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How Ferrari shut the doors on the rest and fuelled their way to Le Mans success

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

For the second successive year, Ferrari were celebrating a Le Mans victory. This time, however, it was the #50 Ferrari hypercar team winning out, while Centenary Le Mans winners in the #51 Ferrari be worthy wingmen, finishing third.

A stellar race may be punctuated by the #50 Ferrari leading the first lap as well as the final lap of the race. However, it was far from the straightforward dash to the finish at the head of the field. Porsche, Toyota, a door that wasn't closed properly late on, a privateer Ferrari, and the heavens opening up made it a typical endurance race, throwing challenges at the drivers after each passing hour.

It would be difficult to pick a defining moment from an exciting race, nail-biting at times too, with as many as nine hypercars in the running for outright Le Mans glory, and a close battle in the LMP2 and the LMGT3 classes, but it would ultimately be Nicklas Nielsen managing his fuel load perfectly to cross the line, and spark celebrations all the way from Le Mans, back to the Ferrari factory in Maranello.


It was a chilly Thursday afternoon as the #50 Ferrari crossed the line during Hyperpole. The red flag earlier in the session had scuppered Antonio Fuoco's chances of going any higher than fifth in this stage, the session stopped just as he was raring to go on a fast lap. With only one more flying lap left, he couldn't improve his lap time, staying fifth on the grid.

Fuoco didn't appear too fussed, knowing very well Ferrari weren't in the fight for hyperpole, but would bank on the length of the race, and the various elements at play during the race. A promotion to fourth after the #2 Cadillac was dropped five places on the starting grid put the #50 onto the second row.

On the evidence from Imola and Spa, the Ferrari hypercars would undoubtedly have strong race pace, and when combed through, you could discover many stints from the trio of drivers to have been the differentiating factor along their road to victory.

The Ferrari pace would be evident right from the first lap, as Nielsen immediately surged past the 'sister' #51 Ferrari and the #3 Cadillac ahead to take second. He would set his sights on pole-sitter Laurens Vanthoor, getting the race lead on the run down to the Indianapolis corner.

It was an important moment, however, with 23 hours and 57 minutes to go, there was still ample time for twists and turns, as this race's tale would unfold. The first challenge would be thrown down by last year's race winner, the #51 Ferrari, but Nielsen fended off Antonio Giovinazzi for the lead, early doors.

Just under an hour in, the #50 Ferrari would receive a ten-second penalty for an unsafe release during the first round of stops, the lead Ferrari being released into the way of the #3 Cadillac, causing the latter to slam on the brakes to avoid contact. Just as Nielsen served his penalty, another factor loomed over the track — right above the track, in fact.

The heavens had begun to open up at the start of the second hour, leaving teams with a choice to make — risk it out on slicks until the rain stops, or go onto the wet tyres. The #50 Ferrari stayed out on the dry tyres, along with the privateer #83 Ferrari of Kubica, who had climbed up ten places, as the two jockeyed for the lead.

This would indeed be the right call, as the rain would halt in a short while, and those on the wet tyres would have to return to the pits for a change to dry tyres. However, another niggling issue with the rear view mirror meant another pit stop, and Fuoco took over. The #50 had fallen back, by hour four, Fuoco found himself in fifth, with plenty to do.

What the #50 would do differently is stay out of trouble and pointing in the right direction during the crucial night stage, a stage when they lost plenty of time in the previous running of the event. Fortunately, the team would go about the night stage without incident.

After four hours of tedious running behind the safety car as daylight would break out, Nielsen, once again at the wheel, would be fending off the #7 Toyota for third, a car that would become the main rival for victory later on.

Nielsen would hand over to Molina shortly after, for a defining stint, that would arguably set up Nielsen's final stint. The Spaniard would wrest back the race lead from the #6 Porsche, holding firm in the top two as the #2 Cadillac, running a different strategy to the rest of the contenders, held the lead briefly.

With two-and-a-half hours to go, Molina would pass on the baton to Nielsen, and despite an unsafe release, this time into the path of the #8 Toyota of Brendon Hartley.

After the pit stop, It was discovered that the leading Ferrari didn't have a door that was fully closed. As the team radioed to Nielsen to attempt to close the door, race control jumped in on the case and requested the team to pit and close the door, being a safety hazard.

The Danish racer would dive into the pits with just over 100 minutes remaining, as the team managed to shut the door successfully. A 25-second lead had been eroded, as Nielsen rejoined in fifth with work to do.

His task would be made even more difficult rain clouds once again settling over the 13-kilometre long circuit, the rain gods trying to have their duel with the racing gods to decide the race result.

Yet, the race victory would peter out into a battle between a Ferrari and a Toyota once again, this time it would be the counterparts of last year's top two finishers. While it was the #51 Ferrari and the #8 Toyota in 2023, it was the #50 Ferrari and the #7 Toyota, with Nicklas Nielsen and 'Pechito' Lopez battling for victory.

In eerie similarities to last year, a Toyota would spin in the closing stages, this time it was Lopez at the Dunlop chicane, costing him more time to the Ferrari. With as much as a 50-second gap to the chasing Argentine, Nielsen pitted for a final splash and dash, as Ferrari attempted to fill lesser fuel, and save fuel until the end of the race.

On the other hand, Toyota and Lopez went for a strategy of pushing flat out until the end of the race. Despite Toyota going for an attacking strategy, Lopez would still have to push at a rate of over five seconds a lap quicker than the Ferrari ahead, with Nielsen just easing his way to the finish on a track gradually getting wetter and wetter with every passing lap.

The Argentine at the wheel of the Toyota simply couldn't rein in the Ferrari at the rate required to take a victory, despite pushing as hard as he could. Nielsen drove a calm and composed final stint, one he would have been yearning for after seeing the #51 Ferrari win last year, to eventually cross the line, 14 seconds to the good, with the fans erupting in applause.

Nielsen was emotional in the car, while Molina, having held his breath for most of the final stages, could now finally celebrate. A tense final stage indeed, as the team had gotten their calculations spot on!

There would be plenty to celebrate down at Maranello, the #51 Ferrari too getting on the podium after a spirited showing against the #6 Porsche, as last year's winners took their spot on the podium, watching on happily as Nielsen, Molina, and Fuoco celebrated. They were well aware of the euphoria of winning at Le Mans, and hearing the Italian anthem on the podium once again.

The icing on the cake was also the case of Ferrari achieving a historic feat of winning two showpiece events in the same year: Formula One's crown jewel, the Monaco Grand Prix; and the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race.

Such an achievement was last conquered by a team in 1934, when Alfa Romeo won both events on the same year.


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