Will Ferrari return to Le Mans?


The prospect is so tantalising, I will not be alone in wishing it to be true. If the rumours can be relied upon, Ferrari will return to Le Mans in 2015 as a full works LMP1 team with Fernando Alonso and Valentino Rossi at the wheel.

Then again if rumours could be relied upon, Lord Lucan would have spent the last 40 years living in Britain, South Africa, India, America, Columbia, Switzerland and Gabon.

What Ferrari has actually said

So this is what we actually know: Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has said within the last month that he “likes the idea” of racing at Le Mans. He continued: “Who knows, maybe one day we can return and win, say thanks and come home? Maybe we should give it some serious consideration…”

We also know that the man in charge of all Ferrari’s non-F1 racing activities – one Antonello Coletta – has refused to rule out the possibility and has even ventured to say the company is looking at the rules. With wonderful ambiguity he has said he cannot say whether Ferrari’s vision in this regard is for 2014, 2015 or 2016, from which it could be fairly deduced that there is at least a vision for Ferrari at Le Mans.

But that’s still a heck of a way from one or more red prototypes snarling their way down the pit lane of a well-known track in the west of France any time soon.

Reasons for the return

Three things count strongly in favour of a Ferrari return to La Sarthe. First, and given that 2014 is not really likely, the earliest return date would be 2015, by which stage it is not only possible but probable it would face works teams from Porsche, Audi, Toyota and Nissan. Sports car racing looks on a verge of a golden era and as many fear the reverse can now be said for Formula 1, it’s a sensible bet to hedge. As with all great teams, the additional competition is an incentive, not a deterrent.

Second, the new F1 powertrains have been deliberately designed with other applications in mind, so converting one for sports car usage would be far more effective and affordable than designing a new engine, gearbox and hybrid system from scratch. Thirdly, it would allow the Scuderia to stay at full strength despite the downsizing that will have to take place in the F1 team when the budget cap comes into force. That might in time lead also to a lucrative customer programme.

Most Le Mans wins by constructor
1. Porsche (16 wins)
2. Audi (12 wins)
3. Ferrari (nine wins)
4. Jaguar (seven wins)
5. Bentley (6 wins)
6. Alfa Romeo and Ford (four wins each)
8. Matra-Simca and Peugeot (three wins each)
10. Bugatti, Lorraine-Dietrich and Mercedes-Benz (two wins each)
13. Chenard & Walcker, Lagonda, Delahaye, Talbot-Lago, Aston Martin, Mirage, Renault-Alpine, Rondeau, Mazda, McLaren, BMW (one win each)

Reasons against the return

There is perhaps still more counting against a Ferrari return. Ferrari does not need a sports car programme to sell cars, and you need only look at the phenomenal success the marque has enjoyed in recent times despite not having raced a sports car at the top level since 1973 (below) to know it. And you can’t count the 1994 333SP as these were neither built nor run by Ferrari.

Also, there have been other golden periods for sports cars over the last 40 years and Ferrari’s big cheeses have ignored them all – they weren’t tempted into Group C in the mid-1980s, nor were they interested in joining Porsche, BMW, Nissan, Toyota, Mercedes et al at Le Mans in the late ‘90s. Why would they now? Why would Ferrari go to the effort of becoming the first manufacturer in recent times to field full works teams in both F1 and at Le Mans? And yes, according to Signor Coletta, if Ferrari were to go back to France to race a prototype, it would be as a works team and not with a customer programme or as an engine provider.

Then again, this is Ferrari, a company that loves to be unpredictable and one that must feel it still has unfinished business at La Sarthe. The works last won there in 1964 (above) and to this day those with long memories must still regret the decision not to enter the 312PB in 1972, the car that won every other round of the World Sports Car Championship that year.

For me the prospect of Porsche versus Ferrari at Le Mans is nothing less than the greatest spectacle motor racing can afford, and I doubt I’m alone in seeing things that way.

And finally, if Ferrari did enter Le Mans in 2015 it would be exactly 50 years since Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt’s well-thrashed NART 250LM last claimed victory at Le Mans for Ferrari (below), followed by another LM and a 275GTB ensuring both a total podium lockout and victory in the GT category too. As excuses go, that’s one of the better ones to have up your sleeve.

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