Ferrari’s Hypercar Returns in Style with Podium Finish
Toyota dominated the Sebring 1000 Miles World Endurance Championship season opener with a 1-2 finish, while Ferrari made a strong debut with their 499P Hypercar and Porsche and Peugeot faced major setbacks.
While Toyota secured a 1-2 finish in Sebring, Ferrari demonstrated significant potential, while Porsche and Peugeot experienced major setbacks in the world of sports car racing.
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was a disappointing weekend for Ferrari, with Carlos Sainz Jr and Charles Leclerc finishing sixth and seventh, respectively. The team was unable to secure a podium finish or stage a heroic comeback, leaving them with little to celebrate.
In contrast, Ferrari’s fortunes in sports car racing were much brighter as their new 499P Hypercar made a stunning debut at the Sebring 1000 Miles World Endurance Championship season opener. The team finally returned to the top class of sports car racing, and to everyone’s surprise, they started from the front of the grid.
Antonio Fuoco’s stunning pole position lap was the result of his complete commitment, even when he was momentarily blinded by the sun during the final turn of the Florida track. Despite this obstacle, he managed to find an incredible 1.7 seconds to knock Toyota off the pole. This was exactly what the World Endurance Championship needed, as Ferrari’s highly anticipated return to the top class of sports car racing lived up to its lofty expectations.
As expected, cracks began to appear during the race, and AF Corse made some errors in its first outing in the premier division. They gave up the early lead during the safety car period, and Toyota’s GR010 HYBRIDs eventually secured a dominant 1-2 finish, leading by two laps. Despite this setback, Ferrari’s No50 car ran reliably and beat the lone Ganassi-run Cadillac for the final step of the podium, making it a successful debut overall.
This performance bodes well for the remainder of the World Endurance Championship season, and particularly for the 100th anniversary of the Le Mans 24 Hours in June.
Despite the success of the No50 car, Ferrari still faced some challenges during the race. The second No51 499P car suffered a crash during the Prologue test, with James Calado at the wheel, causing significant damage that required a replacement monocoque to be built for the race.
However, in the sixth hour of the contest, Alessandro Pier Guidi collided with two GTE Am cars, causing suspension damage and a lengthy pit stop. Nevertheless, the car managed to finish the race in 15th place overall and seventh in the Hypercar class.
Ferrari has maintained its loyalty to the GT drivers who have carried the brand forward in modern sports car racing and avoided signing superstar drivers for its high-profile campaign. The only exception is ex-Alfa Romeo F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi.
The third-place finishers at Sebring, Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, and Niklas Nielsen, are relatively unknown outside of the GT racing world. The decision to stick with tried and trusted internal talent ensures that the car is the star, unlike past instances where F1 “Galacticos” were hired by sports car teams. Whether this strategy will pay off in the long-term remains to be seen.
Antonello Coletta, head of Ferrari’s Attivita Sportive GT department, expressed his satisfaction with Ferrari’s debut in the WEC Hypercar class, stating that they had surpassed their goals by achieving a podium finish and a pole position.
Despite being aware of the long road ahead, he praised the team’s lack of reliability problems and acknowledged the challenge of competing against experienced and fast opponents in the championship.
The goal in motorsport is always to be fast and relatively free from problems, as seen in the struggles faced by Porsche and Peugeot at Sebring. Peugeot, in particular, had a difficult time with the wingless 9X8, possibly due to the notorious Sebring bumps. However, the team may have a chance to turn things around when the WEC returns to Europe for the next round in Portimao next month.
The recent victory of Toyota at the Sebring 1000 Miles World Endurance Championship season opener was a clear example of the manufacturer’s well-honed operation, facing little opposition in past seasons, and now against properly funded manufacturer rivals. As a result, Toyota’s victories now have greater meaning, setting the standard that Ferrari, Porsche, Cadillac, and Peugeot must aspire to.
The Toyota GR010s dominated the Sebring race, with little separating the No7 and No8 cars until Toyota made the decision to give the former the win.
The victory was emotional for Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi, but perhaps most important for José María López, who was involved in a crash during last year’s race and had another shunt during free practice this year. Lopez was at risk of being replaced this season but was ultimately retained after Nyck de Vries secured an F1 drive.
The Porsche team had intermittent pace during the Sebring 1000 Miles WEC opener, but was unable to beat the No50 Ferrari and the Caddy in the hands of Richard Westbrook, Alex Lynn, and Earl Bamber, who secured fifth and sixth place respectively.
The team had a second opportunity to prove their worth in the Sebring 12 Hours, but unfortunately, the race cannot be a part of the WEC.
In a dramatic turn of events during the Sebring 12 Hours, three of the front runners, including Porsche, were eliminated following a collision involving Wayne Taylor Racing’s Acura, Mathieu Jaminet’s Penske 963, and Felipe Nasr’s Porsche.
The incident occurred when the cars were navigating GT cars, and it dashed Porsche’s hopes of a victory that could have given the team some solace for its underwhelming performance in the WEC.
In the end, the Action Express Cadillac secured an unexpected win, making Pipo Derani a four-time winner of the Sebring 12 Hours, and gifting Brits Alexander Sims and Jack Aitken a significant sports car victory.
The triumph may have been particularly sweet for Aitken, who has been making a name for himself on the sports car circuit since his sole F1 start for Williams in Bahrain in 2020. Meanwhile, Sims has turned his attention solely to endurance racing after experiencing difficulties in Formula E.
It was a tough break for United Autosports as they were poised for an LMP2 class victory with Josh Pierson behind the wheel of their ORECA.
Pierson was leading comfortably when all power suddenly shut off in the third hour, caused by a loose cockpit TV camera hitting the external kill switch from the inside. Despite a second-place finish for their sister car, it was Jota who capitalized on the situation and took the win. It was definitely a heartbreaking way to lose a race for Richard Dean’s team.
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