Ferrari win second successive Le Mans 24 Hours race

AFP , Sunday 16 Jun 2024

Ferrari won a wild and wet 92nd edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours race on Sunday.

Spanish driver Miguel Molina (3rd R) and Ferrari team members celebrate with the trophy after winning Le Mans 24-hours endurance race in Le Mans, western France, on June 16, 2024. AFP


Nicklas Nielsen took the chequered flag after a vintage and gruelling race, the Dane sharing driving duties in the Italian constructor's No 50 car with Italian Antonio Fuoco and Spaniard Miguel Molina.

Toyota's No 7 car took second with Ferrari's No 51 car, which triumphed last year, completing the podium.

Twenty-four long hours, 311 laps and 4,238 kilometres after French football great Zinedine Zidane had sent the 62 car-grid on its way on Saturday, the Ferrari that emerged victorious after a classic version of motorsport's supreme endurance test.

Porsche's pole-sitting No 6 car narrowly missed a podium place in fourth ahead of Toyota's No 8 car, with just over a minute covering the first five.

In an attritional affair, the night proved long and tedious with incessant rain forcing long yellow flag periods.

That reduced the gleaming high-spec racing cars capable of going well in excess of 300kph to pottering along at speeds normally associated with a family hatchback heading to the local supermarket.

Drivers like Toyota's previous winner New Zealander Brendon Hartley complained of knee cramp as they were unable to put their foot on the gas in the confined cockpits.

Molina constantly complained of boredom on the team radio.

This year's Le Mans set an invidious record of over six hours-racing neutralised by safety cars. Four were used at any one time, with some even having 'to pit' to refuel.

Mechanics used the period to grab some much needed shut eye, but that was not a luxury all the unpaid track marshalls from France and Britain could afford.

Daytime mayhem

At the midway point - 0400 local time - with the rain tipping down, visibility minimal and the spray flying in the dead of night - Hartley's Toyota led Kevin Estre in one of Porsche's six Hypercar entries.

After daylight broke over the saturated Sarthe circuit, the safety cars retreated to give the weary 250,000 crowd a welcome dawn chorus of car engines roaring again in anger.

Nocturnal tedium made way for daytime mayhem.

At around 0930, mechanics in the Aston Martin garage had their hearts in their mouths watching Daniel Mancinelli suffer a terrible-looking crash.

The 35-year-old Italian rolled his car, and there was an agonising wait before he forced open his side door and scrambled out, thankfully unscathed.

With six hours to go and a restart after another safety car interlude Earl Bamber in the No. 2 Cadillac was told on the team radio "it's time to make the eagle fly".

The closing hours developed into a mesmerising battle between four constructors - Porsche, Ferrari, Toyota and Cadillac.

Ferrari's No 50 car led from last year's winning No 51 car with under 120 minutes to go, from Toyota's No 7 then the No 2 Cadillac.

Nielsen in the leading Ferrari then had to pit after orders from race control due to an unsafe open door which he had tried frantically to shut himself.

That gifted Jose Maria Lopez's Toyota the lead but only momentarily as Nielsen with an hour remaining had regained control, the Dane establishing a 30sec cushion as the long awaited 1400GMT finish approached.

A frantic conclusion in the rain, with pit stops aplenty triggered multiple changes in the lead with Ferrari crossing the line 14 seconds ahead.

With winners, come losers and one team leaving a memorable edition of a race first staged in 1923 downcast, were Alpine, whose two cars failed to finish, and motorcycling legend Valentino Rossi, whose BMW in the LMGT3 category crashed out.

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