Ferrari wins at Le Mans - again!
Volume 48 Issue 12
Jun 24, 2023
Ferrari wins Le Mans again! Ferrari has won, not nine times, but now ten times in 100 years of the 24-hour race.
What a long trip it’s been. Ferrari wins at Le Mans again the headlines declare, in bold print. All websites, newspaper, Twitter, Facebook and many others shout the news.
Yes, Ferrari won the 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It is historic, but it’s not like Ferrari hasn’t been there before. In fact, Ferrari has been in the winner’s circle ten times.
Only Porsche and Audi have more victories than Ferrari with nineteen and thirteen, respectively. Needless to say, both of those companies are much larger and have concentrated on building sports cars.
Ferrari on the other hand concentrated its racing resources elsewhere. It is still unrivaled in Formula One. They have won more races, points, and constructors’ championships than any other company.
It’s not even close.
But there was a time when Ferrari ruled the sports car scene. Ferrari was still hand creating cars one at a time, and wanting to prove Ferrari cars could compete and win. There was a man who put Ferrari on the map.
Luigi Chinetti took a 166 Barchetta, S/N 0008 M, and won Le Mans outright in 1949. The competition cars had even serial numbers making S/N 0008 M the fourth (yes, the fourth!) car completed.
It was this win that proved Ferrari would be a force to be reckoned with in the future. It also opened the door to expanded markets in the United States and elsewhere.
Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. Regardless of how corny the saying is, it still holds true. You can bet Ferrari stock (literally and figuratively) has just gone up.
The same thing happened in 1954 when José Froilán González and Maurice Trintignant drove a 375 Plus to victory. Ferrari built a strong business with racing sports cars. To help support that business he also built street cars for his wealthy clients who wanted something more civilized with unparalleled performance.
1954 is another turning point in Ferrari history. It is where the first production Ferraris begin to be sold. The 375 America and 250 Europa series cars tested the waters for production. Still customized and hand built as per customer taste each one contained different details.
Pininfarina and Ferrari were settling upon the eternal question “what should a Ferrari look like.” The 250 Europa GT became the first true production Ferrari available for the discerning customer.
Winning Le Mans that year didn’t hurt.
As the 250 GT engine was further developed, the 3-liter formula had lots of potential. Several years of four-cylinder variations and some very sophisticated V-12 designs proved the best engine made, with the best longevity, and able to withstand the rigors of long-distance racing, was the simple and straightforward 250 GT engine.
It was this engine that powered the 1958 Le Mans win with Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebein in their 250 TR 58, S/N 0728. The Testa Rossa would go forward to win many times and continued development would help create the Ferrari legend.
Aston Martin won the 1959 running of Le Mans but Ferrari did place 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th overall with the 250 GT LWB chassis. Three berlinettas and one spyder brought Ferrari honor but not overall victory.
Determined to not repeat the loss, 1960 brought out a slew of Ferraris and Paul Frère and Olivier Gendebien brought another 250 TR, S/N 0774, home 1st overall.
This victory began a streak of wins and truly cemented Ferrari as the king of long-distance racing. 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1965 were all Ferrari years.
The Ferrari stable brought 250 TR 61, S/N 0794, for Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien in 1961. Brand new and never raced before this last iteration of the 250 Testa Rossa was perfect right out of the box.
Not to be outdone the next year, 1962, Ferrari brought another brand-new car, the 330 TR/LM, S/N 0808. Again, to be driven by Hill and Gendebien. Back-to-back wins at Le Mans combined with the win in 1960 made three outright victories. Ferrari was a force to be reckoned with.
By 1963 racing was getting more competitive and expensive. Front-engine cars were no longer the weapon of choice and engines were moved to the rear.
Ferrari brought a new 250 P, S/N 0816, to Le Mans for Lodovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini in 1963. Ferrari made it four victories in a row.
By 1964 the P cars were developed with both 3.3-liter and 4-liter engines. A 275 P, S/N 0816, the same one that won in 1963, was now driven by Jean Guichet and Nino Vaccarella. The increase in displacement kept this well-used racing car competitive.
The 4-liter cars came in 2nd and 3rd to make it a 1964, 1-2-3 sweep. Ferrari appeared to have a solid lock on the 24 Hours of Le Mans but another manufacturer was attempting to break that streak.
The Ford/Ferrari war was heating up and Ford was catching up.
1965 did not go well for the Ferrari factory entries but privateers did well to hold up the honor of Ferrari. A new 250 LM, S/N 5893, was entered by Chinetti’s NART team. Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt drove it hard hoping it would break but it stayed together to finish first.
In addition, another 250 LM, S/N 6313, driven by Pierre Dumay and Gustave Gosselin, finished 2nd and a 275 GTB Speciale, S/N 06885, came in 3rd. Another 1-2-3 sweep and the sixth year in a row to win overall.
Ford came on strong in 1966 and 1967; Ferrari tried to fight back with the 512 S and M but the onslaught was too much. Ferrari was also having financial troubles and Fiat was courted to take over production cars.
Ferrari turned to Formula One and left sports car racing to privateers.
Not forever, since the 312 PB and 333 SP programs helped to keep Ferrari within the technological circle but not in the winner circle.
The WEC (World Endurance Championship) series features multiple classes competing in endurance races. Ferraris have been competing in this series since its inception in 2012. Not factory entries, but privateers, using production cars modified to meet the rules.
Several teams have been successful, but the prototype class has not been one Ferrari built a car to compete in. Until now.
The Hypercar class was developed to attract manufacturers, and Ferrari has risen to the challenge with the 499P.
The V-6 engine developed from the 296 is a 120-degree 6-cylinder. Hybrid technology has been used in other Ferrari vehicles and is familiar to Ferrari. The carbon-fiber tub and close attention to aerodynamics created a car that could be a contender.
Brought out to Sebring in March 2023, two 499P came in 3rd and 15th overall. Not a bad showing for a couple of fresh out-of-the-box racing cars.
So Ferrari brings two 499P to Le Mans. It’s the Centenary 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race Ferrari once dominated so long ago. But it is not the first time new cars debuted at this race and won outright.
As the season continues, we will see if this outstanding win can be repeated. The team is seasoned and familiar with what it takes to win. I believe the 499P will be the winning combination.
What a long trip it has been. It just goes to show, when Ferrari puts their mind and resources behind a project, they can produce a winning car.
If they can find that same combination and put it into their Formula One team, Ferrari will definitely be back on top.