On 10 and 11 June 2023, the 24 Hours of Le Mans celebrated 100 years since the first race was run at the classic and super-fast La Sarthe circuit in France.
For the legendary Italian prancing horse team, Ferrari, their last 24 Hours of Le Mans victory was gained back in 1965, making it a long 58-year wait before Italian drivers Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi and Briton James Calado took their outstanding victory in this year’s epic race. This fairytale victory of Ferrari winning the world’s toughest motor race was also the Italian manufacturer’s first appearance since 1973 in the top class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
The scarlet-red team had everything thrown at them during the gruelling day, night and day race, including inclement weather, surviving a barrage of high-speed competitor accidents and even an electronics system episode that almost completely derailed their challenge. Emerging from the overnight stint, the race became a close battle between the Ferrari and the rival number 8 Toyota Hybrid Hypercar. A spin by Ryo Hirakawa caused front and rear damage to the Toyota, requiring a pit stop to fit new bodywork. This saw the Japanese Toyota factory driver rejoin the race, albeit a lap behind the Ferrari.
A bigger drama that had the whole nation of Italy biting their nails took place when Ferrari driver Pier Guidi found himself unable to restart the number 51 Hypercar after a routine refuel and tyre change pit stop, losing crucial seconds in the pits.
The team was joined by every Ferrari fan on the planet in a collective sigh of relief as Pier Guidi restarted the engine after about 30 seconds of resetting the electronic start sequence system. He had the honour of taking Ferrari to the 24H Le Mans chequered flag for the first time in almost six decades, crossing the 24-hour finish line one minute and 27 seconds ahead of Hirakawa, the ever-quick Kiwi Brendon Hartley, and fellow ex–Formula One driver Sebastien Buemi, from Switzerland.
This very special Ferrari victory saw Giovinazzi unable to control his emotions, with the former Formula One racer (and current Ferrari Formula One team Reserve Driver) becoming the first driver since Spanish superstar Fernando Alonso to win the 24H Le Mans race on his first attempt.
Legendary IndyCar and NASCAR team boss Chip Ganassi flew the American flag at 24H Le Mans with Cadillac Racing, clinching strong third- and fourth-place finishes with Alex Lynn, another Kiwi star, and former 24H Le Mans champion Earl Bamber and Richard Westbrook. They led the sister car of Renger van der Zande, French ace Sebastien Bourdais and yet another Kiwi star, Scott Dixon.
The Centenary 24 Hours of Le Mans saw three different car manufacturers take the major honours with Ferrari, Toyota and Cadillac on the podium. In another very successful 24H Le Mans effort for the Modena stable, the number 50 Ferrari 499P Hypercar, driven by Nicklas Nielsen, Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina, rounded out the overall top five.
This incredibly demanding endurance race saw many accidents during the first two hours and throughout the event, with a number of sad stories of teams dropping out due to failures or accidents while leading or running strongly in this classic World Endurance Championship race.
One of the biggest names in the field, Porsche Penske Motorsport, had a difficult race. The squad led the race but went on to suffer from a series of misfortunes, including a retirement for the number 75 Porsche 963 with a fuel pressure problem. The number 6 Porsche 963 crashed at the fittingly named Porsche Curves, with Frenchman Kevin Estre at the wheel, then suffered further time loss due to a battery problem. The team’s number 5 car was in contention for a top-five finish until a broken driveshaft in the race’s closing hour dropped the car to ninth.
Local hero car manufacturer Peugeot was an early race leader with their number 94 car but dropped out of podium contention when American racer Gustavo Menezes crashed in the middle of the night at the first Mulsanne chicane.
With qualifying and race speeds exceeding 340 kmh, the 24 Hours of Le Mans remains one of the world’s most incredible tests of man, team and machine, and the centenary edition in 2023 was no exception.