Le Mans, 10 June – It’s the second day of scrutineering in the Le Mans town square for the 55 cars entered in the 82nd edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours held on Saturday and Sunday: Scuderia Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso will be the special guest starter. No less than 14 of them are Ferrari 458 Italia cars, entered in two categories, LMGTE Pro and LMGTE Am. The Le Mans 24 Hours was first staged in 1923 and has run since then, with the exception of 1936 and then the war years and immediate post war period, 1940 to 1948. Ferrari has won the French endurance event nine times and has taken 23 class wins. The first one came on the company’s debut in 1949, when Luigi Chinetti, an Italian who had settled in the States, along with Peter Mitchell-Thomson (Lord Selsdon) financed the purchase of two Ferrari 166 MM s.
Chinetti drove for almost the entire race, only handing over to Thomson when he had a huge lead over his rivals.
In 1954 came the first official factory win, when Scuderia Ferrari entered three 375 Plus. The winning duo also raced successfully for Ferrari in Formula 1, Argentina’s Jose Froilan Gonzalez and the Frenchman Maurice Trintignant. There was a class win three years later, with Ferrari winning outright again in 1958, when the American Phil Hill and the Belgian Olivier Gendebien beat stiff opposition from Aston Martin at the wheel of a Ferrari 250 TR58.
After another class win in 1959, Ferrari’s golden years at Le Mans began with six successive victories and a level of dominance never seen before at the Sarthe circuit. In 1960, Gendebien, with his fellow countryman and journalist Paul Frere were victorious in a 250 TR59/60. The following year the Belgian made it three in a row, again with Hill in a 250 TRI/61, when adding to the impressive performance the entire podium featured Ferrari drivers. In second place were the other factory drivers, Willy Mairesse from Belgium and the Englishman Mike Parkes. Third was a privare 250 GT SWB entered by Belgian Pierre Noblet and the Frenchman Jean Guichet who also won their category.
The following year there was another all-Ferrari podium with the race won once again by Hill and Gendebien in the 330 TRI/LM Spyder. In 1963 Ferrari was the undisputed force in the event, taking the outright win, two class wins and a clean sweep of the top six places in the classification. It was an all-Italian victory as the drivers of the 250 P were Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini. The following year, Vaccarella and Guichet won in the 275 P, while 1965 saw Ferrari’s final outright win with a car run by North American Racing Team and driven by American Masten Gregory with Austria’s Jochen Rindt.
After that came a further 14 wins in various classes, the last one being in 2012 thanks to Italy’s “Gimmi” Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella and the Finn Toni Vilander, who secured the LMGTE Pro category win in the AF Corse 458 GTC. This year, the trio has reformed to try and give Ferrari a 24th class win There are two more Prancing Horse cars in the same class: the second AF Corse team for Italy’s Davide Rigon, the Englishman James Calado and the Monegasque Olivier Beretta, already a six time winner at Le Mans and the RAM team’s car for Matt Griffin, Alvaro Parente and Federico Leo. Ferrari is also after the win in the LMGTE Am category, with eleven cars entered, four of them from AF Corse.
LE MANS 1954: GONZALEZ AND TRINTIGNANT
In 1954, Jose Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant scored the second victory for Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In the 50s, these two ‘southern men’ were great pioneers in the renaissance of racing after World War Two.
The Argentinian and the Frenchman from the southern region of Vaucluse, have a very special place in the history of motorsport in relation to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Formula 1. Three years before his victory at Le Mans, José Froilan Gonzalez (born in 1922) scored the first of Ferrari’s 219 F1 victories. That year, he participated for the second time in 24 hours, driving a Talbot-Lago shared with compatriot Onofre Marimon.
It was in 1954 that José Froilan Gonzalez and Maurice Trintignant drove together in Le Mans, in one of the three cars entered by Scuderia Ferrari. Although they both started in La Sarthe in 1950, the former never saw the chequered flag, while the latter finished for the first time in 1953 (sixth in a Gordini). Together they won the race. In his last appearance at the 24 Hours, this victory gave Gonzalez (who his size has earned the nickname of “Bull of the Pampas”) a new status: the first driver to win in a Ferrari in Formula 1 and Le Mans.
In 1955, it was the turn of Maurice Trintignant (1917-2005) to enter the story: a year after becoming the first French driver to win in La Sarthe driving a Ferrari, he scored his first victory in Formula 1 at Monaco, followed by a second success in the Principality in 1958, he still remains the only French driver to have won both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix since the birth of Formula 1 World Championship in 1950.
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