2024 Le Mans 24: Ferrari Wins Back-to-Back, Nearly Runs Out of Fuel Doing It

The No. 50 Ferrari staved off a late push from Toyota while conserving energy to make it two-in-a-row for Maranello.
#50 Ferrari AF Corse driven by Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, and Nicklas Nielsen goes for its victory lap after winning the 92nd edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Frederic Timores/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

Don’t call it a comeback, but what else would it be? After a 50-year hiatus, last year Ferrari returned to the Circuit de la Sarthe and topped the podium with its No. 51 499P Hypercar. This year, it was No. 50’s time to shine as the overall 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, at the hands of Nicklas Nielsen, Antonio Fuoco, and Miguel Molina. The defending champ No. 51 finished third, with the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid just ahead in second. 

However, Ferrari very nearly could’ve had zero podium places, as the Italian automaker encountered some drama in the final hours of endurance racing’s crown jewel. Not to mention the rainy weather, heavy competition up front, and an overnight safety car period that lasted more than four hours.

In the last two hours of the race, the right-side door of the leading No. 50 came open. This forced a pit stop, prompted an orange-and-black flag, and earned the car a five-second penalty. It also gave the No. 7 Toyota an opportunity to close the gap. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

A spin at the Dunlop Curve forced Toyota driver Jose Maria Lopez to briefly stop on the track. Any time gained before was now entirely lost. With just half an hour to go, the No. 7 Toyota was still 30 seconds behind the No. 50 Ferrari. Lopez worked tirelessly to cover that gap, but a reported issue with his car’s turbocharger, brief caution due to a stranded GT3 car, and untimely rainfall all conspired to give Nielsen, at the wheel of the No. 50 Ferrari, some sorely needed breathing room.

It was a very lucky turn of events for Nielsen indeed, given that he pitted for fuel with 51 minutes reminaing in the race, and had to drive extremely conservatively to make his energy store last while the hard-charging Lopez bit off seconds of his advantage per lap. At times it seemed like Ferrari might’ve made too optimistic a calculation, in classic Maranello tradition. But Nielsen ultimately made the plan stick, and the slower pace of wet-weather racing helped him save resources and take the checkered flag with a mere 2% of “virtual energy tank”—a combination of fuel and electric power—remaining.

The No. 51 Ferrari didn’t have a clear path to third place, either. Driver Alessandro Pier Guidi had made contact with Brendon Hartley’s No. 8 Toyota two hours earlier. The collision caused Hartley’s car to face the wrong side of the track at Mulsanne Corner. The No. 8 Toyota ultimately finished fifth, just behind the No. 6 factory Porsche 963.

Overall, the 92nd running was anything but smooth, with an overnight and early morning period littered with safety car periods, worst of all a four-hour stop to the racing action caused by heavy rain. Alpine and BMW notched DNFs for both their Hypercar entries, and the No. 83 “privateer” AF Corse 499P, which counted former Formula 1 phenom Robert Kubica as one of its drivers, bowed out of the lead fight early Saturday afternoon due to a hybrid system problem.

Further down the order, both LMP2-class winners United Autosports and LMGT3 winners Manthey EMA counted four rookies among their six total drivers. It was a hard-fought Le Mans by all, and entertaining despite the overnight pauses. More than anything else, it’ll make the wait for next year’s race feel brutally long.

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