Reportage: Le Mans 24h race 2023: Italian double strike

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is back as we know and love it.

Reportage: Le Mans 24h race 2023: Italian double strike

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is back as we know and love it. After Toyota had dominated the long-distance classic in recent years like no one before and only against itself, this year the new Hyper class again featured a spectacular round-the-clock race. And that was more exciting than ever with the new hybrid vehicles from brands like Porsche, Ferrari, Cadillac and Peugeot. Porsche in particular had big plans for this year's 24-hour race. On the one hand, the sports car manufacturer from Stuttgart celebrated its 75th birthday last week and wanted to celebrate its 20th victory on the Sarthe racetrack as a present for itself. On the other hand, it was the 100th anniversary of the long-distance race at Le Mans - the interest of more than 300,000 fans, sponsors and manufacturers in the three vehicle classes was correspondingly high to drive for victory and place.

Despite the major events at Daytona and the Nürburgring, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is generally regarded as the most important endurance race in the world. Whoever wins here has made it. And like no other racing series, the long-distance world championship has staged itself in the past decades as a playground and test center for the series technology of tomorrow. Recently, the Le Mans class not only came up with numerous aerodynamic topics, but also series production achievements such as direct injection, high-performance diesel and, of course, hybrid technology. Toyota had impressively dominated the long-distance classic in the past five years. Before that, Porsche had won three times in a row with its 919 Hybrid – also with hybrid power.

For the first time this year, the long-distance racing series all over the world are pulling together, because the racing cars in the prototype class can compete equally in the American IMSA series and in the WEC, which also includes the traditional races in Le Mans or Spa. With well-known brands, the long-distance championship should once again become what it once was and which will electrify for the first time in a contemporary way. It's no big surprise that some manufacturers were brought back to the start and finish straight with the more cost-effective long-distance technology. The starting field of the image-boosting hyper class at this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans had 16 vehicles again for the first time. Among them not only the top favorite Toyota, but also the newcomers Ferrari, Porsche, Cadillac and Peugeot. Alpine (Renault), BMW and Lamborghini will also be joining in the coming year. In order to help the electrification in the prototype cars of the hyper class, the different combustion engines of the hybrids, apart from Toyota, are combined with a standard electric motor (50 kW / 68 hp) from Bosch, which provides recuperation and boost. The total output of the system is around 515 kW / 700 hp, while the cars weigh a little more than a ton.

Porsche, one of the big favorites at the Sarthe alongside Ferrari and Toyota, hardly had a chance in the entire Le Mans race and drove behind the field. In the end, the best Porsche 963 only managed ninth place. "It was a disappointing Le Mans 2023. We had planned more," sums up Thomas Laudenbach, Head of Porsche Motorsport. Ferrari had not won a total of 58 years after its sixfold victory from 1960 to 1965, but a few days before the race it was able to celebrate an impressive additional weight of 37 kilograms for the two main competitors from Toyota. Ultimately, despite the well-known sophisticated technology, Toyota rarely managed to keep up with the speed of the two Ferrari 499 Ps. After victory for the Ferrari with starting number 51 in the line-up of Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi, the Toyota GR010 Hybrid with number eight (Buemi/Hartley/Hirakawa) took the undisputed second place. Somewhat surprisingly, the darlings of the public, Cadillac, with their powerful roaring V8 naturally aspirated engines with the corresponding electronic module, made it to third place (number 2; Bamber/Lynn/Westbrook) and fourth ahead of the second Ferrari.

In the end, Peugeot didn't stand a chance either with its 9X8 hybrid racing car, which is well worth seeing and was the only one without a rear wing. But even though the French were particularly strong during the rainy phases and sometimes led the race with their power hybrids, they ultimately had nothing to do with the outcome of the race. Ferrari's victory was safe after a few seconds of shock due to a system failure at the last pit stop. Next year, the 24 Hours of Le Mans will probably be even more exciting with the other works teams from BMW, Lamborghini and Alpin (Renault). And the car manufacturers hope that the good performance - especially at the highlight of the season in Le Mans - will not only improve their image, but also a technology transfer to the production vehicles. In 2026, the first models with fuel cell drives could start at Le Mans. There was a little foretaste at a show round before the start. The racing fans themselves, however, are hardly affected by all this - they want to see spectacular motorsport. And there was more of that than ever at Le Mans this year. Until 2024!