Ferrari survives late drama to score back-to-back wins

Nickas Nielsen, Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina took the chequered flag in the #50 Ferrari 499P with a 14s margin over the #7 Toyota GR010 HYBRID of Nyck de Vries, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, as the #51 Ferrari of defending champions Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi rounded out the podium.

There was drama in the penultimate hour as the right-side door of the #50 Ferrari began flapping rapidly, prompting race control to show a black-and-orange flag. Nielsen was forced to bring the car back into the pits just six laps into the stint, but was able to hold the net lead over the #7 Toyota.

Nielsen’s run to the finish was made easier by Lopez spinning at the Dunlop Curve and briefly stopping on track, a mistake that ended any remaining chance of Toyota adding to its five wins at Le Mans.

Ferrari had looked rapid from the get go in the 92nd running of Le Mans, with all three 499Ps — including the AF Corse-entered customer entry — charging to the front in the opening hour.

The #50 factory car and the #83 customer entry elected to stay out when rain hit the track briefly on Saturday evening, a decision that put the two 499Ps well clear of the rest of the field as most cars — including the #51 Ferrari — had to return to the pits to switch back to slicks.

The race was neutralised for the first time after night fell at La Sarthe, when the #20 BMW of Robin Frijns crashed at the end of Mulsanne after contact with the #83 Ferrari then driven by Robert Kubica.

It took the best part of two hours for the marshals to replace the barriers, with the action resuming just past midnight. Another safety car period followed in the early hours of the morning, as rain and fog made the track unsafe for racing, with Toyota, Porsche and Ferrari all trading the top spot.

It wasn’t until the break of dawn that the race went back to green, with the complexion of the race changing virtually every hour as a number of manufacturers enjoyed stints at the front.

The #50 Ferrari made major headways in the 18th hour before the final rain shower, as Fuoco overtook the #83 Ferrari and the #5 Porsche of Frederic Makowiecki to take second, when an out of sync #2 Cadillac stopped to switch to wet tyres.

Pier Guidi managed to hang on to the final spot of the podium in the #51 Ferrari he shared with James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi despite coming under serious pressure from the #6 Porsche 963 driven by Laurens Vanthoor.

Pier Guidi was hit with a five-second time penalty for colliding with the #8 Toyota of Brendon Hartley in the penultimate hour, an incident that left Hartley facing the wrong side of the track at the Mulsanne corner.

Pre-race favourite Porsche had to settle for fourth position, with Vanthoor finishing just 1.1s behind Pier Guidi in the #6 963 LMDh he shared with Kevin Estre and Andre Lotterer. 

The #6 Porsche had moved into the front in the 18th hour after pitting under a slow zone, which was ironically caused by Felipe Nasr crashing the sister #4 entry into Indianapolis. However, the #6 had to make its next pitstop under a safety car — brought by the Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3’s shunt at the same turn — which dropped the trio back down the order.

The #8 Toyota delayed by the incident with Pier Guidi ended up fifth, Sebastien Buemi bringing the car he shares with Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa to the finish line ahead of the #5 Porsche of Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen and Frederic Makowiecki.

Cadillac emerged as a surprise contender for victory on Sunday afternoon, as a well-timed pitstop before the last safety car put the #2 V-Series.R of Alex Lynn, Earl Bamber and Alex Palou in the lead — albeit out of sync on pitstops with its immediate rivals.

However, any advantage the factory Chip Ganassi crew could potentially derive from their pit strategy was negated when rain hit the track in the final three hours, which put the entire Hypercar field on wet tyres at roughly the same time.

Two-time IndyCar Champion Palou eventually brought the #2 Caddy to seventh at the finish, ahead of the two customer Jota Porsches.

The #12 Jota Porsche, which was rebuilt around a new chassis in record time after a crash in FP2 on Wednesday, finished eighth ahead of the #38 car.

Peugeot endured another troubled outing with the new 9X8 2024 that made its debut in the Imola round of the World Endurance Championship, with the car struggling for pace in all conditions.

