► 100 years since the first Le Mans race
► Ferrari takes 1-2 for 2023 24-hour race…
► …50 years after it last competed in top tier
Ferrari is set to contest its first Le Mans in the premier class for the first time in 50 years, and it’ll do so from pole. In Thursday’s Superpole session, Maranello’s #50 499P Hypercar took first and second positions, with the Toyota GR010 of Kamui Kobayashi rounding out the top three.
Porsche’s 963 made its Le Mans qualifying debut in fifth, underlining the Stuttgart outfit as third fastest – in qualifying trim at least. The leading Ferrari times were:
- P1 #50 499P: 3min 25.213sec (Antonio Fuoco at the wheel)
- P2 #51 499P: +0.199sec (Alessandro Pier Guidi)
‘We are delighted with this result, 50 years after our previous appearance in the top class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans,’ said Ferrari’s Antonello Coletta, global head of endurance and Corse Clienti. ‘The immense effort put in by everyone has allowed us to be where we are less than a year after our 499P’s first shakedown.’
The Ferrari 499P had its first shakedown in July 2022, meaning it’s still one of the youngest cars on the grid. Compare that to the Toyota GR010s (that line up third and fourth) which have been refined and perfected since 2021.
Ferrari’s Antonio Fuoco on pole for Le Mans 2023
‘Yeah, I mean, I think it was special – a special qualifying,’ said pole man Antonio Fuoco ahead of the race. ‘It was a really, really good lap. I really really enjoyed it.
‘It was a qualifying lap, so you always push on the limit and try to find the small tenths around the track,’ he continued. ‘On my side, I really loved [the lap]; one of the best of my career so far… I don’t know where I can improve more. But it felt quite, quite good.’
So he was happy with the lap, then.
The main challenges
Thursday’s pole position continues a remarkable run of form for Ferrari’s new machine. Although still in its first year of competition, Maranello’s 499P has been closer to the Toyota prototypes than expected; and more than a match for its equally green Stuttgart-based competition.
However, the race will provide different challenges.
‘Taking first and second place in the Hyperpole is an indescribable feeling,’ added Ferdinando Cannizzo, head of endurance race cars after qualifying. ‘From tomorrow we will think about the race, which will be long, and where several factors, first and foremost reliability, could prove decisive.’
Prospects for the 24-race race
Ferrari has improved its chances by starting the race on pole, but it’s still very aware it’s not even the beginning of the job.
‘We know that qualifying for a 24-hour race is something different compared to a sprint race,’ said Fuoco. ‘But anyway, we felt so good also because after 50 years Ferrari is back at Le Mans. We know that we have a 24-hour race ahead, which is going to be a really tough race – even the conditions can change throughout the race – so I think we need to be really focused on ourselves.’
What about Toyota?
Toyota may have been beaten on Thursday, but the Ferrari team is still very aware of the experience and skill of its main competition – not to mention the Japanese team’s robotic reliability.
‘We knew from the making from the first race of the year that the car runs really fast,’ said Ferrari’s Miguel Molina. ‘But Toyota is still the benchmark of the championship. They are the experienced guys, they have everything under control [in terms of] the operation they are the reference right now. But in one lap, we could fight.’
What’s the race pace like?
Ferrari’s return to the top class of Le Mans has seen it lag a little behind Toyota in race pace, but the team has been improving and learning about the car ever since the first round in Sebring.
‘Every time you jump in the car, you get more competence with the balance and everything,’ said pole man Fuoco. ‘We also are working on the software set-up. So we are improving the car all the time.
‘We are trying to bring some new stuff every time to try to improve in terms of set-up or software and the feeling is quite good,’ he added. ‘I felt really comfortable with the car and I’m really enjoy especially driving around.’
And the strategy?
‘We sit down and discuss the strategy,’ said Fuoco. ‘We will discuss with the team today and find the best compromise to all of us to to be in the best window for strategy; for the team but also for us [drivers].
Can Ferrari win the 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours?
‘The car is designed for this track, so we knew that we could be very strong here,’ answered Molina. ‘And right now, we are focused on the race. It’s our main priority is to finish the race, to finish with both cars and if we finish in the podium it would be awesome. But right now we need to stay calm.
‘We will try to finish the race first. Now [after] we can look that maybe we should go for the win… A lot of things happen in 24 hours. So we need to do our race, we need to do our job and at the end of the race – or at least when the sun rises – we’ll see where we are.’
Le Mans will take place on Saturday 10 June to Sunday 11 June 2023.