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Journey to Le Mans

A special cavalcade of some of Maranello’s finest cars journeyed from Paris to Le Mans to witness Ferrari’s historic comeback win at the 100th Le Mans
Words: Gavin Green

To celebrate Le Mans’ centenary, Ferrari had its own very special tribute: some of Maranello’s greatest cars, driven by their owners, undertaking a five-day tour that culminated in watching the 499P Hypercar storm to victory in the famous 24-hour race. The Tribute Le Mans (TLM23) programme even included a Ferrari parade around the legendary La Sarthe circuit on the Saturday morning before the race.

Owners and their co-drivers from the around the world – including India, China, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Pakistan, Japan and Ukraine – gathered on the Wednesday leading up the race, at the elegant Alfred Sommier Hotel in Paris, 10 minutes’ walk from where the cars were parked in the historic Place Vendôme. Cars included Daytona SP3s, SF90 Spiders, SF90 Stradales, 296 GTBs, 812 Competizione Apertas and – the oldest car in the cavalcade – an F40 from France. It was a superb entry, showcasing some of Ferrari’s finest cars.

Enjoy the beautiful sight of the Tribute Le Mans as it journeyed through France on its way to the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans 

After a splendid dinner at the renowned CoCo restaurant on the Place de l’Opera, the next morning entrants drove three hours to Reims in eastern France, lunching at the Charles Heidsieck Cellar. 

By happy coincidence, Reims is the unofficial capital of the Champagne wine-growing region, and home to the houses of Ruinart, Taittinger, Lanson, Veuve Clicquot, Pommery and Mumm, as well as Heidsieck.  

It also has a rich motor racing history. Ferrari won its first French GP at Reims in 1953, when Mike Hawthorn brilliantly beat Juan-Manuel Fangio’s Maserati in what was tagged ‘The Race of the Century’. 

Ferrari owners from around the globe brought a spectacular array of models to France for the five-day Cavalcade event

The TLM23 returned to Paris, via the luxurious Domaine des Saules in Vendières, for a coffee break. That evening, owners and their colleagues dined at the Automobile Club de France on the Place de la Concorde. This is where motor racing was effectively born, thanks to the ACF. It was also where a king lost his head: Louis XVI was executed in the square (as was Marie Antoinette). 

The ACF was founded in 1895, organized the first-ever national Grand Prix (the French, held at Le Mans in 1906), and licensed what would become the 24 hours of Le Mans. It is the world’s most famous and most storied car club.

The Prancing Horses wove through French countryside from Paris to Le Mans, taking in rolling scenery, historic chateaus and the famous Circuit de la Sarthe itself

Next day, the cavalcade headed south to Le Mans. On the way, there was a memorable coffee stop at historic Chartres. Cars stopped at the Place du Châtelet, adjacent to the wonderful 13th century Gothic cathedral, for a superb exposition.

Then, onto lunch at the Domaine de la Groirie, an historic chateau in wonderful grounds near Le Mans. The cavalcade arrived at Le Mans 24 hours before the race started and parked at the circuit. Throughout the Le Mans weekend, owners and co-drivers were based at the specially built Casa Ferrari.

The rich French racing history wasn't confined to Le Mans. The cavalcade began its procession with a pass of the Circuit de Reims-Gueux and the remains of the stands and pit lane that were last used in 1972 

Next morning, the cavalcade paraded the circuit. Entrants lapped up the Scuderia’s storied Le Mans history, as they circulated the famous track.

Perhaps they recalled Ferrari’s first win here in 1949 when Luigi Chinetti – later to become Ferrari’s North American importer – drove for nearly 23 of the 24 hours in his 166 MM. (His English teammate fell ill.)

It is a place of heroes and folklore. In 1954, José Froilán González, driving a 375 Plus, narrowly beat the highly fancied new D-Type Jaguars. Four years later, future world champion Phil Hill steered his 250 TR (Testa Rossa) to victory in horrendous conditions.

After lunch at the Domaine de la Groirie chateau on the outskirts of the famous town, the cavalcade arrived at Le Mans 24 hours before the race began    

Ferrari won every year from 1960 to 1965, and before this year's historic victory its last win was one of the most special. Jochen Rindt and Masten Gregory beat the new, big budget Ford GT40s in their largely unfancied (and comprehensively outgunned in power) 250 LM.

Le Mans is full of legends, and many wear the Prancing Horse badge. Thanks to the team and drivers of the 499P winning in 2023, more can be added.