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Special feature
WEC Ferrari Hypercar unveil

How Ferrari's new Le Mans contender is a statement of philosophy

After 50 years, Ferrari is heading back to Le Mans with its all-new 499P. A nod to tradition was inevitable as the Prancing Horse forges into a new era.

The stars have aligned for Ferrari. It is heading back to the very pinnacle of sportscar racing after a 50-year absence in the centenary year of the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2023. Those anniversaries were not lost on the Italian manufacturer when it sat around the table as new rules began to be thrashed out back in the spring of 2018 for what we are now billing as a golden era. But it was the realisation of what was to come – just how big sportscars can become once again – that tipped Ferrari into bringing to an end its long hiatus from the big time in endurance. 

“All the numbers have come in a magic moment,” says Antonello Coletta, Ferrari’s sportscar racing boss and the architect of its return to the prototype ranks as a factory with a hybrid prototype that since its launch at the weekend we are now calling the 499P.

“When we made some discussions in the last years, our vision was open, but when we understood that the occasion was great, we took the final decision.” 

But Ferrari’s return to the top of the sportscar tree next year with a two-car attack on the World Endurance Championship is not just about the numbers 50 and 100. It is about some much bigger numbers with many more noughts: the budget involved. 

Ferrari’s long-awaited comeback owes much to the regulations that it helped write. The Le Mans Hypercar rules to which the 499P has been developed have slashed the cost of entry to Le Mans and the WEC from the LMP1 era.

“Now the budget is much less,” explains Coletta. “Now it is easier to make the decision to come back than it would have been in the past with LMP1.”

Coletta, second left, has led development on the Ferrari 499P LMH that was formally unveiled in Imola last week

Coletta, second left, has led development on the Ferrari 499P LMH that was formally unveiled in Imola last week

Photo by: Ferrari

That is why, he continues, “when we started to consider to come back that I fought to reduce the budgets”. Ferrari, it should be pointed out, was one of a group of manufacturers that went back to the FIA and WEC promoter and Le Mans organiser the ACO after the original LMH rules had been published in December 2018 arguing that the top class of the series remained too expensive. 

A second major component of the LMH rules alongside cost reduction is the allowance for significant styling inputs into what is a pure-bred racing car. They are actually inextricably linked: the relatively low aerodynamic targets laid down in so-called performance windows mean that the shape of the car doesn’t have to be solely defined by the windtunnel.

For Coletta and his team at the Attivita Sportive GT department masterminding the LMH project, the 499P is very much a Ferrari.

“The styling is very important for us,” he says. “We would like that when people see our car, they can recognise a Ferrari. I think we have attained a good result.”

The new car was unveiled in a livery that also tipped its hat to the past. The 499P will race in red, of course, but it carries yellow trimming that harks back to the three-litre Group 6 car with which Ferrari competed in the World Championship for Makes in 1972 and 1973

The golden era, of course, brings two different types of prototype together, LMHs and LMDhs, the route taken by Ferrari’s old sparring partner, Porsche. The Italian manufacturer opted against that direction because, to Coletta’s mind, an LMDh wouldn’t have been a true Ferrari. The LMDh rules call for a car to be based on the spine of one of the four forthcoming new-generation LMP2 chassis and the use of an off-the-shelf hybrid system. 

“We chose LMH because, for Ferrari, it’s important to make all the car,” he says. “Ferrari is a manufacturer and for us, it’s not our philosophy to buy part of the car.

“We can say this car is a tribute to our past and the manifesto for our future. Endurance racing is part of our history and part of our tradition of using this type of competition to test technologies. For this we need to create 100% of the parts.

“It was the combination of many, many factors that gave us the chance to write another chapter,” continues Coletta, who is insistent that the Formula 1 cost cap introduced for 2021 was not among them. “We had the vision to come back, but there was not just one point.” 

Ferrari regards its new LMH contender as a thoroughbred, and runs a livery paying tribute to the Group 6 racer with which it last competed for outright Le Mans honours in the 1970s

Ferrari regards its new LMH contender as a thoroughbred, and runs a livery paying tribute to the Group 6 racer with which it last competed for outright Le Mans honours in the 1970s

Photo by: Francesco Corghi

Heavy on symbolism

The name of the new Ferrari prototype follows a tradition that dates back to the very first Ferrari, the 125S of 1947. The 499 refers to the capacity of a single cylinder in cubic centimetres of its engine. The powerplant in the back of the new LMH is a twin-turbo V6 with a three-litre – believed to be 2992cc, to be exact – capacity. The 125S was a 1.5-litre V12. The P stands for prototype, in case you were wondering. 

