2023 WEC 24 Hours of Le Mans: Race Report and Gallery
This 2023 WEC 24 Hours Of Le Mans race report is proudly brought to you by Toyota Gazoo Racing.
The 2023 WEC 24 Hours Of Le Mans, the jewel in the WEC crown, celebrated its 100th birthday in 2023. The event was hosted for the first time in 1923. For the first time in its history, the event was sold out, with a whopping 325 000 fans in attendance.
The entry list consisted of 62 cars, 186 drivers of which 18 had raced F1 at one stage. Ferrari celebrated its return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans after 50 years by taking victory. The No51 machine of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Antonio Giovinazzi and James Calado took the Scuderia’s tenth overall victory on Sunday (1949, 1954, 1958, and 1960-1965). Ferrari’s history at Le Mans now comprises 39 victories, including 29 class wins.
In news leading up to the event, Jacques Villeneuve was dumped by Vanwall for the race. The Canadian, disappointed with the way it was addressed, withdrew from the team for the remainder of the season. Over the race weekend Toyota unveiled its H2 hydrogen car that it intends to use in WEC in 2025.
Alpine, not to be outdone, revealed its new A424 Beta Hypercar for 2024, however, it was a concept drawing. Team Peugeot promoted its collaboration with Lego by building a life-size Lego car while the race was underway.
The ACO (not FIA) announced a new balance of performance before the race, without the manufacturers’ consent. Toyota was the biggest victim, having 37 kg ballast added to their machines for the event. Valentino Rossi won the Road to Le Mans race 2 in his WRT BMW, the Italian’s first GT3 victory.
Ferrari locked out the front row of the grid (final qualifying) in Hyperpole, No50 (Fuoco/Nielsen/Molina) claiming pole position. It was the first time the Scuderia qualified in the front at Le Mans since 1973. The No7 Toyota (Kobayashi/Conway/Lopez) lost its fastest time, as did Cadillac No3 (when Sebastien Bourdais crashed, causing a red flag). JOTA Porsche No38 had to start from the back of the grid, due to technical issues preventing them from qualifying.
The race began in slippery conditions when Action Express Racing Cadillac No311 (Aitken/Sims/Derani), lost traction and the Hypercar planted into the barrier on the opening lap. This brought out the safety car by the end of the first lap of the race. The safety car period lasted for 30 minutes before racing continued.
Safety Car Issues
There were mumblings about the safety car procedure, which turned out to be extremely time consuming. The race featured heavy rain at times, including in the dead of night, and saw drama hit virtually every team in the Hypercar class. The winner only completed 342 laps (4 651 km), whereas 380 laps were completed in 2022.
When the race began to settle, Ferrari No51 ran in the lead group until about midnight. Pier Guidi spun out of the lead to avoid a spinning GT Porsche and LMP2 running wide. This dropped the Italian to fifth place and the work began again. They returned to the front of the field some hours later, vying with Toyota No8 (Buemi/Hartley/Hirakawa) for supremacy.
The 51 machine looked more comfortable in the race’s closing stages, before a heart-stopping moment occurred with 23 minutes remaining. Pier Guidi, pitting for the final time couldn’t restart his mount (the second time in the race). He managed to reset the power cycle, however, and resume. He led the team to the chequered flag, the first Ferrari overall victory since 1965. The sister No50 suffered cooling issues, which dropped them out of contention, however, they finished a solid fifth.
Toyota performed strongly, despite its loss of performance. Toyota No7 ran in the top three, before Kamui Kobayashi suffered a loss of power and was hit by Ferrari No66 (Neubauer/Prette/Petrobelli), who retired on the spot (a LMP2 car also had to take evasive action in the incident).
Kobayashi could not get the car back to the pits and the machine was retired. Toyota No8 ran flawlessly until Hirakawa hit the barrier at Arnage with about 90 minutes left, forcing the Japanese driver to pit for emergency service. The team turned him around in two minutes, but it was enough to hand Ferrari an unassailable lead.
Cadillac No2 (Bamber/Lynn/Westbrook) finished on the bottom step of the podium, with its sister machine No3 (Bourdais/van der Zande/Dixon) fourth. Cadillac #311, despite its extensive damage, managed to return to the race after 15 laps in the pits. They finished finished 17th overall and tenth in class. The three machines crossed the finish line line-astern.
