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The race starts now

24 marzo 2021

Ben Pulman

The start of the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship is right around the corner, which also means that the race debut of Ferrari’s new Le Mans Hypercar is just two years away. This is its incredible pedigree…

The 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship is almost upon us. In just a few days the Prologue, the official pre-season test, will get underway at Spa-Francorchamps. The famous Belgium circuit will host the season-opening race on 1 May too, with a further five WEC races – including the 24 Hours of Le Mans – scheduled for the remainder of 2021.

The new season is hotly anticipated, not least because two Ferrari 488 GTE race cars – fielded by AF Corse – will compete in the LMGTE Pro class, while five further Ferraris will race in LMGTE Am. Yet in two years’ time the excitement will be even more palpable…

The reason is that the start of the 2023 series will see the competition debut of Ferrari’s recently announced Le Mans Hypercar (LMH). Created because the transfer of cutting-edge technology from the track to the road has been key for the Prancing Horse since 1947, the new LMH programme will push motorsport innovation to a higher limit, test it to extremes in endurance racing, and continue to ensure every road car produced in Maranello is extraordinary.

The new top class of the FIA World Endurance Championship commences in 2021, but for Ferrari, competing in the Hypercar category will come fifty years after its last official participation in the premier category of the World Sports Car Championship. The history of the Prancing Horse in endurance racing stretches back further though, with a win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans coming as early as 1949, just two years after Ferrari built its first car.

In those formative years Ferrari was also competing in – and winning – endurance events as varied as the Mille Miglia and 24 Hours of Spa – and the World Sports Car Championship was created in 1953 to amalgamate great endurance events such as these. Importantly, it also crowned the winning manufacturer, giving greater credit than in Formula 1, which didn’t add a Constructors’ title alongside the Drivers’ championship until 1958.

Ferrari won the World Sports Car Championship seven times in the first nine years, and continued to dominate the premier class through the early 1960s when the series was divided into different engine capacity categories. At the same time, Ferrari won the 24 Hours of Le Mans outright every year between 1960 and 1965, as well as taking victories like its famous 1-2-3 at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1967.

The Prancing Horse’s final World Sports Car Championship series win would come in 1972, in a season that included races at Daytona and Sebring, plus the Targa Florio, and 1000km events at Spa, Monza and the Nürburgring. Ferrari reigned supreme, its new 312 P –  known informally as the 312 PB – taking ten victories in ten races.

Ferrari chose to solely focus upon Formula 1 at the end of the '73 season, and it would be two decades before the Prancing House would return to closed-wheel endurance racing. The return was worth the wait though, the F333 SP sports prototype (built for customers to race, rather than the factory) winning on its debut in 1994. This was the first of many victories, its most celebrated undoubtedly the 1998 24 Hours of Daytona.

Since the millennium, Ferrari has subsequently developed endurance race cars from its road cars, again allowing customer teams to compete at the highest level. There have been successes for each model, with the F430 GT2 twice winning the GT2 category at Le Mans, the 458 Italia repeating that feat, and most recently the 488 GTE Evo triumphing in the LMGTE Pro class in 2019.

The World Sports Car Championship morphed into the World Endurance Championship in 2012, and there Ferrari won the World Cup for GT Manufacturers in 2012, ‘13, ‘14 and ‘16. This was elevated to World Championship status in 2017, whereupon Ferrari promptly won the new World Endurance GT Drivers' Championship.

The AF Corse team, together with its drivers Miguel Molina, Daniel Serra, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado, will once again be fighting for those honours in 2021. At the same time, in Maranello, development of the LMH programme will continue apace, ahead of Ferrari returning to the top class of the FIA WEC in 2023.

Watch this space...