24 Hours of Le MansFIA WEC

2024 24 Hours of Le Mans: An Enthralling First 6 Hours

6 Mins read
An extraordinary field of 62 cars set off on the 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans. Credit: Mike Widdowson / MJW Media

The #83 AF Corse Ferrari 499p leads the way after the first 6 hours of the 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans. The fourth round of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) is providing scintillating racing throughout the three classes of Hypercar, LMP2, and LMGT3.

Ye Yifei leads the way for Ferrari with Matt Campbell in the #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport car in second. In LMP2, Lorenzo Fluxa leads in the COOL Racing car, followed by the #10 Vector Sport car. Joel Sturm leads for Manthey PureRxing in LMGT3, with the #46 Team WRT BMW in second.

“Spike” leading the LMP2 class away from the start. Credit: Javier Jimenez / DPPI

For our full preview of the race, click here.

Race Report: 15:00 – 21:00 (GMT)

A record 23 Hypercars start the 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans. Credit: Mike Widdowson / MJW Media

The grid was set by a thrilling Hyperpole session on Thursday 13 June. #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport snatched pole position on the final lap of the session, followed by the #2 Cadillac Racing car. The Cadillac will start from p7 on the grid due to a five-place grid penalty, thanks to Earl Bamber being deemed responsible for the mighty crash at the 6 Hours of Spa. Lining up alongside the Porsche was #3 Cadillac, followed by the two Ferrari AF Corse cars, the cars that qualified on pole and won the 2023 Centenary 24 Hours of Le Mans lurking on the second row. In LMP2, “Spike” roared to victory in Hyperpole, qualifying first with Louis Delétraz at the wheel, while LMGT3 Hyperpole honours went to #70 Inception Racing McLaren 720S LMGT3 Evo, beating championship leaders Manthey PureRxing to pole by 0.8 seconds.

After a remarkably clean start, Nicklas Nielsen in the #50 Ferrari 499P made a great move on Laurens Vanthoor in the #6 Porsche on the opening lap at Indianapolis. It wasn’t long before the #51 Ferrari made it a Ferrari 1-2, relegating the pole Porsche to 3rd. The #3 Cadillac with Le Mans man Sébastian Bourdais at the wheel clung on to that group to apply pressure from 4th. Meanwhile, in LMP2, the #47 COOL Racing car had to pit immediately with a punctured radiator, re-joining the race after a 16 minute stay on pitlane. In LMGT3, Inception Racing continued to lead, with Manthey PureRxing dropping down to 8th. The very rapid #77 Ford Mustang LMGT3 made it up to 2nd and battled hard with the McLaren through the first pit stop session.

The #50 Ferrari was a major player in the first 6 hours of Le Mans. Credit: Mike Widdowson / MJW Media

On lap 10, Nielsen made a mistake at the Mulsanne corner, squirming under braking. The two Ferraris briefly battled and exchanged places before separating themselves, choosing to resist battling in exchange for keeping the lead positions. #6 Porsche and #3 Cadillac kept in contention to the first Hypercar pit stops, meaning the Porsche could leapfrog the Ferraris into the lead from the #50 Ferrari. The #51 Ferrari served a 10 second penalty in the pitlane and fell back to 5th behind the #3 Cadillac and the #8 Toyota, which had quietly been getting on with closing the gap.

A couple of laps later, Nielsen made good use of the traffic to snatch the lead back from Porsche on the run to the second chicane. At the end of the first hour, there were 10 seconds separating the top 10 Hypercars. With such close racing, the positions swapped from 4th to 6th pretty much constantly between the #51 Ferrari, #8 Toyota, and #35 Alpine. The #51 Ferrari pulled off a beautiful move at the start of the 2nd hour around the outside of the #3 Cadillac at the Mulsanne corner, just one example of the amazingly competitive racing at the 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The #3 Cadillac held on to the leading pack for the first part of the race. Credit: Mike Widdowson / MJW Media

The #50 Ferrari was handed a 10 second for an unsafe release from their first pit stop. After the second round, it was the #51 Ferrari in the lead by 7 seconds, the #8 Toyota in 2nd, and the #50 Ferrari just edging out the #3 Cadillac. #6 Porsche was the only one of the leading pack to change tyres and dropped to 8th. With Andre Lotterer at the helm, the #6 Porsche took the lead but then pitted for wets as heavy rain fell at the end of the Mulsanne straight, but too late as the rain was already ending. The #83 Ferrari had managed to quietly get into the lead, battling hard with the #50 Ferrari at the head of the field, Robert Kubica and Nicklas Nielsen providing great racing at the end of the 2nd hour.