The new car was unveiled in a livery that also tipped its hat to the past. The 499P will race in red, of course, but it carries yellow trimming that harks back to the three-litre Group 6 car with which Ferrari competed in the World Championship for Makes in 1972 and 1973.

What can be described as the lead car had a stripe in yellow – the colours of Ferrari’s hometown of Modena – down the nose and it was this entry that won the Sebring 12 Hours in 1972 with Jacky Ickx and Mario Andretti, helping the marque to the WCM title. Ickx and Brian Redman would win two more races in the ‘yellow’ entry at Monza and the Nurburgring the following year in what turned out to be the factory’s final season of prototype racing before the decision was taken to focus purely on F1. 

The 499P present for Saturday’s launch at the Imola Finali Mondiali Ferrari, or world finals for its one-make challenge series, carried the race number #50 to mark the gap in years since the 312 PB screamed around Le Mans for the final time. That fits nicely with the number of the second car, #51. The four GTE Pro drivers’ titles claimed by Ferrari since the rebirth of the WEC in 2012 have all been taken by the #51 entry fielded by the AF Corse factory team. 

The heart of a Ferrari

The beating heart of any Ferrari is its engine. The decision to go for the V6 was made after a number of other concepts were evaluated, according to Ferdinando Cannizzo, head of design and development at Attivita Sportive GT. 

“In the very initial phase a V12, a V8, a V6 was considered, everything to be honest,” he explains. “When you make a decision you have to understand what you are losing if you go in one direction. Selecting the V6 was definitely the right path to follow considering the way our range of road cars is moving – it was natural to go that route.”

The prototype’s internal combustion engine is the same capacity and architecture – with the turbos mounted inside a wide-angle 120-degree vee – as the powerplant in the 296 GTB launched last year and therefore that of the GT3 version that comes on stream for next season. Cannizzo explains that “this makes it much easier to have technological feedback into our road cars”.

The V6 engine powering Ferrari's 499P LMH will share the same capacity and architecture as its new 296 GT3 contender, although it is not entirely the same

The V6 engine powering Ferrari's 499P LMH will share the same capacity and architecture as its new 296 GT3 contender, although it is not entirely the same

Photo by: Ferrari

“But it wasn’t a compromise because a V6 is small, light and very compact,” he continues. “This gives an advantage in packaging, weight distribution and centre of gravity.”

Cannizzo stresses that the prototype engine isn’t the same as that found in the GT3. He argues that it can’t be: “It is not the same engine. It is a stressed engine, which means the structure has to be totally different.”

The V6 powers the Ferrari along with a front-axle hybrid system developed like the rest of the car in-house at Attivita Sportive GT. The battery technology, says Cannizzo, represents the biggest cross-over with the Scuderia Ferrari F1 team. It is, says Cannizzo, “basically based on their knowledge”. 

The timeline

The new V6 race engine was running on the dyno even before the momentous day on 24 February 2021 when Ferrari announced the LMH programme.

The reason why it has been racking up the kilometres so quickly has now become apparent. It has been testing with two chassis almost from the very beginning of the development programme

“We made a bet,” says Cannizzo, who really means that he and his team took a gamble that the project was going to be signed off. 

Design started on what became the 499P in March 2021, though Cannizzo admits that conceptual work dates all the way back to the spring of 2018 when the roundtable meetings that led into the working groups that created the LMH rulebook began. The first iteration of the 499P was also running in the virtual realm before that February 2021 sign-off. 

“We were on the simulator with our concept car already at the end of the 2020,” he says. “During the conceptual stage the car was being shaped in the simulator, and then we continued improving the knowledge of the car through the design phase. Now I can say that driving the car on the race track and the simulator is not that much different.”

Ferrari has worked to create a concept in the simulator alongside its design work

Ferrari has worked to create a concept in the simulator alongside its design work

Photo by: Ferrari

The shape

Ferrari’s full computational fluid dynamics resources were utilised in the design, though not the F1 windtunnel. Scale testing was undertaken in an external tunnel that Cannizzo prefers not to mention, before a move to the Sauber facility for full-size testing. 

