I thought everything was lost

14.221 seconds separated the victorious Ferrari from the Toyota #7 at the finish of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This sealed the Scuderia’s second consecutive success in the endurance classic. Since this time it was the #50 car with Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen that took the win, all factory drivers in the Ferrari Hypercar program can now call themselves Le Mans winners.

After the race, the successful trio was on cloud nine. Fuoco even burst into tears of joy during interviews after the press conference. “These are emotions that cannot be described in words,” the Italian explained his emotional outburst. “Everyone always has this one race in their minds and today was simply our day,” he added.

Drama to the finish: Rainy weather saves Ferrari in the final meters

An exciting race took some dramatic turns, especially in the last laps. The Ferrari looked like the sure winner two hours before the end after a botched Toyota pit stop, but an open driver’s door seemed to cost the Scuderia success in the form of an extra pit stop.

Nicklas Nielsen was behind the wheel of the 499P at the time. “After we had the problem with the door, I thought everything was lost. When the guys on the pit wall told me that victory was still possible, I gave it my all and in the end this is what happened,” said Nielsen.

The additional pit stop for the loose door threw the #50 Ferrari out of its pit stop strategy, but the weather took pity on the Maranello brand. The heavy rainfall slowed the pace of the entire field. This meant less fuel consumption, slower lap times and therefore fewer laps to the finish.

Nielsen had to extend the last two stints to 13 laps each. Under normal racing conditions, the Ferrari only managed twelve laps around the 13.626-kilometer Circuit de la Sarthe on one tank of fuel. “Nicklas did a great job in the last two hours. On the one hand, he had to control the lead in front of the Toyota, and on the other hand, he had to save fuel,” said team boss Antonello Coletta.

In dry conditions, the times would have been about 20 seconds faster and the race would have taken roughly two to three laps longer. Saving that much fuel while maintaining the pace would have been impossible.

Jose Maria Lopez: Toyota error plays into Ferrari’s hands

Toyota driver Jose Maria Lopez also made this task a little easier. The Argentinian, who had subsequently slipped into the GR010 formation with the #7 due to Mike Conway’s injury, completed the final stint for Toyota. He made a serious driving error that resulted in a spin in turn 2 and cost him over ten seconds.

Weather battle in Le Mans: Toyota faster in the rain, Ferrari in the dry

In total, the problem only cost the victorious Ferrari around 20 to 25 seconds, as Coletta calculated after the race. But the road to victory was not a one-way street for the #50 Ferrari. In the dry, the 499P was the fastest car on the track in the very evenly balanced Hypercar field. In the rain and especially in changing conditions, however, the car had problems and Toyota was the dominant force instead.

In a race that was marked by numerous changes in the weather, this was not a disadvantage that should be ignored. On the other hand, it was also an opportunity to make up a lot of ground by making the right strategic decisions. When the first rain shower of the race hit in the second hour, Ferrari backed the right horse with both cars and decided not to change tires.

Ferrari learns from Imola mistake

During a later downpour in the early evening, they tried again. But this time the rain was too heavy and the #50 car fell behind. It took until Sunday morning before the car was back in the lead. It was the only strategic mistake in the race for the team, which WEC race in Imola was still a possible triple victory due to a strategy blunder in rainy conditions.

Coletta explained that the Le Mans victory was also, to a certain extent, a product of the analysis of the race at that time: “The race in Imola was probably a great help for the last 24 hours. At that time, a misunderstanding between the team and the drivers led to us losing the race.” After that defeat, there was a lot of analysis work and numerous meetings to prevent another such failure. In Le Mans, this obviously bore fruit.

Winning Ferrari with early penalty and late investigation

Another problem that posed a problem for the winning Ferrari was a penalty for an unsafe release at the first pit stop. Nielsen aggressively pulled into the fast lane directly in front of the #3 Cadillac (Bourdais/van der Zande/Dixon) and received a 10-second penalty. In addition, Ferrari was investigated on Sunday morning for a potential technical infringement.

But the stewards left it at a warning. It is not known what the ominous offence was. Ferrari also escaped a penalty in a second ‘unsafe release investigation’.

You can read why the stewards decided differently in this case here:

The second Ferrari #51 was not able to get involved in the fight for victory in the final hours. This was partly because Alessandro Pier Guidi was on medium tires in the last dry stint of the race – the wrong choice at that point – and partly because of the Ferrari’s resulting track position. The 499P lacked power in the duel.

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