Ferrari thought repeat Le Mans victory in 2024 was «impossible»

Ferrari’s sportscar racing boss Antonello Coletta made the comment after the factory #50 Ferrari 499P of Nicklas Nielsen, Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina won the 92nd running of the French endurance classic, a race in which a number of manufacturers enjoyed stints at the front and nine cars finished on the lead lap.

Key figures within the Italian marque had downplayed its prospects ahead of the race, citing the pace of the hybrid-powered 499P LMH across the test day, practice and qualifying.

Indeed, the best of the three cars from its stable only qualified third, half a second behind the polesitting #6 Porsche and the #3 Cadillac, and was lagging behind on long runs as well.

However, the story was very different when the race kicked off on Saturday evening, with the three Ferraris charging to the front in the opening hour and consistently remaining in the hunt for the victory as the conditions repeatedly switched between wet and dry.

There was late drama for both cars, including the winning #50 entry, with Nielsen unable to shut the right-hand side door of the car. But although it forced the AF Corse-run squad into making an unscheduled pitstop, the #50 crew was able to stay ahead and take the chequered flag by 14s over the #7 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez and Nyck de Vries.

“We arrived [here] like not the favourites,» said Coletta. «I remember after the first test on Sunday and the FP1, FP2 and FP3 my idea was that without a special race with the problem of the weather, with the change of the weather or the other problem it was impossible for us to win.

“After the start of the race we were competitive but as you know very well the 24 Hours of Le Mans [can] change each part of the day. If you are competitive at the start, [you] can not [be] sure you will be competitive at the end.

#50 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P: Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen

#50 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P: Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen

Photo by: Rainier Ehrhardt

“In fact during the 24 hours, a lot of cars were in the first position during the race. And for us it has been very complicated because we started with two penalties for the #83 and the #51 [carried over from qualifying].

“After that I don’t remember how many penalties we received but [it was] a lot. We [also] had a problem with the door. [But] we won for the second year and we are very, very happy.”

Although a number of manufacturers were in contention for victory, the race eventually came down to a straight fight between Ferrari and Toyota as Porsche’s challenge subsided.

Ferrari technical director for sportscar racing Ferdinando Cannizzo admitted that Toyota had the edge over the competition in dry conditions, but the Italian marque was able to fight back when the track was wet.

“I was not really that optimistic before the race,” Cannizzo admitted. “But we knew that we were missing something Toyota specifically.

“I also stressed that we knew our strength so our job was the one of trying to exploit our strength and trying to minimise our weakness especially against the competitors.

“The importance was we knew before what our weakness was and we worked all week to minimise the gap.

“In the middle part there are two different phases in the wet where the Toyota was definitely the fastest car, no doubt. Clearly had a lot of downforce. They did an excellent job.

“Our package in the dry was probably better than the Toyota especially with the medium tyres, which we were trying to use at the start of the race because of the ambient conditions.

“At the end of the race we also decided to take a risk because we said if you want to create or close the gap we need to play this card, even though the weather was not suggesting medium tyres.”

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