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The Ferraris are back at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

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The Ferraris are back at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

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At 4pm on Saturday, the best-known endurance motor race in the world, and the oldest of those that last 24 hours, will start at Le Mans in northern France. This year’s race, for which 300,000 spectators are expected, comes one hundred years after the first edition and is the first time, after a 50-year absence, that two Ferraris will compete in the main category, starting from the front row.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is an endurance race, that is, made to test the resistance of the cars and their crews, which for some years have been made up of three drivers who take turns driving the same car over the course of 24 hours. It runs on the 13.6 kilometers of the circuit de la Sarthe, which partly crosses roads otherwise open to traffic. The circuit, which has changed shape and length several times over the years, features 38 bends per lap and has several long straight sections on which the fastest cars can reach speeds in excess of 330km/h. Whoever completes the most laps in 24 hours wins.

In addition to being a single very famous race – whose fame is comparable to that of the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 – the 24 Hours of Le Mans is also the fourth round of the World Endurance Championship (WEC). There are also other 24-hour car races, but Le Mans is the race par excellence, as well as the only one present in the World Endurance Championship, which includes the 1000 Miles of Sebring, in Florida, and other 6-hour races. or 8 hours, the next of which will be the 6 Hours of Monza, scheduled for 9 July.

This year’s edition is the 91st, in which 62 cars (divided into three main categories) and as many crews will participate, for a total of 186 drivers. In the most important category, which from 2021 is that of Hypercars, there will be 16 crews and two types of cars: the LMH and the LMDh. In short, the LMH (Le Mans Hypercar) category includes prototypes in which the manufacturing companies design both the engines and the chassis: there are some rules to respect, but in general there is a lot of freedom and variety, not just aesthetics. The LMDh (Le Mans Daytona h) category, on the other hand, provides for predetermined chassis and therefore lower overall costs but less margin of freedom to design and improve the cars. In some ways, they are less complex cars, which can be a disadvantage but also, in an endurance and endurance race like a 24-hour race, a possible strength.

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After two years with only five Hypercars competing at Le Mans, and after years of dominance by Toyota (which has won the last five editions of the race, on four occasions with its cars in both first and second place), this year things have changed. The new rules on Hypercars, combined with others on the so-called BoP (Balance of Performance, which aims to bring the performance of different cars closer through the use of special ballasts), have in fact convinced several car manufacturers to return to compete in the top category of the World Championship endurance, and then at the 24 hours of Le Mans.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 nel 2022 (Ker Robertson/Getty Images)

Together with the greater attraction represented by the centenary edition (the first edition was in 1923) the new rules led to the return of Peugeot, Porsche, Cadillac, Vanwall and above all Ferrari, whose last participation in the top category of Le Mans was in 1972 (in 1973 he participated once again but in a different category) and whose best years on the Sarthe circuit were those between 1960 and 1965, when he won six consecutive editions in the years preceding the edition told by the US film Le Mans ’66 – The great sfida, whose original title is Ford v Ferrari.

The start of the 24-hour race in 1962 (AP Photo/ Jean-Jacques Levy)

Ferrari is present at Le Mans with two Hypercars and as many crews made up of Antonio Fuoco, Nicklas Nielsen and Miguel Molina (who will take turns driving car number 50) and Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and the former Formula 1 Antonio Giovinazzi (the drivers of car number 51). There are two Ferrari Hypercars, obviously red albeit with some parts in “giallo Modena”. 499pwhere 499 is the displacement of each of their 6 cylinders and where the “P” means prototype.

(Clive Rose/Getty Images)

In motivating Ferrari’s entry into the Endurance World Championship, Antonio Coletta, head of the company’s GT sports activities, He said al Sheet: «Ae decided to participate in the new LMH Hypercar category, with hybrid engine and 4-wheel drive. The regulations of the old LMP1 class did not allow us to experiment with technological innovations for road cars, which the new category reserved for Hypercars offers instead, a category that will also have more manageable costs, around 60 percent less than the LMP1 with a return of image and communication that will be more important». Before 2021, the annual expenditure to participate in the Endurance Championship in the LMP1 class was almost 200 million euros.

(Clive Rose/Getty Images)

So far, in the first tests of the World Endurance Championship – all shorter and less demanding than the 24 Hours of Le Mans – the two Ferrari 499Ps did well (especially the one driven by Fuoco, Nielsen and Molina) and managed to reach the podium three times; however, all races were won by Toyotas.

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At Le Mans the two Ferraris will start from the front row thanks to the excellent performances they had in the final days of testing, a sign that the cars are competitive. However, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is not the Monaco Grand Prix: the front row is a signal, but it is really only the beginning of a long race full of possible unexpected events. In short, the Toyotas remain favourites, for what they have done so far this year and for what they have done in the previous five years at Le Mans, albeit in different conditions and with less competition. The Ferraris have a few chances, but they are cars making their debut in a 24-hour race, with drivers who in some cases had only tried the Sarthe circuit to simulators.

Even apart from a victory, and despite the half-century absence, Ferrari continues to be a team whose importance and relevance have few comparisons, and whose return to the The World Endurance Championship has often been described as signaling a change of direction for races of this type, interest in which was on the wane.

Thibaut Villemant, endurance racing expert, he said all’Crew that the presence of the two 499Ps «returns the luster that was missing to endurance racing» and that «the aura of the Ferraris is unmatched, because it is still true that where Ferrari goes, the others go too». According to Villemant, “it is thanks to Ferrari, even more than the centenary of the race, that this year there won’t even be a free seat in the grandstands of the Le Mans circuit”.

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– Read also: The first 24 Hours of Le Mans, a century ago

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