50 years later, Ferrari again on pole at the 24 Hours of Le Mans; the impressive NASCAR car in qualifying


Friday, June 9, 2023 by Dominic Fugère

Ferrari rarely makes up the numbers. As demonstrated by their three podiums in three starts since their return to the World Endurance Championship (WEC), the Reds have pace. And their monopoly on the front row of the centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans confirms it. The two clocks of the long Circuit de la Sarthe will be launched tomorrow at 4 p.m. local time (10 a.m. Quebec time) by the Ferrari 499Ps of Fuoco-Molina-Nielsen and Calado-Giovinazzi-Pier Guidi. This is the first time since 1973 and Arturo Merzario’s pole position in a 312PB that Ferrari has achieved such a feat at Le Mans.

After the practice sessions and qualifying on Wednesday, it was rumored in the paddock at Le Mans that the hyperpole, bringing together the 8 best qualifiers in the three categories on track on Thursday, would see the absolute best time set at around 3 minutes 23.500 « ; which is about a second better than Sébastien Buemi’s 3’24.408 », on Toyota GR010 Hybrid in 2022.

From the first laps launched in the hyperpole session, the two Ferraris beat Buemi’s time with a 3’23.897 for Alessandro Pier Guidi and a 3’24.198 for Antonio Fuoco. They would be the only ones to do better than last year’s hyperpole. It remains to be seen how they will behave over the duration of the 24 Hours, a complicated race that the Toyotas have already won over the last five editions.

If the Toyotas have systematically taken the lead at the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 2016, this time they could do nothing against the Ferraris who improved their times despite the shortened session and the traffic. Fuoco thus subtracted almost a second from his qualifying lap the day before with a 3’22.982 while Pier Guidi followed with a 3’23.755.

It must be said that the 37 kilos of performance balance that the competition committee imposed on the Toyotas – without the consent of the manufacturers – offered quite an advantage to the Ferraris. Toyota Gazoo Racing team principal Rob Leupen was quick to point this out.

During this hyperpole yesterday, even Sébastien Bourdais was better than the Toyotas with a 3’24.908 but his time was canceled for causing a red flag when the engine of his Cadillac V-Series.R No.3 failed. ignited at the first chicane of the Hunaudières straight. Bourdais will end the session with eighth place on the grid.

After another fire at the end of the season, during the 12 Hours of Sebring, and an impressive accident at the 6 Hours of Spa at the hands of Renger Van Der Zande, Cadillac is having a stormy start to the campaign, but the speed of the three Cadillac prototypes entered at Le Mans this year is present. Consolation, this No.3 car also driven by Scott Dixon will start at least ahead of the Peugeot 9X8, the only hypercar entered by a manufacturer not to be able to fight for the hyperpole.

In the LMP2 category, Paul-Loup Chatin took pole position at the wheel of the Oreca-Gibson (the only combination registered in the category) in the colors of the former Delage brand of the IDEC Sport team, with a 3’32.923 . Pietro Fittipaldi tried everything to dethrone him until his eighth and final lap at the wheel of the Jota team car, but the Brazilian could not break the 3 minute 33 second mark and he had to settle for 2nd place by 112 thousandths of a second. Louis Deletraz (Team WRT) and Reshad de Gérus (COOL Racing) complete the Top 4 in this category.

On the GTE side, it was Ben Keating who took pole position with the Corvette C8.R, with a 3’52.376. He will start alongside Ahmad Al Harthy who took 3’53.905 to complete the 13.626 km circuit at the wheel of his Aston Martin Vantage AMR. Four Ferrari GTE 488 Evos follow while the Porsches are behind. The only Canadian at the start, Quebecer Zach Robichon saw his 911 RSR rank 58th (out of 62 registered) at the end of qualifying, 17th in the GTE.

NASCAR between prototypes and GTs!

The darling of the 2023 24 Hours, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE based on a NASCAR Cup series car from Hendrick Motorsports, did not take part in the hyperpole session because it is not registered in any of the three categories. It nonetheless impressed in free practice and in qualifying.

Mike Rockenfeller, who teams up with seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button, set his fastest lap of 3:47.976, just 8.5 seconds behind LMP2 and nearly 4 seconds ahead of GTEs . The Camaro NASCAR will therefore start between the Prototypes and the GTEs, so as not to cause unnecessary risk by going up the peloton of the latter.

In fact, to ensure that the NASCAR car was in a category of its own that could not harm the debates, a 50-pound slimming cure and an inch reduction in the rear spoiler height helped performance on a ride of the « beast », as Button dubbed it.

However, over the hours of racing, the gap could narrow significantly because, as Button pointed out, Camaro brake pad changes take five minutes rather than a single minute in GTE; the equivalent of a lap lost with each of these changes!

It only remains to see their Chevrolet so much in the rhythm, after a last presence of one of its cars in 1976 with a Ford Torino, the representatives of IMSA and NASCAR were very happy during their meeting with the press on Thursday afternoon. « Throughout the process, it was extremely important that we retain as much of the NASCAR DNA for this Garage 56 car as possible, whether it’s sound, appearance or performance, » said John Doonan, the president of IMSA. “Thanks to an extraordinary team at Hendrick Motorsports, we have achieved this,” he concluded.

To discover the complete starting grid for the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans, click here.

** Dominic Fugère, CEO of the Trois-Rivières Grand Prix and correspondent for Pole-Position Magazine, is on site at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, accredited by Pole-Position. Find his article after the race on Sunday on this site, as well as a special text on the event in the next edition of Pole-Position Magazine.


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