Ferrari on the 2023 Le Mans 24hrs: "Toyota is the team to beat" | Top Gear
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Ferrari on the 2023 Le Mans 24hrs: "Toyota is the team to beat"

GT sporting boss Antonello Coletta outlines the mountain to climb in a few weeks' time

Published: 25 May 2023

Though it’s been half a century since the last time a Ferrari competed for the outright win at Le Mans, the small, unheard of car company operating out of Maranello is no stranger to winning there. It’s done it nine times, in fact, third in the all-time list behind Audi (13) and Porsche (19).

But as it returns to the top flight of the WEC for the first time in 50 years with its stunning new 499P Le Mans Hypercar, its target is set on a manufacturer a little further down the all-time winners list: Toyota. The Japanese carmaker is the reigning champion, and has chalked up five wins at La Sarthe.

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Antonello Coletta, head of Ferrari’s GT ‘sporting activities’, is aware of the mountain his two cars have to climb next month. “Toyota is the team to beat,” he said in a recent media briefing. “They have the experience and the car to lead the field. We’re able to be competitive in qualifying, but we need to learn how to use our tyres and protect the car during the race.”

At the last WEC race in Spa, the 499s qualified 2nd and 3rd, and while one had to retire, the other – driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi – finished third; Ferrari’s first podium of 2023.

“Some sectors of Spa are similar to Le Mans,” Coletta said about any experience gained from the six-hour endurance race, “and what we learned there will be useful in France. But it’s not the same track, and we have different weather conditions [at Le Mans]. I can speak for Ferrari, and I repeat that Toyota is the reference, but Porsche, Corvette, Peugeot all exist, and we need to respect all the others.”

The goal, says Coletta, is to maintain the podium – to finish Le Mans on the top three steps. “It’s important to make a step forward and we will see in what manner it will be possible to make another step,” he said. “If we’re able to fight for something more, be sure we’ll do it.”

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Not least because there’s a tonne of expectation bearing down on the team. “The centenary race of Le Mans and our return after 50 years from the top class are just a coincidence. When you work for Ferrari, the pressure is present every day, in every moment, and the expectation is very high for this race,” he said.

The 499P runs a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 that shares its architecture with the 296 GT3, and therefore the 296 GTB road car too. It’s a 660bhp stressed member powering the rear wheels, while the front wheels derive motive force from a 268bhp electric motor/generator.

It’s got pace, but even so, Coletta is realistic about this year’s famous and much-hyped race. “We are approaching this championship with maximum humility. I don’t know if we have a chance to beat Toyota – I believe it’s not easy.

“But in any case I can assure you we will give it the best from our side,” he added.

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