Ferrari wins the Centennial edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their debut in the premier category. Alessandro Pier Guidi, Antonio Giovinazzi, and James Calado ended the 58-year drought, with the last overall victory dating back to the 1965 edition. However, the main architects of the historic Le Mans triumph are Antonello Coletta, Head of GT Racing Activities, and Technical Director Ferdinando Cannizzo. The two masterminds behind the endurance racing program of the Prancing Horse met with journalists in a joyful press conference at the Le Mans paddock.
Where does this victory stand in Ferrari’s glorious history?
Antonello Coletta: “After fifty years, I am sure that this is one of the most important victories ever. It is a pleasure, but also a surprise. Ferrari is the first team to win in the premier category on their debut. It is an incredible satisfaction for us. I would like to remember that one year ago, the car did not exist, we only had a blank sheet of paper, and today we are here celebrating a victory. We are very proud of all the people who have worked on this project.”
What was the winning key?
Antonello Coletta: “Probably, the most important reason is that we put together an incredible group of people, friends but also highly professional. We have worked together for years with GT cars, although it is inevitable that this car is much more complex. Our group, however, is what created the foundation for our victory. Without this group, it would not have been possible to create this car and be here celebrating this victory.”
How did this victory come earlier than expected?
Antonello Coletta: “We started quite late, first with the GT3 and then with the prototype. Perhaps it would have been better the other way around, but we had not yet decided to make the 499P. The goal was to win. Frankly, we did not presume to say ‘let’s go to Le Mans and win.’ But it is clear that by definition, Ferrari aims to try to win, but it also requires respect for the competitors, the awareness that you are not alone and that others have been there longer than you. Toyota has been participating in endurance racing in the top category for years, while the others started a year and a half before us. We hoped to make a good impression, to achieve some podium finishes, and maybe win a race during the year. Then at Sebring, we took pole position, as well as at Spa, where we also showed our presence in the race. So we arrived at Le Mans well-prepared, learning from all the previous mistakes. We never stopped developing the car, and the guys come up with something new every day.”
Antonello Coletta: “Ferdinando and I have offices facing each other, and this is one of our winning keys. We are a group that is first and foremost made up of friends and then a working group. This is not trivial. Having our doors facing each other, we often discuss our ideas. This ensures that the project never stops growing, that all the engineers continue to work, and that all the commercial, marketing, and sports staff needed to support the project do their part. Everyone has their role. There are no jealousies or positions taken on one side or the other. That’s how the results come. I believe in the stability of the group and mutual respect, which is worth a tenth already. When you have a problem, you don’t get discouraged, everyone together tries to find a solution. This way, it is easier to make progress, and in the end, the most beautiful victory arrived.”
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What makes this car, the 499P, so fast?
Ferdinando Cannizzo: “The technical regulations for this class are very restrictive. Aerodynamic coefficients, power, weight, and energy consumption are defined. Many things are predetermined. Our goal was to find a way to make this car more competitive than our opponents. This was quite simple for us, finding areas where we could take risks with the project. Obviously, I can’t reveal too much, but for example, I believe that our car is very healthy from an aerodynamic, mechanical, and weight distribution point of view. However, the project is still new. We still have a lot to learn, including how to make the various systems work together. For example, I wouldn’t call radiator damage a weakness, but certainly something I would like to improve. We must not lose the spirit of improving race after race, without ever stopping.”
There was a Balance of Performance change on the eve of Le Mans. How did you manage it?
Ferdinando Cannizzo: “As you know, we cannot comment on any decisions regarding the Balance of Performance. What I can say is that 30 kg doesn’t change the car much. Yes, there is an impact on tire management and balance, but it doesn’t completely change the picture. We completely forgot about the limits and instead focused on our strengths, facing every situation that came our way. Today, we have shown that we are focused at every moment of the race. We did not make mistakes, and that was the greatest strength of the team.”
What happened in the pits when the car wouldn’t restart?
Ferdinando Cannizzo: “During the pit stop, for some reason, there was a loss of communication between the various systems in the car. There was no other option but to restart the car. The first time it happened, we were surprised, so we prepared the procedure better, and when it happened again, we were able to handle the situation. We were fortunate to have a margin over our pursuer.”
When did you become convinced that you could truly win?
Antonello Coletta: “Today, I had the feeling that we could win when the car restarted after the last pit stop, 20 minutes before the end. It was our final stop, Toyota had encountered problems, and we were in a comfort zone. Then, at a certain point, the car stopped. It was a tough moment. When it restarted, I realized that we could make it.”
On Sunday morning, car #50 put some pressure on Toyota. Was it planned?
Antonello Coletta: “During the race, it’s clear that the strategy changes lap after lap and stint after stint. Around Sunday morning, the battle with Toyota was very tough. We had our second car nearby, and we thought it could put pressure on our opponents. However, I would like to point out that we had a one-minute lead over Toyota, and then with the Safety Car, we started from scratch. But during the night, our advantage was very significant. That’s why I believe that the victory for Ferrari is well-deserved.”
The 499P has always been fast on a single lap, but this time it also maintained a good race pace. What changed?
Ferdinando Cannizzo: “What changed is that race after race and test after test, we have learned to know our car better and find a setup that works well with tires that were not designed by us and that we saw for the first time earlier this year. The development was done with tires and compounds from last year. It is normal to have a learning process, which started at Sebring. Obviously, it is easier to identify a unique setup at minimum weight, with little fuel, and be immediately fast. What gave us confidence was that the car was designed well, and we did not get discouraged when we didn’t have the best setup to make the car fast in all race conditions. But we rolled up our sleeves, focused on where we needed to improve, and the gap narrowed race after race until it closed completely here.”
Do you believe there was a difference in pace between the two Ferrari cars?
Ferdinando Cannizzo: “The two cars had a very similar pace. We were unfortunate that a stone punctured the grille and hit our radiator. It had never happened to us during testing, where we don’t drive with other cars in front. Maybe for the next races, we’ll reinforce that grille! Despite this problem, the race for car #50 restarted. We didn’t lose the desire to keep pushing, and we started recovering positions one by one. This morning, we found ourselves watching two races, not just the one in the lead, but also trying to maximize the result for the other car.”
A few weeks ago, the 296 GT3 also won the 24 Hours of Nurburgring. Does it have something in common with the 499P?
Ferdinando Cannizzo: “As Antonello said, we started from the GT working group and grew from there. Similarly, we started from the 296 GT3 and transformed it into a more complex prototype for regulatory reasons, but with the same approach and project perspective. An attentive eye will find many similarities, perhaps with different shapes, but similar from a technical and engineering point of view. I can mention the engine, which is derived from the 296 GTB, from which the GT3 engine was derived, and in turn, the 499P’s engine. Same architecture and the same philosophical approach from a motor perspective, but different applications that I hope will continue to be successful.”
What goal can there be after a victory at Le Mans?
Antonello Coletta: “Okay, today we won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and we have been on the podium in all the races so far. At the same time, however, we have great respect for the other manufacturers, and the 24 Hours was very challenging. Cadillac, Porsche, Toyota, and Peugeot… all the manufacturers were very fast at different moments of the race. That’s why I expect the next races to be very difficult. We have to be very consistent and learn every minute we spend on the track. Yes, we won at Le Mans, but the car is very young, and we need to gain experience. However, today we can have another dream. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is just one race in the World Championship… Why not?”