Stoffel Vandoorne, Paul di Resta and Loic Duval finished 11th in the best of the two factory cars from the French manufacturer, three laps down on the winning Toyota, after picking up a drive-through penalty for overtaking under the slow zone.

The #93 car also had to drive through the pitlane after Mikel Jensen was deemed responsible for a collision with the #95 United Autosports McLaren 720S GT3 car. That combined with a crash for Nico Muller under the safety car left him, Jensen and Jean-Eric Vergne down in 12th place in the final reckoning, a lap adrift of the sister car.

Lamborghini was the best of the newcomers in the Hypercar class after a solid if unremarkable run for the Iron Lynx-run factory squad at Le Mans. The Italian marque never had the pace to bother its more established factory rivals, but its two SC63s ran without any major hiccups — save for a couple of spins in the fourth hour.

The #63 Lamborghini entered for the full WEC season finished ahead of the Peugeot in 10th with Mirko Bortolotti, Daniil Kvyat and Edoardo Mortara, while the sister #19 car brought over from IMSA and driven by Romain Grosjean, Andrea Caldarelli and Matteo Cairoli ended up in 13th place.

Isotta Fraschini was the only other new manufacturer to be classified, after Jean-Karl Vernay, Carl Wattana Bennett and Antonio Serravalle managed to take the #11 Tipo6-C to 14th place. 

Both BMW and Alpine were out of the running before midnight on Saturday, despite having shown promising pace in the lead-up to the race.

Engine failures were to blame for Alpine’s double retirement at Le Mans, with Ferdinand Habsburg parking the #35 A424 LMDh at Arnage in the fifth hour and Nicolas Lapierre pulling the sister car shortly after into the garage.

BMW’s troubles began in the opening hour itself as Marco Wittmann went off at the Esses and immediately put the #15 M Hybrid V8 on the back foot. Team-mate Dries Vanthoor was trying to recover from the early setback when he had a coming together with the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Kubica at the end of Mulsanne at night, with the impact sending him head-on into the armco barriers.

By this point, the #20 BMW was already in the garage after Robin Frijns ran over the kerbs at the Ford Chicane and sustained what appeared to be terminal damage. BMW was eventually able to get the car repaired to send team-mate Sheldon van der Linde back on track in the final hour, but the car was not classified as it failed to complete the required 70% distance.

The #83 customer Ferrari that led a major portion of the race on Saturday and was well in contention in the early hours of the afternoon eventually retired with technical issues in the 20th hour, with TV images showing plumes of smoke coming out of the front.

The #3 Cadillac and the #4 Porsche were among the six Hypercar entries to not be classified.

Porsche triumphs in new-for-2024 LMGT3 class

Porsche scored yet another WEC win in the LMGT3 class as Richard Lietz, Yasser Shahin and Morris Schuring took top honours in the #91 Manthey EMA 911 GT3 R.

The victory in the production-based class boiled down to a straight fight between the Manthey Porsche and the #31 WRT of Augusto Farfus, Sean Gelael and Darren Leung in the closing stages, as a number of leading contenders dropped out due to a variety of reasons.

Gelael managed to grab the lead of the race when rain returned on track with just over two hours to go, but factory Porsche driver Lietz had little trouble getting past his silver-rated rival on the run to Indianapolis to lead the #91 crew to the first-ever LMGT3 victory at Le Mans.

The sister #92 Manthey PureRxcing entry was also in the victory battle for much of the enduro and was actually leading the class when Klaus Bachler was forced to bring the car to the garage with electric problems.

Proton Competition took spots three and four with its pair of Ford Mustang GT3s, the #88 car of Dennis Olsen, Giorgio Roda and Mikkel Pedersen finishing ahead of Christopher Mies, Ben Tuck and John Hartshorne in the sister entry.

All three McLaren 720S GT3 entries, including the pole-winning Inception Racing car, suffered a spate of issues on Sunday that left them out of the reckoning.

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