Ferrari Topples Toyota, Ends 50-year Absence at Le Mans

The Toyota Gazoo Racing team car competes at the 24-hour Le Mans in western France on Saturday.

LE MANS, France (AP) — Ferrari ended a 50-year absence from the 24 Hours of Le Mans by toppling mighty Toyota in the centenary running of the most iconic sports car race in the world.

Ferrari last competed at Le Mans in 1973 but returned to Circuit de la Sarthe this year as part of a new hyperclass category that features hybrid technology.

The hyperclass came from a rules convergence that both allowed competitors from the United States’ sports car series, IMSA, to compete at Le Mans, and also created an enticing platform automakers viewed as an opportunity to showcase their street car technology.

Ferrari developed its program — a two-car effort that competes in the World Endurance Championship — over several years in a strategy similar to what was depicted in “Ford v Ferrari,” the film that focused on the boardroom pressures and drama surrounding Ford’s 1963 successful effort to end Ferrari’s reign at Le Mans.

Only this time it was Ferrari trying to knock down a giant; the two-car Toyota Gazoo effort, which had entered the twice-round-the-clock race that ended Sunday on a five-year winning streak.

Toyota was dealt a blow before the race even began when race officials this week added additional weight to the dominant GR010s in a controversial “balance of performance” adjustment designed to level the playing field.

Ferrari in a pair of 499Ps pounced and swept the front row in qualifying and handled every challenge from Toyota. Its chances were aided overnight when Kamui Kobayashi was wrecked out of the race, making it two versus one in favor of Ferrari.

The trio of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi — with Ferrari Formula One driver Charles Leclerc in the garage watching — were the easy winner.

The trio had a solid lead even before defending race winner Ryo Hirakawa locked the brakes on his Toyota and hit the wall with 1 hour and 44 minutes remaining.