Seventy years after Ferrari's famous 24 Hours of Le Mans victory, we reveal the teams taking part in 2019
Since 1923, the Le Mans 24 Hours has been one of the greatest challenges for both racing cars and their drivers. Fast, fearsome and often cruel, the race has become a classic event in the motorsport calendar, one religiously followed by millions of supporters every year. It’s now 70 years since Ferrari’s first victory at Le Mans in 1949 – a win that has gone down in history as one of the most amazing feats of driver endurance ever seen. The star pilote was Luigi Chinetti, an Italian-American who had already won Le Mans in 1932 and 1934.
He was the lead driver of a Ferrari 166 purchased and co-driven by Lord Selsdon of Scotland (known then as Peter Mitchell-Thomson)… yet he ended up driving almost the entire 24 hours. Selsdon’s contribution was a brief 20-minute stint, simply to ensure he was officially recognised as the car’s co-driver. Just two years after being established, Ferrari had won the world’s most famous endurance race.
Chinetti later bought the winning car, and went on to introduce the Ferrari brand to North America. A close friend of Enzo Ferrari, he also set up the famed North American Racing Team, or NART, further underlining his place in Ferrari folklore. And Ferrari itself? Following Chinetti’s breakthrough, the Scuderia has won the Le Mans 24 Hours a total of nine times – including an amazing six consecutive victories between 1960 and 1965.
For the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans, 11 Ferrari 488 GTE racers are taking part, in the LMGTE Pro and LMGTE Am classes. The lead entry is the AF Corse 488 GTE of reigning WEC World Champions James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, joined by Brazilian racer Daniel Serra. The sister AF Corse car is driven by Sam Bird, Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina. Both AF Corse entries wear a special logo on the roof, to mark 70 years since Ferrari’s first Le Mans success. A third 488 GTE, run by Risi Competizione, is driven by Pipo Derani, Jules Gounon and Oliver Jarvis.
Italian favourite Giancarlo Fisichella lines up alongside Francesco Castellacci and Thomas Flohr at the wheel of the Spirit of Race 488 GTE, in the LMGTE Am class. The crew is fighting for the title and the additional points granted by this race should be crucial for the crown. The distinctive Car Guy Racing machine of Kei Cozzolino, Takeshi Kimura and Come Ledogar joins from a dominant season in Asian Le Mans Series: with four victories from four races, the new team won the ALMS title and, with it, secured its 24 Hours of Le Mans entry.
Two teams from the European Le Mans Series are taking part in the 2019 race. Kessel Racing’s car is driven by Claudio Schiavoni, Sergio Pianezzola and Andrea Piccini, while JMW Motorsport is fielding an entry for Rodrigo Baptista, Wei Lu and Jeff Segal (wearing a special livery for Le Mans). The WeatherTech Racing car of Cooper MacNeil, Robert Smith and Toni Vilander joins from the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship in North America.
Two more teams have already run a full season in FIA WEC: the Clearwater Racing car of Luis Perez Companc, Matteo Cressoni and Matt Griffin, and MR Racing’s entry for Olivier Beretta, Eddie Cheever III and Motoaki Ishikawa. The second Kessel Racing #83 car is likely to win the support of the crowd: it is driven by an all-female crew of Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting and Manuela Gostner. The trio, backed by Deborah Meyer, created history by being the first all-female driver line-up in the European Le Mans Series.
They are the first all-female crew at Le Mans since 1951, when Betty Haig and Yvonne Simon finished in 15th place – in a Ferrari 166 MM Berlinetta! The Kessel Racing drivers have already enjoyed on-track success in 2019: during the opening ELMS round at Le Castellet, they scored the first ever podium for an all-female crew, and the first in endurance racing since 1975.
Thus, 70 years after Luigi Chinetti became a Ferrari legend, Frey, Gatting and Gostner will set out to create their own place in the brand’s rich history in their distinctive blue and pink 488 GTE. Like all the Ferraris taking part in 2019, they can be guaranteed the crowd will be behind them for every single minute of the world-famous 24-hour classic.