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24 Hours of Le Mans 2023

10th - 11th June 2023

Event report and photos by Štěpán Koutník

The centenary edition of 24 hours of Le Mans was won by Ferrari. It was their first victory in 58 years in the twice around the clock race, when in 1965 the duo of Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt won in their Ferrari 250 LM. A lot has changed since then, but the difficulty of the race has remained the same.

Hypercar - Ferrari wins in their first year after stepping up to the top class

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The road to the victory wasn't easy and the #51 of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi had to withstand loads of pressure from #8 Toyota, but after 24 hours of racing and 342 laps, drivers of the #51 stood on the top step of the podium. Their winning margin was 1 minute and 21.793 seconds ahead of the #8 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa. In the third place one lap down on the winner finished the first LMDh car - #2 Cadillac of Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook with his team-mate #3 of Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon and Renger van der Zande another lap behind in fourth. Top five was rounded out by the delayed Ferrari #50 of Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen with 337 laps. Fuoco shocked everyone in the Hyperpole when he took pole position with the fastest hypercar lap at Le Mans of 3:22.982, almost 1.5 s clear of the first Toyota, but the car was eventually delayed in the race by ERS repairs, putting it out of contention for the race win.

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It became a duel between Ferrari and Toyota in the second half of the race as the rest of the competitors either hit mechanical issues or crashed out. It wasn't an easy race for the #51 either - first Pier Guidi spun the Ferrari in the first chicane (from the first place) and lost a lap while being put back on track by the marshals and then in the 19th hour had to perform a power cycle when trying to start the car in the pitlane. This was repeated with 21 minutes to go providing unwanted scare to the whole Ferrari team, but managed to get going quickly. The first power cycle resulted in reduced lead for Ferrari and gave Toyota hope of sixth straight win, but this hope was dashed when Ryo Hirakawa lost the #8 under braking into Arnage. He managed to get the car back safely into the pits and finished the race in second place.

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The Cadillac #2 had a relatively calm race with only minor spins but the #3 had much different race. It all started with only a few hours after the start when Bourdais was hit from behind in a slow zone under the Dunlop bridge. This resulted in retirement of two LMGTE-AM cars, but Bourdais was able to get back to the pits and repair only minor damage to the Cadillac. Another incident happened during the huge downpour in the third hour when the #3 went spinning on slicks before Porsche curves, but this time without hitting anything and losing much time. The worst race of the three Cadillacs had the #311 of Action Express Racing. Their main incident happened in the hands of Jack Aitken on the first lap of the race when he misjudged the conditions which were still a bit wet and crashed on the exit of the first chicane. This incident required barrier repairs and the Cadillac was significantly damaged as well, requiring hour-long repairs before being able to continue. In the end the #311 finished in 17th overall, 10th in class with 324 laps.

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The incident for #51 in the first chicane triggered a slow zone, which resulted in retirement of the #7 Toyota - Kamui Kobayashi slowed down so he didn't overtake a LMP2 car under yellows and was hit from behind by two other LMP2s and a JMW Ferrari. Kobayashi tried his best to get the car back to the pits but wasn't able to do so and became the first retirement for Toyota in Le Mans since 2017.

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Glickenhaus endured the race to score a strong finish for both cars, extending their streak of no retirements in the 24 hour race since they first entered the Pipo engined machine in 2021. 6th and 7th place for #708 and #709 with 7 and 9 laps deficit respectively was the best they could do. Gearbox leak forced the #708 to start the race from the pit lane which according to the rules results in loss of one full lap. Safety car bunched up the field, but still the full season car was one lap down. It wasn't easy road to the finish as both cars had separate incidents in Indianapolis, #709 was caught up in the large downpour and almost got hit by a spinning Ferrari, then #709 had to do a full lap with a loose front wheel and with 30 minutes to go one of them got stuck in the gravel in the first chicane. They managed to overcome all of this to score important result for the team - beating manufacturers like Porsche and Peugeot while not losing either of their cars. The balance of performance will have to help this team to perform better, but the reliability is there and the team is a true fan favourite.

