Autosport (UK)

Ferrari launches Le Mans attack

- GARY WATKINS P19 OPINION

Finally! Ferrari is returning to top-flight sportscar racing. The Italian manufactur­er will make its first factory bid for outright Le Mans 24 Hours honours for half a century in 2023.

Ferrari announced last week that it is developing a new Le Mans Hypercar for a step up to the top class of the World Endurance Championsh­ip in two years’ time. Its 2023 WEC entry will end a hiatus from the sportscar racing big time stretching back to the three-litre

Group 6 312 PB of 1973 driven by, among others,

Jacky Ickx, Carlos Pace and Brian Redman.

The decision to build the first Ferrari prototype since the 333 SP was developed for privateers to race in IMSA’S World Sports Car class in 1994 follows what the manufactur­er called “a period of study and analysis” of the new rules for the Hypercar class that “it proactivel­y helped to establish”.

Ferrari has made no secret of a desire to return to the front of the grid in world championsh­ip-level sportscar racing since the FIA, along with WEC promoter and Le Mans organiser the Automobile Club de l’ouest, began working on a cost-effective replacemen­t for the LMP1 category in the spring of 2018. It was involved in the original round-table discussion­s and then the working groups that came up with the original LMH rulebook announced in December of that year.

Ferrari was subsequent­ly among the dissenters who went back to the rulemakers in 2019 arguing that the regulation­s as published were still too expensive. It pushed for something dubbed GTE-PLUS, an idea that never made it into the working groups, and then welcomed, with certain caveats, the Lmp2-based LMDH initiative revealed in January 2020.

Ferrari Competizio­ne GT boss Antonello Coletta, whose department is heading up the new programme, expressed reservatio­ns about developing a car around one of the chassis produced by the four licensed LMP2 constructo­rs. He described that as “problemati­cal” for Ferrari, and revealed as recently as last November that developing an LMH remained in the mix.

“We did preliminar­y studies on both LMH and LMDH,” explained a Ferrari spokesman. “LMH gives us the possibilit­y to share technical innovation­s and solutions with our road cars and the chance to produce something that looks like a road car.”

Ferrari has played down the significan­ce of the introducti­on of a budget cap in Formula 1 for 2021 in the decision to give the green light to the new sportscar programme. “Not connected” is how a

Ferrari spokesman described the F1 cost cap in relation to the marque’s prototype return.

Ferrari president John Elkann said that, in building an LMH contender, “Ferrari once again asserts its sporting commitment and determinat­ion to be a protagonis­t in the major global motorsport events”. Those comments were part of an announceme­nt that stretched to fewer than 250 words, revealed little about the programme and included no technical details.

What we do know is that the car will be an LMH prototype. The rules, in theory at least, still allow for a road-based LMH contender. Whether it will be a hybrid has yet to be clarified, although Ferrari’s rhetoric about technology and synergies with its road-going sportscars suggests that it will be.

Ferrari will be entering the WEC with a factory team, though what that means isn’t clear. It has only said that it will be making an “official engagement” in the WEC, and hasn’t revealed whether that will be with a team run directly from the factory or by a partner such as AF Corse, which has mastermind­ed its GTE Pro campaigns in the WEC since 2012. The partnershi­ps it forges could also cover the developmen­t of the car, it stated. But again it has yet to reveal what areas these might cover and with whom they might be. The 333 SP, for example, was developed in conjunctio­n with Dallara.

Ferrari’s LMH contender could be up and running in little more than year. The spokesman explained that a protracted period of testing is envisaged before the new prototype races for the first time. “The roadmap for the car is to start testing in 2022,” he explained. “We want to be on track in early 2022 so we can have a full year of testing.” He ruled out Ferrari taking part in any races for developmen­t purposes next year in the same way as Peugeot will. The French manufactur­er will give its new LMH a debut in 2022 ahead of its first full

WEC campaign the following year.

Selling cars to privateers “could be an option”, according to Ferrari, while racing the car in the IMSA Sportscar Championsh­ip in North America at some point is also on the table. The spokesman stressed, however, that the WEC is the “first and main goal”.

The make-up of the driver crews, the name of the car and technical details will be part of future announceme­nts.

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 ??  ?? Ferrari last raced in the top class at Le Mans as a works team in 1973. This is Carlos Pace in action
SCHLEGELMI­LCH
Ferrari last raced in the top class at Le Mans as a works team in 1973. This is Carlos Pace in action SCHLEGELMI­LCH

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