Yifei Ye: Ferrari's first Chinese driver aiming to take Le Mans by storm

Le Mans News

Yifei Ye is Ferrari's first ever Chinese works driver – will he become Le Mans' first ever Chinese overall winner too?

7 Yifei Ye Ferrari 2024 Le Mans

Yifei Ye could be set to make history with Ferrari


It’s almost 10,000 miles from the Chinese city of Xi’an to Le Mans. For any 14-year-old, that’s a long way from home.

That’s exactly how far Yifei Ye, Ferrari’s first ever Chinese driver, travelled on his very own long, arduous road to Le Mans – but now the young driver represents the hopes of a nation at one of the world’s biggest races.

The Scuderia charge, aged just 23 – his birthday is June 16, on the Sunday of Le Mans – has already had his fair share of La Sarthe heartbreak. His WRT LMP2 car broke down while leading on the last lap of the 2022 race, and he spectacularly led the contest last year driving a Jota Porsche Hypercar in changeable conditions before crashing out.

Prior to the 2024 event, he spoke to Motor Sport about climbing the mountain to become a racing driver in the Western-centric world of racing – and the effect it has had in China.

6 Yifei Ye Ferrari 2024 Le Mans

No83 car has been a pace-setter in practice


“I really had to make a lot of compromises,” he says. “I left China when I was 14 years old, I lived on my own, did my own laundry, food shopping, on my own 14,000 kilometres away from my family, learning French, English and also Italian – all with a dream of becoming a works driver.

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“I had a lot of suffering, but having achieved my goal – getting into machinery which will help me become the first Chinese driver to win Le Mans overall – it gives me a big boost. I will just keep trying to reward the people who followed me over the past few years in China.

“I think, 10 years later, it’s a really good reward to all the efforts I made.”

The Sauber F1 team’s Zhou Guanyu is the nation’s other leading light in racing, but no Chinese national has won at Le Mans overall.

Ho-Ping Tung prevailed in LMP2 for Jackie Chan Racing in 2017, and while Yifei Ye’s race last year ended in agony, he’s already felt the effect of his on-track efforts in his homeland.

“I have not actually been back to China since our announcement,” says a driver whose schedule has gone up a notch since being employed at Maranello.

“But I have received a lot of interest, a lot of messages from everywhere, not just in motor sport, but also people that are not involved in racing.

5 Yifei Ye Ferrari 2024 Le Mans

No83 car is the joker in the pack


“Ferrari as a brand is one of the most known around the world. Also as a team in the sport is one of the most successful.

“So being recognised and then signed by Ferrari, it’s a real a milestone in my career – I hope that can inspire a new generation of racing drivers back in Asia, back in China. I hope to make people proud.”

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Helping the Chinese driver is Polish hero Robert Kubica and cocksure Ferrari junior Robert Shwartzman. The No83 line-up is the joker in the Le Mans pack, and its final practice pace showed as much, with Kubica going quickest ahead of the No51 car of Antonion Giovinazzi.

Yifei explains how the trio in his car complement each other.

“The working relationship between us has been great so far,” he enthuses. “Kubica and I started racing endurance at the same time in 2021, and I was team-mates with him in 2022 at WRT.

“We all have a good understanding and experience of endurance, and for sure he’s experienced from F1 and even rally too – it help us to have new perspectives and ideas. It’s very easy to start working again.

“Shwartzman has a lot of F1 testing experience, but is young like me. One common thing amongst us three is that we all came through the single-seater ranks, so that helped us to have a more similar driving style, which is good for set-ups etc.

4 Yifei Ye Ferrari 2024 Le Mans

Yifei Ye knows it’s all about making it through the small hours in one piece


“When I first sat in this car, it felt like a single-seater. We’ve all driven high-downforce racing cars and raced with a smooth style, so it’s easy to have common goals and ideas with the car.”

Yifei’s maturity has impressed the higher-ups in Ferrari, who haven’t held back in their praise.

“He’s different from other young drivers,” says team boss Antonello Coletta. “He’s very intelligent, in a very mature way.

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“The Chinese market is [also] easily one of most important markets for the future [for Ferrari’s road car division],” he adds, never forgetting the business.

“I would say you never stop learning, every year you understand new things,” asserts Yifei.

“I think this year I feel like I have a very good chance to achieve some great results in the overall category.

“I’m feeling confident: of course the goal is to do a clean race and then if we are in a good position on Sunday morning, if the car’s intact and if we’re in the front, we really have a good chance to challenge for the win.

“I’m turning 24 on Sunday of the race day, which is it will be something quite exceptional!

“In China there are 12 animals that are representing the different zodiac signs – and this year is the year of dragon, which is my sign.

“I could turn 24 in the car – if we do great on Sunday, it could be a good birthday present!”