders would ultimately put an end to the hunt for Toyota’s sixth win at La Sarthe. “Bring home P2. We don’t want to take any risks” said the #7 car’s engineer, effectively conceding defeat with 20 minutes to go.

Meanwhile, the #22 United Autosports LMP2 maintained its advantage over the #34 Inter Europol and #28 IDEC Sport cars, setting the finishing order for the class. The #91 Porsche 911 GT3 extended its lead over the #31 BMW M4 GT3 to 40 seconds, with the #88 Proton Competition Ford Mustang GT3 rounding off the podium on its Le Mans debut.

With the trackside Rolex ticking over to 16:00, the history books could finally be updated, with the winning car of the 92nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans being recorded as the #50 Ferrari AF Corse 499P, driven valiantly by Nicklas Nielsen, Miguel Molina and Antonio Fuoco. This is the 11th overall win by the Italian manufacturer, and the second in two years for their LMH prototype. Toyota would have to accept second place for the second straight year, while the #51 Ferrari who took the top step of the podium in 2023 would secure third place.


Victory!

The aftermath

The 2024 race was tense from beginning to end, with dramatic stages and heart-stopping incidents throughout. The winners and podium finishers will be the easiest stories to look up, but there are three prototype-running teams that I have to commend. Firstly, Hertz Team Jota who had to rebuild their #12 Porsche 963 around a brand new tub after Callum Illot made heavy contact with a wall during the week. The team worked night and day to complete the job, firing up the car on Friday afternoon and completing a shakedown test on the taxiways of the airport that backs onto the circuit. With precious little prep time, the car would face Le Mans. 24 hours later, the car finished 8th overall, and won the FIA World Cup for Hypercar Teams category for privateer entries in the top class. Who finished second? The #38, also from Hertz Team Jota. Bravo.

The #23 United Autosports LMP2 Pro/Am entry was a pre-race favourite, but some early spins and mechanical trouble delayed the car. It required a gearbox change which was completed, costing the car multiple laps and to tumble down the running order. They could’ve thrown in the towel, but giving up was never an option.

Finally, the #311 Action Express Cadillac was the third car in the space of an hour to hit the wall on the entry to Indianapolis corner. Going sideways into the tyre barrier at high speed, the car was limped back to the pit lane with no rear wing, broken suspension and cracked bodywork on the right hand side. Nobody expected that car to re-emerge from its garage, but against all odds and in the true spirit of Le Mans, it did. It made it to the finish. 

I thought that the race would be nearly impossible to predict, given the close balance of the cars in each class. However, it was a lonely race for the pair of Peugeot 9X8s who never set the timing screens alight, and only featured briefly on the broadcast on their way to their 11th and 12th place finishes. Likewise, the pair of Lamborghini SC63s barely featured, other than their trips to the gravel traps on cold tyres, as they bookended the Peugeots with a 10th and 13th place finish. Both teams will be hoping for more from their cars throughout the rest of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, and will no doubt already be working on how to improve their cars for next year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.


Emotions come out, as the #91 Manthey EMA Porsche 911 wins its class
Hypercar podium, with lots of confetti

When the chequered flag falls, the emotions pour out. When you see the looks on the faces of the drivers, pit crew and the fans alike, it’s clear to see just how much winning - or even finishing the race - means to everyone involved. Tears of anguish were shed mid-race as cars fell out of contention, blew their engines or ruined their chassis; nails were bitten and legs were wiggling as the rain came down and the teams had to trust the calculations of their strategists. The best teams, drivers and cars battled relentlessly through sunshine and rain, daylight, night and daylight once again for 24 thrilling hours. I can’t wait for next year.

2024 24 Hours of Le Mans: the stats

Overall winner: #50 Ferrari AF Corse 499P

Hypercar Teams World Cup winner: #12 Hertz Team Jota Porsche 963

LMP2 winner: #22 United Autosports ORECA 07

LMP2 Pro/Am winner: #183 AF Corse ORECA 07

LMGT3 winner: #91 Manthey EMA Porsche 911 GT3 RSR

Fastest lap: 3:28.756, Toyota GR010 Hybrid #7

Top speed: 214.06 mph, Toyota GR010 Hybrid #7 and #8

Laps / distance completed: 311 / 2,633 miles


Written by

Ken Pearson

Published

19 January 2024

Last Updated

19/01/24

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