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A Flying start

Three races into the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship and Ferrari’s new hypercar, the 499P, has three podium finishes already. Next up, Le Mans
Words: Tim Bradley - Video: Ollie McIntyre

It may have been 50 years since Ferrari’s last foray into the world of endurance racing, but the immediate impact the 499P has made on the FIA WEC so far in 2023 has seemed to make those passing years almost vanish. 

With three consecutive podium finishes for Ferrari, two for the aptly-named number 50 car driven by Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen at Sebring and Portimão and one for the number 51 car of James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi at Spa-Francorchamps, the season has shown that the 499P is right on the money when it comes to performance and engineering – and Maranello has high hopes of what’s to come. 

Watch an exclusive video of the Ferrari 499P's start to the 2023 WEC season  

Antonello Coletta, Head of Attività Sportive GT, certainly backs this up, saying: “Our return to the premier class of the World Endurance Championship with a new project and a car, the 499P, has reaped positive results in the first three outings of the season.”

It was back in March when the 499P hit the track in competition for the first time at the 1000 miles of Sebring in the USA, and the #50 car made an immediate impact, qualifying to start the race on pole position, with the second 499P Ferrari, #51, beginning the race from fourth. 

Indeed, it was Fuoco in the #50 car who made the early running and set the pace for the Ferrari-AF Corse team, until both 499Ps came into the pits for fuel. After that the team battled with Cadillac and Porsche in a closely contested race, with Ferrari eventually finishing third and seventh – the lower placed #51 car suffering from contact made and subsequent repairs. 

Scenes from Portimão as the Ferrari team take on the second race of the WEC season; driver James Calado takes in qualifying data, the number 50 car leads the way and a quieter moment trackside

Says Coletta: “On its debut at Sebring, our Hypercar scored a historic pole position with Antonio Fuoco, and completed the race with a third and a seventh place, which were results which went beyond the expectations of the day before.”

The following month, as the WEC moved on to Portimão and the Algarve International circuit, there was satisfaction at the debut podium finish for the 499P and hopes that it could be built upon. Qualifying resulted in the two Ferrari 499Ps lining up in third and fourth spots for the race.

In fact, once the event was run, Ferrari actually improved upon the season opener, with the #50 car finishing in second place for another podium and the #51 coming in at sixth. 

On to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and thoughts of a third consecutive podium spot, or perhaps even a first win for the 499P. In front of a packed stadium with more than 70,000 racing fans in attendance, Ferrari faced a hard-fought but entertaining battle, with the 499P now in many people’s minds being the fastest car on the track. It resulted in a first podium spot for the #51 car.

The Spa-Francorchamps race resulted in a third podium place in a row for the 499P. Plus, the entire team is pictured at the season opener at Sebring with the two hypercars

Coletta was pleased with both performances, adding: “In the subsequent rounds at Portimão and Spa-Francorchamps the journey continued with two podiums and the demonstration, essential in this category, was that our cars are reliable and capable of good performance in terms of speed.”

So, with Ferrari starting to bridge the gap with Toyota, it sets up what is going to be an historic Le Mans this year for many reasons. Could it be that 50 years after its last Le Mans, Ferrari wins again?

Says Coletta: “On the eve of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most important event of the 2023 FIA WEC season as well as the centenary edition of the most famous endurance race in the world, we are aware that the road is still long and that the whole team will have to keep improving. 

“Our competitors are strong and some of them have more experience in this category, such as Toyota which is currently the reference team. Our goal is to reduce the gap with our rivals, convinced that every time Ferrari takes to the track to compete, it does so with the prospect of winning”.

The two Ferrari 499P cars lead the pack at the season opening WEC race at Sebring

And the 499P drivers evidently agree on the progress and potential, as #50 pilota Miguel Molina outlined, saying: “Personally, being part of this project is a great source of pride and an extraordinary professional achievement. The emotions we felt in Sebring, with the pole position and third place in the race will remain something unique in my memories.”

The Spaniard added: “In Portimão we celebrated a second place, while in Spa-Francorchamps luck was not on our side, but our teammates in the 499P number 51 allowed Ferrari to conquer an extraordinary third place. 

“Now let's look at Le Mans: the atmosphere will be magical in front of 300,000 spectators and the ambition is to conquer another great result. A podium finish would be great.”