“Most of the job was done in the Sauber tunnel,” he explains, which makes sense because it is there that the car will undergo its homologation testing, set for the end of the year, for the WEC. “As soon as possible we moved to the full-scale windtunnel because that is the most representative. We wanted a clear correlation between the design and real performance.”

Cannizzo explains that the twin rear wing set-up had “been quite interesting for Centro Stile [Ferrari’s styling department] because they could play a little bit with our ideas”. The lower element incorporates the rear lights in a single bar running the width of the lower plane: “There was a kind of loop with Centro Stile.”

The unusual rear aero package is Ferrari’s take on rules that also lay down a strict lateral stability requirement.

“The constraints for the aero stability are quite demanding,” he says. “We tested several options.”

Testing so far

The test mileage completed by the 499P that Ferrari drip fed to the world through the summer looked very encouraging. In early September, it stated that a car that ran for the first time – as is Ferrari tradition – at Fiorano on 6 July had completed 5000km (3000 miles). Now it puts that figure at more than 12,000km.

The reason why it has been racking up the kilometres so quickly has now become apparent. It has been testing with two chassis almost from the very beginning of the development programme. 

Ferrari has been pounding around test tracks building up mileage on its new contender, with two chassis built up

Ferrari has been pounding around test tracks building up mileage on its new contender, with two chassis built up

Photo by: Ferrari

The second car came on stream at the second proper circuit test, which is understood to have been at Mugello sometime in August. The rollout of this car took place – though not at Fiorano – while the first 499P was running at Barcelona on its maiden outing on a race track. 

“The reason we arranged the development programme with two cars was to have one focused on performance and one on reliability,” explains Cannizzo. “On the one focused on performance we didn’t care about reliability. The other one we have is to put mileage on all the parts to understand where are the major issues we have to solve. This was the only chance to cope with the small window we have [for testing].”

Cannizzo doesn’t hide the fact that the 499P has encountered problems.

"The choice of drivers will be from the Ferrari family. We have very consistent drivers in the GT family; 100% the choice will be from inside our house" Antonello Coletta

“At the very first shakedown of the car we were surprised because we ran three days without problems,” he explains. “Then clearly some reliability issues popped up, which is good because it is better to have them sooner rather than later. We were able to react promptly to this.”

No news on drivers…

Testing of the 499P has been handled by the eight-strong squad of Ferrari Competizione GT drivers. That means Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Miguel Molina, Antonio Fuoco, Davide Rigon, Nicklas Nielsen, Daniel Serra and Alessio Rovera have all driven it, along with the ultra-experienced Andrea Bertolini, whose test-driving credentials are well rated throughout Ferrari. 

Coletta still isn’t being drawn on which six drivers will be racing the two 499Ps when they line up on the grid for the Ferrari AF Corse squad at the Sebring 1000 Miles WEC opener next March. He reiterates his long-held position that they will be exclusively drawn from its existing GT squad.

“The choice of drivers will be from the Ferrari family,” he says. “We have very consistent drivers in the GT family; 100% the choice will be from inside our house.”

No drivers have yet been announced for the programme, but AF Corse LMP2 racer Nicklas Nielsen is likely to be involved

No drivers have yet been announced for the programme, but AF Corse LMP2 racer Nicklas Nielsen is likely to be involved

Photo by: Ferrari

…Nor customer cars

Ferrari has a long history of selling race cars to privateers. Don’t forget its last Le Mans victory in 1965 was garnered by Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team and not the factory. Coletta insists the decision on making the 499P available to customers – and there have already been enquiries – and if it will race in IMSA have yet to be made.

“We will have to see,” he says on both topics, while insisting that for the moment the focus is the WEC.

When that campaign starts at Sebring in March, Ferrari admits that the pressure will be on. 

“We enter this challenge with humility,” says Ferrari executive chairman John Elkann, “but conscious of a history that has taken us to over 20 world endurance titles and nine overall victories at the Le Mans 24 Hours.”

We've had to wait 50 years, but Ferrari's return to the top class at Le Mans is now tantalisingly close

We've had to wait 50 years, but Ferrari's return to the top class at Le Mans is now tantalisingly close

Photo by: Ferrari

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