Why Ferrari can’t resist a return to Le Mans
The world’s greatest sports car maker returns to the top flight of the world’s greatest sports car race. Cause for celebration
It was never goodbye, only au revoir: Ferrari has confirmed it will return to the sharp end of the Le Mans 24 Hours grid in 2023. It joins the growing number of manufacturers committing to the World Endurance Championship’s new Hypercar class. No doubt partially enabled by funds freed by F1’s budget cap, an ocial Scuderia entry in the WEC will battle for overall honours throughout the championship season, including the big one: Le Mans.
Ferrari has raced at Le Mans in the lowerdivision GT category for the past few seasons (and done extremely well, its 488 winning the WEC GT manufacturers’ championship four times since 2017). But this is the first time in decades that it’s stepped up to the top class with its sights on overall honours. There were privateer entries in the ’90s, but you have to go all the way back to 1973 for the last time Maranello fielded an ocial works entry.
It’s hard not get caught up in the romance of the world’s most fabled sports car maker returning to the top flight of the most famous sports car race after so many years away. Even the resolutely unflappable (and Audi-centric) nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen is in a tizz about it: ‘It’s exciting news for any fan. There’s something about a Ferrari at Le Mans: it’s a mythical combination.’
Intense rivalries have defined Ferrari’s decades at La Sarthe. Here’s a look back at its greatest foes, and a look ahead to the new breed of competitors it must beat on its return.
1940s FERRARI VS FRANCE
First 24 Hours race since the war and France flocks to La Sarthe expecting a home victory from Talbot, Delahaye or Delage. But it’s a privately entered Ferrari 166 that wins Le Mans in 1949, Luigi Chinetti at the wheel (for 22 hours, as his driving partner is taken ill).
1950s FERRARI VS JAGUAR
Jag’s C-Types see off the Ferrari threat through the early part of the ’50s. For the balance of the decade, its beautiful D-Types trade blows with Ferrari’s brutish 375 and glamorous Testa Rossas. Five wins to Coventry, two to Maranello.
1960s FERRARI VS FORD
Ferrari is seemingly unstoppable: six wins in a row from ’60 to ’65 (the latter by a privateer 250LM, flogged so hard its differential fails on the slowing-down lap). Henry Ford II, incensed after a takeover deal snub by Enzo Ferrari, vows to beat him at Le Mans. Ford’s GT40s get a drubbing in ’64 and ’65 but hit their stride a year later. Ferrari hasn’t won Le Mans since. Not yet, at least…
1970s FERRARI VS PORSCHE
Immortalised in Steve McQueen’s movie, Ferrari’s 5.0-litre V12-engined 512S and 512M racers are every bit as gorgeous and gobsmacking as Porsche’s 917 but never beat it at La Sarthe. Ferrari’s last bid for glory is 1973, its 312PB Spyder retiring from the lead with just two hours to go.
2023 FERRARI VS EVERYONE
There’s no shortage of contenders Ferrari must beat if it’s to make its comeback a fairytale one: Toyota has won the last three Le Mans and transfers to the Hypercar class this year; fascinating underdog Glickenhaus has created its own Hypercar to battle the big boys; Peugeot returns in 2022 with a futuristic-looking hybrid Hypercar (below); Porsche joins the party in 2023 in the prototype LMDh class, and will still be in with a shout of an overall win; Audi, the second most successful marque ever at Le Mans (13 wins to Porsche’s 19 and Ferrari’s nine) joins LMDh too in 2023. Pedigree aplenty, then. Le Mans might just be about to enter a golden era.