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Peugeot had their machines at the top in the first half of the race. It seemed like the car was very good in weather transition situation, making their way to the lead of the race during the second safety car triggered by multiple incidents during a downpour in Porsche curves. While the #94 of Gustavo Menezes got into the lead during the safety car, #93 spun in the hands of Jean-Eric Vergne into the gravel and lost two laps in the process. The #94 was in the lead battle but during hour 12 crashed in the first chicane and required repairs to the whole car. Later on both of the cars required trips to their garages to solve hydraulic issues. In the end #93 was the better of the two in 8th place overall with 330 laps, #94 finished with 312 laps behind the LMP2 field and 12th in class.

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It was a race to forget for Porsche Penske Motorsport and Hertz Team JOTA. Even though they had their time atop the standings, those didn't last long and the race went down after the night started. First #38 JOTA in the hands of Yifei Ye crashed in the Porsche curves while leading the race which resulted in very long repairs to the rear of the car. Around that time #6 had a puncture when exiting the first chicane with Kevin Estre behind the wheel. He had to leave an engaging battle with both Toyotas and slowly brought the car to the pits without damaging the car, but lost almost two laps in the process. The #75 became the best placed Porsche, until in the seventh hour the car stopped on track with a suspected fuel pressure issue. This was the first retired Hypercar of the race. The #6 continued 2 laps down and tried to crawl back some time after the puncture, but Kevin Estre crashed in the Porsche curves when an attempt to overtake an LMP2 car went wrong and ended up in the wall. Battery change later on increased the gap to the winner even more. #5 finished as the best Porsche in 9th in the Hypercar class, but in the middle of the LMP2 field. After minor delays due to puncture and cooling system leak the car was running in 5th, looking to salvage at least some points in the worst possible race for Porsche, but it wasn't meant to be. The car suffered a driveshaft issue in the final hour and was taken out of the garage only to finish the race.

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The other privateer from ByKolles - Vanwall retired with engine failure in the morning hours. The car did not have a race without issues before the terminal failure, but even before that they could not keep up with the high level of pace from their competitors.

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LMP2 - underdog beats all of the giants of the class

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Polish team Inter Europol Competition of Jakub Smiechowski, Albert Costa and Fabio Scherer managed to win the LMP2 class against all odds. Fabio Scherer put on a heroic performance during all of his stints when a LMGTE-AM Corvette drove over his foot and suspectedly broke it. They led the race for the final 8 hours and clinched their first win in a WEC race in the most prestigious one of them all. In the second place finished the #41 Team WRT Oreca of Rui Andrade, Robert Kubica and Luis Delétraz with 21 seconds to the winner.

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In third place and one lap behind the first duo was the #30 Duquine Team of Neel Jani, René Binder and Nico Pino and #36 Alpine Elf Team of Mathieu Vaxiviere, Charles Miles and Julien Canal. Team WRT lost a likely double podium finish with 11 minutes to go, when suspension failed on the #31 car of Sean Gelael, Ferdinand Habsburg and Robin Frijns.

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In sixth place finished the #48 IDEC Sport, the last car to lose only one lap to the leader. Another two laps behind was the car #10 of Vector Sport, which will operate the Isotta Fraschini hypercar team next year. United Autosports endured a difficult race for both of their cars. #22 taken out in hands of Frederic Lubin before darkness, when he attempted to overtake 2 LMGTE cars on the Mulsanne straight. He went off the racing surface onto the bumpy tarmac and spun on a bump into one of the LMGTEs. After repairs the #22 finished in 11th place in LMP2. #23 looked to be on course for a better finish before Tom Blomqvist suffered a crash during the night hours and had to go to the medical centre because the crash triggered the medical light in the car. They finished in eight place 5 laps down on the class winner.