At the start of the third hour, the track dried, meaning that the #8 Toyota, #51 Ferrari, and #6 Porsche lost out, having all pitted for wet tyres and having to stop again to get back to slicks, with Nielsen and Kubica settling into leading positions. The other classes shuffled in the rain as well. As the third hour got underway, the #34 Inter Europol Competition car led LMP2 with the #87 Akkodis ASP Team leading LMGT3 – neither of those cars pitted for wets.

#83 Ferrari led the way by some margin for around half of the first 6 hours. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

Thanks to a slow zone in the third hour caused by Thomas Flohr spinning off at the Dunlop chicane in his #54 Vista AF Corse Ferrari, the #83 completed a full service pit stop and managed to emerge over 30 seconds ahead of the #50 Ferrari. The #54 LMGT3 Ferrari was declared the first retirement of the race at 2:40:00. Another car quietly getting on with it was the #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport car, Michael Christensen spending most of the third hour in 2nd, with a very rapid Antonio Fuoco chasing him down in the #51 Ferrari, setting a new fastest lap of 3:29.208 on lap 46. The Cadillacs, however, got shuffled right down the field, with #3 and #2 cars in 14th and 15th respectively towards the end of the third hour.

With the race settling down at the start of the fourth hour, a battle was brewing for 5th between the #50 Ferrari, the #7 Toyota, and the #12 Hertz Team JOTA Porsche which had a remarkable turnaround following a mighty shunt in FP2. The team pulled off a remarkable rebuild, doing a three-week job in only 30 hours. Dramatic scenes for the #34 Inter Europol Competition LMP2 car, 2023 LMP2 winners, losing its front left wheel after 3.5 hours of racing, triggering the first very brief full-course yellow of the race after 3.5 hours of racing.

Hertz Team JOTA pulled off a miracle getting the #12 car ready for the race after a major crash on Wednesday. Credit: Mike Widdowson / MJW Media

#83 Ferrari was a consistent presence at the head of the pack, with #50 Ferrari doing a sterling job to get back up to 2nd. A team to watch as the race progresses is Toyota Gazoo Racing. at 3:49:00, the #8 and #7 cars were in 2nd and 3rd between the #83 and #51 Ferraris. The Japanese team know how to win Le Mans, and have seen them succeed by going under the radar at the 6 Hours of Imola.

At the start of the 5th hour, following the latest cycle of pit stops, the #83 looked confident at the front, followed by the #50 Ferrari, followed by the two Porsches, numbers #5 and #4. A classic battle between Ferrari and Porsche was brewing. The #77 Proton Competition Mustang was relegated to the pits due to a front right wheel problem, shaking the entire car and spreading damage throughout the vehicle. Meanwhile, joy for motorsports fans, as Valentino Rossi led the LMGT3 category in his #46 Team WRT BMW M4 LMGT3, and lapping almost a second faster than the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 296 LMGT3 in second position. In LMP2, #10 Vector Sport with Ryan Cullen at the wheel led by almost 50 seconds from COOL Racing.

A very competitive #46 Team WRT BMW. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

At 4:47:00, the #35 Alpine suffered a major blowout between Indianapolis and Arnage, and the French team unfortunately became the second retirement of the race. As the sixth hour got underway, a great battle raged between Alex Palou in the #2 Cadillac and Kévin Estre in the #6 Porsche, including a great move by Palou down the inside running in to Indianapolis. This was the battle for the final points position in 10th, showing how much of an impact going onto wets had on the #6 car, which started on pole.

As the 6th hour got underway, the intriguing battle for the lead included the Brendon Hartley in the #8 Toyota. Running a different strategy to the leading pair of Ferraris, the cycle of who was leading the race ebbed and flowed in classic endurance racing style between the #8 Toyota and the #83 AF Corse Ferrari. Championship leading #92 Manthey PureRxing Porsche 911 GT3 R LMGT3 took over the lead in LMGT3 from Rossi in the #46 BMW at around 5:25:00, with no change in position in LMP2 but COOL Racing certainly closing the gap on Vector Sport. With 18 hours to go, COOL Racing got the job done and took over the lead in LMP2.

At the end of the sixth hour, as the sun set, the clouds descended and the rain started to fall heavier this time. With 18 hours still to go and over 10,000 overtakes already completed, this race is very far from over. The next report from The Checkered Flag will be in the morning on Sunday 16 June with a report on the overnight goings on in a gripping 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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Lifelong fan of motor sport, covering the FIA World Rallycross Championship and the FIA WEC, the shortest and longest races covered by the FIA!
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