Le Mans, 15 June 2017 – The 85th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans began with the first qualifying session. Drivers and vehicles will compete in the world’s toughest race from 3 pm on Saturday to 3 pm on Sunday on one of the most challenging tracks in existence with its 38 bends and 13,629 metres. The 60 cars lined up at the start will include 11 Ferraris, with three 488 GTEs entered in the GTE-Pro class, and eight in the GTE-Am.
GTE-Pro. The race is now part of the GT World Endurance Championship (WEC), with Ferraris taking part in the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am classes. Three 488 GTEs will race in the GTE-Pro class, which is only open to professional drivers. Two of the vehicles will compete for AF Corse and one for the US team Risi Competizione. James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi will drive car no. 51 for the Italian team with the last minute addition of Michele Rugolo, replacing Lucas Di Grassi, who had to pull out due to an injured right ankle. In car no. 71, which won the last race at Spa-Francorchamps, Sam Bird and Davide Rigon will be joined by Miguel Molina, another of the official Ferrari drivers, who usually drives for Spirit of Race in the GTE-Am class. Then finally, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander will take the wheel of Risi Competizione’s car no. 80, with the help of Pierre Kaffer, an old acquaintance of the team who for years assisted Fisichella in the 458 Italia GTE.
GTE-Am. Ferrari is also in the running in the GTE Am class, where it has eight cars, two of them under the banner of Spirit of Race. Car no. 55 will be in the capable hands of Marco Cioci, Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott, while no. 54, a perennial star of the WEC, is crewed by Francesco Castellacci and Thomas Flohr, with the addition of Olivier Beretta who for this race only takes Molina’s place. Scuderia Corsa is fielding two cars: the 488 GTE no. 62 will be driven by 2016 winners Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, with the addition of Cooper MacNeil, while no. 65 will be in the hands of the IMSA GTD class champions Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan, who are joined by Bret Curtis. Clearwater Racing also has two cars: Ferrari no. 61, crewed as always by Matt Griffin, Mok Weng Sun and Keita Sawa, alongside no. 60 with Alvaro Parente, Richard Wee and Hiroki Katoh. Then finally there is DH Racing with car no. 83 entrusted to Krohn Racing’s Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Andrea Bertolini, and the no. 84 of JMW Motorsport with Dries Vanthoor, Will Stevens and Robert Smith. Two qualifying sessions are scheduled for Wednesday, both lasting two hours, with the first beginning at 7 pm and the second at 10 pm.
The perfect debut. The 24 Hours of Le Mans dates back to 1923. Ferrari has won the French endurance classic on nine occasions, getting also 25 class victories. Its debut in 1949 was perfect: Italy’s Luigi Chinetti brought in British aristocrat Lord Selsdon, aka Peter Mitchell-Thomson, who financed the purchase of two Ferrari 166 MMs. Chinetti drove for most of the race, passing the baton to Selsdon only after building up a very substantial lead. The first victory with an official car came in 1954, when Argentina’s Jose Froilán González and France’s Maurice Trintignant won for Scuderia Ferrari in a 375 Plus. Ferrari again topped the podium in 1958 when America’s Phil Hill and Belgium’s Olivier Gendebien in a Ferrari 250 TR58, beat off an Aston Martin.
Great victories. After another class victory in 1959, Ferrari began its golden years at Le Mans with six wins in a row and an unprecedented domination on the Sarthe circuit. In 1960 Gendebien, with the driver and journalist Paul Frere, triumphed in an official 250 TR59/60. The following year, the Belgian made it three along with Hill in a 250 TRI/61. Indeed, that year the podium was all Ferrari with Willy Mairesse and Mike Parkes in second and Pierre Noblet and Jean Guichet third. There was another all Ferrari podium the year after when Hill and Gendebien triumphed once again with the 330 TRI/LM Spider. It was total domination in 1963, with victory, two class wins and the top six places in the rankings. The triumph was all Italian, with Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini in the 250 P. The following year Vaccarella and Guichet won with the 275 P, while 1965 saw the last overall victory when the North American Racing Team won with Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt. Since then there have been 16 other victories in different classes.