Ferrari has revealed the 499P prototype with which it is set to make its first official start as a top-tier ‘Hypercar’ entrant at the 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1973.
Officially unveiled at Ferrari’s Finali Mondiali event in Imola, the 499P is said to “evoke the history of the Prancing Horse” while being used simultaneously as a technological ‘proving ground’ for its road car division. The ‘499’ nomenclature, for instance, refers to the displacement of its twin-turbocharged V6, a tradition of previous Ferrari Le Mans contenders, while the ‘P’ stands for ‘prototype,’ echoing the Italian marque’s last official outright factory Le Mans effort, the 1973 312P. The yellow stripe adorning the otherwise scarlet livery is also a hat tip to the 312P.
The 499P has been specifically developed to the new ‘Le Mans Hypercar’ (LMH) regulations as opposed to the ‘Le Mans Daytona Hybrid’ (LMDH) – which caters more broadly to both Le Mans’ ACO governing body and North America’s IMSA endurance racing program – chosen by long-time rival Porsche. Pursuing LMH regulations means the 499P bodywork has been designed in-house at the Ferrari Styling Centre to be “an explicit expression of Ferrari’s DNA.” Hence, for example, the full-width rear lightbar, the surface areas of the louvred rear wheel arches, and the twin rear-wing setup. Even the headlamp cluster and sculpted nose are partially inspired by the limited-edition Daytona SP3. On the roof, a multiple air intake feeds cooling air to the ICE side of the hybrid powertrain.
Speaking of which, the twin-turbocharged V6 uses the same architecture as Ferrari’s newly-launched 296 GT3 car. But as a load-bearing component of the all-new, carbon-monocoque chassis, the 499P’s V6 is lighter and more compactly packaged than its GT3 equivalent. Particularly significant, given that the prototype weighs no more than 1,030 kg.
The V6 is mated with a sequential seven-speed gearbox, and, on the front axle, an electric motor and a 900-volt battery pack, developed by Williams Advanced Engineering. Dubbed the second “soul” of hybrid powertrain, the 200 kW Energy Recovery System (ERS), which uses lessons learned by the Ferrari Formula 1 team, recovers kinetic energy under deceleration via brake-by-wire, and sends this back to the battery.
While Le Mans’ Balance of Performance regs limit overall power, the hybrid powertrain nevertheless is capable of delivering “a maximum power of 500 kW (670 hp) to the wheels.”
Though Ferrari downplayed its chances of fighting for a 10th overall victory at Le Mans in 2023, executive chairman John Elkann did admit that the 499P was expected to be a frontrunner sooner rather than later.
“The 499 P sees us return to compete for outright victory in the WEC,” Elkann explains. “When we decided to commit to this project, we embarked on a path of innovation and development, faithful to our tradition that sees the track as the ideal terrain to push the boundaries of cutting-edge technological solutions, solutions that in time will be transferred to our road cars.
“We enter this challenge with humility, but conscious of a history that has taken us to over 20 world endurance titles and nine overall victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
Ferrari has competed regularly at both Le Mans and the endurance classic’s blanket World Endurance Championship in the GT class since the series’ inception in 2012. The 499P, though, marks the Italian brand’s first start in Le Mans’ top class since Arturo Merzario and Carlos Pace finished 2nd overall at the 1973 edition. Two 499Ps will be entered for the event by Ferrari’s works AF Corse team, though there has been no official announcement as to who will drive. Prior to that, the 499P will make its competitive debut at the 1000 Miles of Sebring, the opening round of next year’s WEC, in March.
Fittingly, the first 499P will don race number ’50,’ a reference to Ferrari’s last prototype Le Mans start half a century ago. The second meanwhile will run as ’51,’ a race number that has sealed Ferrari four GTE-Pro drivers’ titles in the WEC since 2012.