This past weekend saw the 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and an exciting showdown between the Hypercars of Toyota and Ferrari. In the end, an incident for the leading Toyota (2 hours from the finish) sealed their fate, resulting in Ferrari’s first overall win at Le Mans since 1965, when Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt drove their NART-entered 275 LM to victory. Ferrari’s victory this year is impressive, both for reasons readily apparent and some less so.
First off, any overall victory at Le Mans is impressive. But for Ferrari, even more so considering this year’s win marked the Scuderia’s 10th overall victory (the first in 1949, then 1954, 1958 and a subsequent string of dominance from 1960-1965). After its 1960-1964 win streak, the Commendatore, Enzo Ferrari, famously chose to focus his factory racing efforts and resources on Formula One from that point forward, arguably leading to Ferrari’s long 50-year absence from the top rung of the podium at Le Sarthe. But there is an interesting kernel of history buried in these observations that I’m surprised I’ve never heard mentioned before. In the 100 years of Le Mans history, Ferrari is the only manufacturer to have won both Le Mans and the Formula One manufacturers championship in the same year. And even more impressively, they did this “double” twice.
In 1961, Ferrari not only won Le Mans with Phil Hill and Oliver Gendebien driving the 250 TR, but Hill also won the Formula One World Championship in the famed 156 “Sharknose”. Then this herculean feat was repeated, in 1964, when Guichet and Vaccarella won Le Mans in the 275 P and John Surtees took the F1 crown in the Ferrari 158. If you stop to think about the amount of engineering and resources that would go into designing, building and testing, two completely separate and distinct world-beating racing programs like that… it’s a pretty stunning achievement.
Now, before you fire up your angry screeds to tell me what an idiot I am (I already know), yes, Porsche did win Le Mans in ’84 and ’85, the same years that the McLaren-TAG’s won the F1 title, but it’s not really the same thing. Say what you will about Ferrari, but you have to hand it to them, they build every component of their cars—chassis, engine, gearbox etc.—for all of their cars… F1, Le Mans, you name it. Porsche only supplied the engines for McLaren. And if you want to go way back and get nit-picky, an argument could be made for Alfa Romeo winning Le Mans and the Grand Prix championship in both 1931 & 1932, but there wasn’t a formal manufacturers championship back then, so it’s a more difficult comparison. But neither case should in any way detract from how impressive it was for Ferrari to win such vastly different disciplines, in the same year. Which, of course, raises the question…now that Ferrari has won Le Mans this year, what are the odds that they repeat their 1961/1964 double?
Hmmmm, at this stage of the F1 season, I’d say it’s not looking too promising!