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2023 24 Hours of Le Mans
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A centenary celebration
On May 26nd, 1933, 33 competitors started in what would be the inaugural 24 Hours of Le Mans. This year, the centenary of the most famous sports car race in the world was celebrated with a bumper grid and a packed house. Sold out many months in advance, spectators came from around the world to see the return of the likes of Porsche and Cadillac, and above all Ferrari return to the top prototype ranks to take on Toyota. The race also marked the final appearance of the LM GTE cars and featured a proper NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as the Garage 56 entry for innovative cars. RM Sotheby's were also on-hand with a special Le Mans-only sale. The highly exclusive auction, fittingly, only had 24 lots but nevertheless grossed just over €20 million.
Among the 325,000 attendants during the centenary edition was Bob van der Wolf, who returned with this 90-shot gallery of all the highlights.

Hundred years of winners
In the build-up to the centenary Le Mans, organiser, the Automobilie Club de l'Ouest (ACO) moved heaven and earth to track down all the winning cars that have survived. While some of the current owners were reluctant to share their precious machines, the ACO did manage to bring together a spectacular line-up of winners for a display in the Le Mans Museum. In addition to the actual winning cars, the display also included some of the most iconic that have raced at Le Mans like the Cadillac 'Le Monstre' and Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage. Many of the cars that were in full running order were brought out for special parades on Friday and Saturday in the build-up to the race. Among them was the rarely seen Porsche TWR WSC 95, which won the race outright in 1996 and 1997. Another two-time winner originally fielded by Team Joest was the NewMan liveried Porsche 956. A traditional fan favourite was the 1991 winning Mazda 787B with its iconic soundtrack. As part of the pre-race parades, Bugatti also demonstrated the upcoming and very wild Bolide track-car in public for the first time.

A race for the ages
The 24 Hours of Le Mans was the fourth round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship. Thanks to a regulation conversion with the IMSA sanctioned United SportsCar Championship, the Hypercar category was larger than ever before. Ferrari had shown good form in the previous races but it was Toyota that scored three wins in a row. A slight adjustment to the 'Balance of Performance' ahead of Le Mans further levelled the playing field. From the first session, it was clear that Ferrari had a slight advantage, closely followed by Toyota. The fastest of the four Porsche 963s were also just about there but did not look likely to challenge for pole position. After regular qualifying the sharp end of the grid was set in a special 'Hyperpole' session. As expected the Ferraris were fastest with the 499Ps on the front row but it was slightly more surprising to see one of the Porsches split the Toyotas. In LMP2, it was the Delage sponsored IDEC Oreca that proved fastest of all. A dominating performance saw gentleman racer Ben Keating set the fastest LMGTE Am time by well over a second. Exceeding expectations the modified Camaro NASCAR was actually quite a bit faster than the GTs and could start between the LMP2 and LMGTE Am cars.
While the race started under dry conditions, rain was expected and it arrived shortly after basketball star LeBron James had waved the 62 cars off. This lead to a very eventful start to the race, particularly because the track was not evenly soaked. The early incidents and resulting safety cars meant that the race did not really got going until well after an hour. The battle of the lead was surprisingly tight with a Cadillac, Peugeot and the privately entered Jota Porsche all leading the race at one point. The golden Hertz liveried Porsche particularly impressed until Yifei Ye got caught out by the conditions and crashed at the Porsche Curves. The car could be repaired but did not feature at the sharp end again. As the race progressed, the pre-race favourites did come to the surface. It ended up being a fight between the #8 Toyota and the #51 Ferrari. The cars were running virtually nose to tail until the final hours. Sadly a spin by Ryo Hirakawa opened up the gap in the Ferrari's favour. The AF Corse run effort did have some tense final pit stops as the car failed to fire up but the slight buffer to the Toyota meant that there was a little time to loose. After 24 Hours of frenetic racing, it was the #51 499P of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi that scored Ferrari's first outright win at Le Mans since 1965.
Racing was also particularly close in the other categories. In LMP2, the the win eventually went to the Polish Inter Europol Competition team, while the Corvette Racing effort overcame early delays to score a popular victory. It was the final outing for the C8.R at Le Mans also for the works Corvette Racing effort, which has resulted in nine class wins since 2000.

Final thoughts
Many books have been written about the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the centenary edition was so eventful that it would warrant a multi-volume book to truly cover every intricacy. It was a most fitting race to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the event and with Ferrari the race had its dream winner. With even more manufacturers joining the fray in 2024, it appears that the best is yet to come. It was also great to see Corvette Racing win on their farewell to Le Mans and the Camaro ZL1 more than did NASCAR proud. All these highlights and much more can be found in our 90-shot gallery.

Related Articles
2023 RM Sotheby's Le Mans  
Date: 06 / 09
Total result: €20,101,950 (75%)
Ferrari 499P 52 Number of shots
Year of introduction: 2023
Last updated: 06 / 12 / 2023

Report by Wouter Melissen and images by Bob van der Wolf for Ultimatecarpage.com