Dre’s Thoughts On The 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours

Ferrari goes back-to-back at Le Mans as Toyota and some debatable officiating led to a wild wet finish at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Dre makes sense of his 2nd Le Mans!

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Read time: 6 mins

“We won Le Mans! Again!”

Okay folks, small disclaimer, this probably isn’t as polished as some of my usual content, simply because I’m not as knowledgeable on Sportscars as I am for the typical 3-4 series I cover. But as part of the day job and my genuine and sincere growing effort to get into Sports Cars, I’ve wanted to give the last two Le Mans a genuine attempt to cover, and I got through a good 18 hours of this in real-time and well, I wanted to write about it. So let’s do that. 

62 runners. 14 different manufacturers represented the elements in full visceral force, and a 24-hour race went down to the final stint…

My initial stint watching this race was for the first 10 hours into the night, and it was insane. The Hypercars were all engaging in bar fights and Ferrari were the first to pick up a stool. For the most part, I think the overall Balance of Performance worked out pretty well, a lot of the top end of factories could run reasonably well and competitively in open air, but Ferrari, even with an 11 horsepower deficit beyond 250kph (The much talked about Power Gate restriction), they were still by far the most comfortable passing cars down the Mulsanne as they and Porsche went at it early on. 

But there were battles all down the field and it was incredibly encouraging to watch in real time. I’ve only sporadically watched WEC over the years but I know why people got so excited about its previous golden era of hybrids where Porsche, Audi and Toyota were beating the brakes off each other. We saw glimpses of that again and with a far more diverse field. The true potential of the Hypercar category was on full display and it was great to see. 

Then the rain started coming down and the pit walls were put to the test. Le Mans being a 13-kilometre-long track covers a huge amount of surface area and with the wind blowing, the rain was only hitting certain parts of the track, on multiple occasions, the slicks were the right choice, even if an entire sector was wet if you could keep the heat in the tyres. The track was often declared wet, and the soft-tyre slick runners were sometimes five seconds quicker a lap than those on the wets. And to me, I think the timing of what tyre to be on was what ultimately caught the #5 and #6 Porsches out and took them out of top contention. 

Said rain got so heavy overnight that we ran several hours under Safety Car until the morning, and then it became a very different race.

Indianapolis claimed some morning victims as the track dried out unevenly, with the Heart of Racing Aston Martin flipping over and into the barrier, as well as the #4 Porsche with Felipe Nasr and the Action Express #311 Cadillac with Pipo Derani behind the wheel. By the time the barriers were fixed and we got going with three and a half hours left, Toyota had come into play with some excellent wet running as Porsche faded, with the #2 Cadillac squad now in the mix but off-sequence on usable energy, as the #3 suffered an oil leak. 

And this sadly, is where the control of the race got a bit ropey. Eduardo Freitas is a fine race director and a likeable character, but I did not like how the final two hours of this race went down. A thunderstorm that was originally planned to land around 4pm local blew in early and switched the field to wets. In that process, the #50 Ferrari was released into the path of an LMP2. It took the stewards a good hour to get into the incident and was deemed that no further action was required. The #51 Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi spun out Brendon Hartley’s #8 Toyota at the bottom of the Mulsanne. Again, took an hour before the penalty was given and it was just five seconds, with mitigation taken due to the conditions. 

These I can just about accept. But to see the #50 drive around for several laps with a broken passenger door that race control took far too long to eventually meatball them into the pits citing a “Safety Concern” is unacceptable officiating, especially after Neel Jani had the same problem for Proton at the 6 Hours of Spa and it was an opportunity for the series to learn from that issue. 

The delay in that call you could argue, had a serious impact on the finish, with the clock down to 100 minutes, it dropped in such a way that Ferrari could go for two 13-lap stints (The realistic limit for a Hypercar’s useable energy), to leave themselves just enough wiggle room to get back on sequence and hold off the #8 Toyota for the overall win. Take nothing away from Nicklas Nielsen, his fuel saving while keeping above the pace needed to essentially bully Toyota into taking second, was incredible driving, worthy of the overall victory. But maybe, it shouldn’t have happened. Still, it led to an incredibly intense finish that in real time, was awesome.

Some more general notes on Hypercar’s runners and riders:

BMW can take some solace in the fact they had a lot of genuine pace, but errors such as Robin Frijns crashing the Art Car, and then Dries Vanthoor being taken out by Ferrari’s Robert Kubica, who openly admitted he chop-blocked Dries aggressively on the Mulsanne because the BMW was a lap down. Robert was lucky that he only got a 30-second stop-and-go penalty for his troubles, but his car died with a handful of hours to go with the hybrid completely packing in. 

I commend his effort filling in on short notice, but Toyota lost Le Mans by 14 seconds in a race where Jose Maria Lopez’s spin with less than an hour to go cost them 12. It feels harsh calling it a race-losing stint, but…

Alpine had genuine pace in their attack and was running well with the leaders before suffering a double DNF with two power-unit failures took them both out within an hour. I’m no sports expert but even I knew that running a Hypercar problem with Mechachrome engines was asking for trouble. Their F2 reputation wasn’t in doubt here.

Cadillac had some great pace, but I think their lack of top speed did them dirty on track as it left them struggling to be able to pass and hold position. But a shoutout to the #2 team who drove a really good all-round race. And if there was any doubt left that Alex Palou is one of the very best drivers on the planet cancel Christmas. First-ever Le Mans, only the second time ever in the car. The degree of difficulty is off the charts given the track conditions and he’s running shoulder-to-shoulder with Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn. Superb rookie performance and up there with the best. 

A salute to Lamborghini who while largely anonymous for raw speed, ran a clean, efficient, reliable race and was rewarded with a Top 10 finish. Something they can build on. Isotta also similarly getting into the Top 15 is a really solid job and proof the privateer entries can be run competently, even with a questionable driver selection. 

As for Peugeot… phew. The upgraded 9X8 was hyped, it got the biggest BoP break of anyone and it was anonymous, far worse than last year when their four-wheel-drive had them excel in the rain. Deep cause for concern in that camp. 

Another salute to Nolan Siegel, who was bumped from the Indy 500 less than a month ago, only to head to Le Mans with United Autosport and win on debut in the LMP2 category. Don’t let that bump fool you, this kid has guts and we’ll be seeing far more of him in the future. 

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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