2024 Le Mans 24 Hours | 7 talking points

16th June 2024
Damien Smith

Ferrari claimed its second consecutive and 11th overall victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours in a 92nd edition of the great race that went all the way down to the last lap on Sunday afternoon, after another titanic duel with Toyota. The talking points came thick and fast in one of the most competitive Le Mans on record, as changeable weather left a final result only decided by the finest of margins.


Flapping door makes it tight

In the end, the victory hinged on an open door – in a literal sense. Nicklas Nielsen admitted he thought “everything was lost” when, with two hours to go, the right-hand door of his #50 Ferrari 499P flapped open after a pitstop. The Dane tried in vain to close it as he drove at speed, but was forced to pit from the lead with an hour and 43 minutes left so a mechanic could click it shut. Crucially the car also took on fuel – but the question now was whether Nielsen could run long enough to stop just once more before the finish, then eke out his final stint and make it to the chequered flag to win.

The answer to that question was ultimately a positive one, but it was mighty close. Nielsen made his final pit visit with 51 minutes left on the clock and found himself with a buffer of around half a minute to the chasing #7 Toyota. It was just as well it was raining. At the chequered flag his 499P was down to its last two per cent of energy, with José María López just 14 seconds behind him after an incredibly tense final lap.

Nielsen shared the victory with regular Ferrari team-mates Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina, a year on from the trio finding themselves cast in an eventual supporting role to the sister #51 car for the 100th anniversary edition. The tables were turned this time, although the yellow AF Corse 499P driven by Robert Kubica, Robert Shwartzman, and Yifei Ye led the Ferrari charge for much of the race. Kubica was leading when he nerfed the BMW M Hybrid V8 of Dries Vanthoor into the Mulsanne barriers and out of the race, earning himself a hefty 30-second penalty.

But the car was still in the thick of the battle for victory when, on Sunday morning, brown smoke from the front of the car spelt a race-ending hybrid system failure. No such problems for the factory cars though, as Nielsen’s fuel-sipping effort confirmed a remarkable landmark victory.


Super-sub Lopez comes so close

For a second successive year, Toyota was left broken-hearted by a close Ferrari defeat at Le Mans. This time the GR010 Hybrids were on the back foot from the start after a troubled qualifying, and neither made it through to the Hyperpole session on the Thursday. Yet from 23rd on the grid, the #7 entry rose to become Ferrari’s biggest threat.

Argentinian Lopéz was called upon to step back into the Gazoo team breach just a week before the race, after Mike Conway suffered broken ribs and collar bone in a cycling accident. Dropped this year to the GT3 ranks and due to race a Lexus, Lopéz was suddenly back in a Hypercar, driving alongside the man who replaced him - Nyck de Vries, and team principal Kamui Kobayashi. When the sister #8 Toyota was delayed by a collision with the #51 Ferrari, Lopéz became the Japanese manufacturer’s best hope of avenging the 2024 defeat.

It looked on the cards, too, especially after Nielsen’s door-flapping dramas. But as Lopéz confirmed afterwards, he was managing a power problem in the closing stages which thwarted his chase of the winning Ferrari.


Ferrari pips Porsche for final podium spot

Alessandro Pier Guidi scorched across the finish line just 1.1 seconds ahead of the pole position-winning #6 Porsche 963 to secure third with team-mates James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi. But the 2024 winners should perhaps consider themselves a little lucky to have kept Porsche off the podium. Pier Guidi was penalised for hitting Brendon Hartley into a spin at Mulsanne corner with just under two hours to go, but the Italian was only handed a five-second punishment. Given how it ended Hartley’s bid for victory and arguably Toyota’s best chance for glory, it didn’t seem enough.

As for the Penske-run Porsches, fourth and sixth has to be seen as a disappointing return for a manufacturer tipped by many as the favourite. But when it counted in the changeable and difficult conditions, the red and white cars never quite had the pace to put themselves in real contention to beat the Ferraris and Toyotas. In truth, the Porsche-Penske alliance came up short at Le Mans in 2024.


The most competitive Le Mans in years

Even if Porsche missed out, the margins were relatively tiny. From the bumper Hypercar entry of 23 cars, nine finished on the lead lap – which highlights just how tight this era of the World Endurance Championship is proving to be. The blue #2 Cadillac was another serious contender for victory and led for much of Sunday morning, following a difficult night for everyone. Torrential rain at 3am caused more than four hours of running under the safety car, much to everyone’s frustration. But when the field was let off the leash, the racing was some of the best seen at Le Mans in any era.

Following another long safety car interruption on Sunday morning, after Daniel Mancinelli inverted his Heart of Racing Aston Martin in a big smash at Indianapolis, Earl Bamber led the top seven in a fantastic spectacle of close-formation racing. The Caddy, also featuring Alex Lynn and IndyCar ace Alex Palou (who impressed on his Le Mans debut) eventually faded to seventh at the chequered flag. But, the American brand had at least found itself genuinely in the mix right up until the final hours when the rain returned.


Jota crew rewarded for heroic efforts

One of the best stories of the weekend surrounded Porsche customer team Jota. When Callum Ilott crashed on Wednesday evening, the team faced what seemed an almost impossible task. A new chassis was required and once supplied by Porsche the team set to work to complete a preparation job that usually takes three weeks. Instead, by Friday night the #12 963 was ready for a specially sanctioned shakedown on the Le Mans airport runway that runs adjacent to the circuit – a heroic effort from the crew.

In the race, both Jota cars put themselves in the mix, with Ilott, Will Stevens, and Norman Nato leading the sister #38 entry featuring Jenson Button to a respectable eight-nine finish. In the circumstances, that should be considered a victory of sorts.


Jarvis leads United to LMP2 success

The secondary prototype class proved as competitive as ever at Le Mans, as United Autosports – the Leeds-based team co-founded by Richard Dean and Zak Brown – landed its second class victory at Le Mans. The effort in the #22 entry was helmed by quick Brit Oliver Jarvis, the former Audi works driver adding a second LMP2 Le Mans win to his own tally. He was joined by 19-year-old American Nolan Siegel, and Bijoy Garg.


GT3 consolation for Porsche

While it fell short in the Hypercar stakes, Porsche at least claimed bragging rights from BMW with victory in the new GT3LM class. Veteran Richard Lietz added an amazing fifth GT Le Mans class win to his record in the Manthey EMA entry, joined by Yasser Shahin and Morris Schuring. The well-supported class went down a storm with fans, especially as MotoGP superhero Valentino Rossi made his 24 Hours debut in a BMW. His entry even led the way in a crew helmed by Maxime Martin, only for third driver Ahmad Al Harthy to crash out in the night.


Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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