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LMP2 PRO-AM turned into a survival race. Most of the high profile teams retired and in the end left the #45 Algarve Pro Racing of George Kurtz, James Allen and Colin Braun to run away with victory, 5 laps ahead of the #37 COOL Racing Oreca. The only other finishing cars in the subclass were #43 DKR Engineering and #39 Graff Racing.

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Seven LMP2s retired from the race with 5 of them being from the LMP2 PRO-AM subclass. Most notable retirement from the FIA WEC field was the #63 Prema car which was crashed by Daniil Kvyat soon after midnight.

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LMGTE-AM - 9th victory for Corvette Racing in their last year at Le Mans as a factory team

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The road to the win was complicated. The race started well for the #33 after Ben Keating put in a perfect lap in the hyperpole to secure pole position by more than 1.5 s. The team kept in the leading LMGTE pack after they stopped early to change to Keating during a safety car. But after two hours it went downhill for the American squad as the car was brought in for a dampar change. This cost them 10 minutes and 2 laps and a recovery drive was in front of the trio. They managed to get one lap back during a wave-by procedure during a safety car phase in the night. The second lap was hunted down by 16th hour by the trio which outclassed the field with the level of pace they were able to keep. Nico Varrone did the fastest LMGTE-AM lap of the race with Nicky Catsburg closely behind and Ben Keating again showing his consistency and pace as one of the best Bronze drivers in the field. In the 21st hour the team finally found themselves back in the lead and from then on the C8.R ran like clockwork. They finished the race with 313 laps, one lap ahead of their nearest competitor

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Second placed car #25 ORT by TF was overtaken by the overall leader a few laps from the finish which increased the difference between first and second. The Aston Martin Vantage driven by Ahmad Al Harthy, Michael Dinan and Charlie Eastwood overcame puncture and drive-through penalty to finish ahead of the #86 GR Racing Porsche 911 of Michael Wainwright, Ben Barker and Ricardo Pera. Iron Dames #85 Porsche lost a likely podium finish due to a late brake change for the car, while other competitors didn't need to change them. The trio of Sarah Bovy, Michele Gatting and Rahel Frey finished in fourth. They were followed by the highest placed Ferrari #54 AF Corse of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Davide Rigon.

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The remaining cars to finish the race in LMGTE-AM were #98 Northwest AMR Aston Martin which was taken over by The Heart of Racing team after Paul Dalla Lana retired from racing before the FIA WEC race at Spa. The Aston Martin was followed by #56 Project 1 - AO Porsche nicknamed Rexy, which spent closing hours battling for the lead, but was forced into the garage for repairs within the closing hours of the race. The last LMGTE-AM cars to finish were the #100 Walkenhorst Motorsport and #74 Kessel Racing Ferraris

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The LMGTE-AM race was about survival as many high-profile teams retired even before the halfway point. This included all four cars from Proton Competition, WEC title contender #83 Richard Mille Racing Ferrari, #66 JMW Racing Ferrari or three Aston Martins serviced by TF Sport.

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Garage 56 - NASCAR puts its mark on Le Mans

NASCAR had only one goal with the Garage 56 program. Show what it looks like in America and have fun during the process. In this regard the program was a huge success being popular amongst the fans with its sounds and openness. The team wasn't there only to have fun though. They showed serious pace compared to LMGTE-AM field and caused ACO to change the starting rules, when the Garage 56 entry was put at the back of LMP2 field instead of LMGTE-AM. In the race they managed to avoid incidents and were running 2 laps from the GT leaders but then they had to change the gearbox, which dropped them to 39th place overall. The line-up consisting of Mike Rockenfeller, Jenson Button and Jimmie Johnson crossed the line after 285 laps and became another Garage 56 project to finish the race.

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There will be a lot to remember from this centenary edition of the world's greatest race, but next year the hypercar grid will grow again. BMW, Alpine, Isotta Fraschini and Lamborghini are all coming with new prototypes and GT3 class will make its debut in the twice around the clock classic. The new sportscar golden era is coming.