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Ferrari Return to Les Mans

Will this be a new era of success?

Ferrari announced their return to the World Endurance Championship — the series featuring the incomparable 24 Hours of Les Mans race — with a brand-new hypercar which signposts the illustrious history of the manufacturer. They have opted for a twin-turbo, 3-litre V6 hybrid engine, born from Ferrari’s experience in Formula One, which has been in the ‘hybrid era’ since rule changes in 2014.

This year will be the centenary of the race that has fascinated millions around the world. An endurance race in every sense of the word, teams must ensure that their cars run continuously with no mechanical failure. It is a test of human strength and technical prowess. Etched into popular culture through films such as Steve McQueen’s Les Mans or the Matt Damon and Christian Bale-led Ford vs Ferrari, it continues to dominate not just motor racing but global sporting headlines annually.

Ferrari have chosen the right year to make this anticipated return to the pinnacle of motor racing. 100 years since the first Les Mans coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Prancing Horse’s previous outing at the race. As depicted in the aforementioned Ford vs Ferrari, they were dominant in the early 60s under their original founder Enzo Ferrari.

Changes have been made recently to the rules and requirements for entry to Les Mans. The new hypercar category — LMH — is significantly different from the previous top-tier era of the LMP1. As a result, the cost of entering a pair of cars to the race is significantly less, making it easier for work teams to develop and race. The fact that Ferrari themselves were involved in the drafting of the new regulations speaks not only of their valuable insight into R&D but that WEC wanted the Ferrari name back so much they allowed them to help lay the foundations for the series’ future.

The car itself also carries visual signifiers of the heritage of the manufacturer. The yellow trim which runs down the nose of the car through to the rear wing recalls Moderna, Ferrari’s hometown, of which yellow is its official colour. The last time Ferrari raced at Les Mans, their lead car also bore a similar yellow stripe.

Ferrari’s exit from the sport had been taken so they could focus purely on Formula One, where they had failed to secure a driver’s title since John Surtees’ win in 1964. The move paid off; from Niki Lauda’s first title in 1975 they won in three of the next six years. However, their move back to endurance racing arguably reflects a desire to move beyond open-wheel, single-seater formula cars.

Recently, the Scuderia have been less than successful in Formula One. The start of 2022 brought with it so much promise as Charles Leclerc stormed to a huge points lead in the championship after only a few races. However, a combination of poor strategy, driver error and sheer bad luck allowed Red Bull to pick up the pieces and leave them for dust. By attracting attention back to their motoring origins, Ferrari are reaffirming they aren’t just a one-trick pony.

The 499P reflects the team’s history as much as signalling the direction they will take in the future. It will be a magic moment when it rolls over the start line in June.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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