Ferrari takes second straight win in dramatic 24 Hours of Le Mans

Out of the two South Africans, only Kelvin van der Linde finished in 34th overall and seventh in the LM GT3 class.

Ferrari overcame changing weather to claim back-to-back editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race on Sunday.

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

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s no 7 car took second with Ferrari’s no. 51 car, which triumphed last year, completing the podium.

“I had a very long stint driving, the last lap was so long, but we did it” said Nielsen.

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“We were ready for this moment for one year, we won it. We did a good job since the beginning, now is the moment to enjoy,” Molina chipped in.

“This is amazing, last year we were so very close,” he added after the triumphant trio’s fifth place in 2023.

Porsche’s pole-sitting no. 6 car narrowly missed a podium place in fourth behind the second factory Toyota.

Race in detail

In a race of attrition, the first major casualties involved the pair of Alpine A424 hypercars who both retired after six hours with engine failures.

With nightfall came a prolonged downpour, forcing long yellow flag periods and safety car deployments.

One of the biggest delays involved the semi-works no. 83 Ferrari driven by former F1 Robert Kubica nudging the BMW of Dries Vanthoor into the barriers after the kink on the Mulsanne straight.

Kubica, who had been leading at the time, was lapping the BMW and despite maintaining not to have seen it as he also passed a slowing a GT car, elicited an angered response from the Belgian.

Writing on social media X after the accident, Vanthoor said, “Thanks for all your messages, I am okay. Just a small concussion. Just a bad day for our sport pushing someone off the track at 300 (km/h) and getting a 30 sec penalty. Sorry @FIAWEC losing trust here”.

After an initial dry spell, the rain returned soon after midnight, prompting the safety cars not only for the weather, but one point for a dog that had wondered onto the track.

Of the high profile retirements was the WRT BMW M4 of MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi and one of the 16 LMP2 Oreca’s whose wheel came off shortly before 04h00.

The deployment of the safety cars resulted in a record neutralisation period of six hours. At one stage, an extra unit had to be used as result of one of the traditional three running out of fuel.

Drivers like Toyota’s previous winner Brendon Hartley complained of knee cramp as they were unable to put their foot on the accelerator. Molina constantly complained of boredom on the team radio.

Daytime mayhem

At the midway point – 04h00 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 the six Porsche 963s.

Shortly after 08h00, the safety cars retreated, though this gave way to more mayhem. Casualties included two of the three entered Cadillacs, both LM GT3 Chevrolet Corvettes, the LM GT3 Lamborghini Huracan, one of the works Penske Porsches and the Heart of Race Aston Martin Vantage that rolled at the Indianapolis corner.

Also gone was the Kubica Ferrari whose electronics shutdown completely during a regular pit-stop.

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

Ferrari’s no. 50 led from 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 30 sec cushion, helped at one stage by Lopez rotating the Toyota before the Dunlop chicane.

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

Mixed race for South Africa

Among the South Africans, both in their first event, older Kelvin van der Linde finished 34th overall and seventh in the GT3 class after a largely undramatic race in the Akkodis ASP Team’s Lexus RC F.

Younger brother Sheldon endured a more torrid race after a crash before nightfall on Saturday in which co-driver Robin Frijns lost control at the Ford chicane before hitting the wall.

The resulting damage saw the no. 20 BMW spending the rest of the race in the pits and although later repaired, failed to be classified as a result of not completing enough laps compared to that of the winning Ferrari – 96 versus 311.

Additional reporting by Charl Bosch

NOW READ: Ferrari returns to top spot at Le Mans after over five decades

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