Glickenhaus Racing worked feverishly before the race to ensure both cars made it to the grid. Both machines had issues in the race, with both crashing at Indianapolis corner in short order. Both returned to the pits, were repaired and returned to the race. In the race’s dying stages, No709 (Mailleux/Berthon/Gutierrez) ran off at the Daytona chicane. Despite this, the two privateer machines finished a superb sixth and seventh, respectively, with No708 (Dumas/Pla/Briscoe) ahead.
Peugeot No93 (Vergne/diResta/Jensen) ran without mechanical incident, however, did run off the circuit and was stuck in the kitty litter. The car rejoined and finished the race in eighth position. Peugeot No94 (Duval/Menezes/Müller), on the other hand, performed strongly until the early hours of the morning.
Taking the lead after four hours, they remained in contention for the lead until about 4 am, when the car ran wide and tagged the Armco barrier heavily. They managed to return to the pits, where the team replaced front and rear bodywork and repaired the undercarriage in 20 minutes. This dropped them out of contention, but they finished 27th overall and 12th in class.
A Race To Forget
Porsche did not have a 75th anniversary of Le Mans worth celebrating. JOTA No38 crashed heavily while in the lead battle and again about 15 hours later. The front and rear of the machine was severely damaged in both incidents, yet, the car managed to be repaired. Penske Porsche No75 (Jaminet/Nasr/Tandy) was the first retirement in the class when it ground to a halt at 11pm.
The two regular Penske team runners also had their maladies. The No6 machine (Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor) had a heavy crash, damaging the floor and spending 43 minutes in the pits for repair. The No6 machine finished 22nd overall and 11th in class. Porsche No5 (Christensen/Makowiecki/Cameron) had a troubled race, suffering from cooling issues. The machine had to crawl back to the pits with 30 minutes to go, while battling for fifth place. The No5 hobbled home in ninth position.
Vanwall’s challenge at Le Mans ended in the middle of the night, when the machine suffered terminal engine damage.
More of the 2023 WEC 24 Hours of Le Mans report as well as a mega gallery below the video.
Nursing an injured foot, Fabio Scherer managed to steer his mount to its first WEC LMP2 victory. Inter Europol No34 (Scherer/Costa/Smiechowski) beat Team WRT No41 (Andrade/Kubica/Deletraz) by 21 seconds after a race-long battle. Duqueine Team No30 (Jani/Binder/Pino) finished third after battles with WRT No31 (Gelael/Frijns/Habsburg) and IDEC Sport No48 (Chatin/Horr/Pin).
Both No31 and No48 faded in the closing stages, allowing Alpine Elf Team No36 Vaxiviere/Milesi/Canal) to finish fourth in class. Class favourites, United Autosport and JOTA both struggled, finishing at the bottom end of the class field. Endurance racing is cruel: Nielssen Racing No14 (Sales/Beche/Hanley) was the first retirement of the race. Their LMP2 mount was tagged by a GT Ferrari, damaging their machine beyond repair. A family-run team, members were in tears after having their dreams destroyed soon after race start.
The GTE Am class saw Corvette No33 (Catsburg/Keating/Varonne) take victory after battling Iron Dames Porsche No85 (Frey/Bovy/Gatting) for supremacy. This, after the Corvette ran 15th in class in the early stages. Iron Dames ran into technical issues in their final pit stop, dropping them out of podium contention.
ORT by TF Aston Martin No25 (Al Harthy/Dinan/Eastwood) finished second ahead of GR Racing Porsche No86 (Wainwright/Barker/Pera). The No85 finished a heartbreaking fourth in class. Michael Fassbender, driving Proton Porsche #911, destroyed his machine in an accident with less than five hours remaining.
Turn Left AND Right
Hendricks Motorsport was the Garage 56 entry at the 2023 WEC 24 Hours Of Le Mans. A Chevy Nascar was driven by an all-star team of Jenson Button, Mike Rockenfeller and Jimmy Johnson. They were a popular entry and ran flawlessly for the first 20 hours. They were forced to pit to change their gearbox, but managed to finish the race.
The fifth round of the WEC world championship takes place in Italy for the 6 Hours of Monza on 8 July 2023. Ferrari will be confident, following the triumph at Le Mans, however, Toyota will want to extract revenge. Toyota will still feel comfortable, however, as its No8 drivers lead the drivers of No51 by 25 points.
Nick is a radiochemist by profession, where he performs research on novel radionuclides for medical purposes (towards cancer diagnosis and therapy). He unwinds by having motorsport-related hobbies. He was part of the commentary team at a Cape-based circuit for 13 years before relocating to Switzerland. Nick won multiple awards as part of the broadcast team on a motorsport-based radio show.