Posted on November 5, 2022.
Report by Tony Cotton.
It is impossible to think about the new 499P without reference to the past. If a car ever had the dust of previous decades embedded into its racing slicks, this is it, because it is designed for LeMans; surely the most evocative and romantic of races with a history nearly as old as the car itself.
Ferrari’s first LeMans was also the first held after the Second World War, in 1949, and of course the 2L V12 166MM won the race, driven by Luigi Chinetti and Peter Mitchell-Thomson, 2nd Baron Selsdon – a British entry. It’s relevant to note that the layout of both chassis and engine followed that of the contemporary road cars, for the current 499P is, like the current 296GTB, a V6, mid-engined hybrid. To add that the 166MM sported attractive bodywork is almost superfluous. Which LeMans Ferraris didn’t?
Moving forward to the late 1960’s for a second example the 1967 330P4 had the V12 layout of then current road cars, but had moved to mid-engine in line with the “baby” Dino 246. Words like “sinuous” and “flowing” begin to describe the bodywork, but to many it has never been bettered in a Sports Racing car. Sadly the 1967 LeMans car suffered under the steamroller efforts of the Ford Motor Co, though was successful elsewhere.
The high speeds of the 4L Ferraris and 7L Fords led to a restriction to 3L….unless the car was a limited production of at least 25. Porsche started the trend with the 917, and Ferrari followed up in 1970 with the 5L, V12 512S, or when modified with a high-speed tail, 512M. The car was never as successful as hoped, and whilst as fast as the 917s could be less reliable and hence missed out on a LeMans victory; Sebring was limited consolation. Not all 25 cars were initially sold, and as the funding for the project was mixed in with selling shares to FIAT, it might coldly be considered a financial disappointment. But look at a 512S/M, or listen to one, and then say it’s anything but a triumph.
The last iteration of LeMans cars came at a time when the factory had lost serious interest in the category and outsourced the car, but with the spectacular result of the very successful 333SP, which had a 10 season life from 1994 to 2003, and was without doubt the most beautiful of any of the cars of that period racing in the WSC/IMSA/FIA SC, or any other championships where it was eligible.
So on a sample of four predecessors, the 499P has a tough job to match its forebears; to win LeMans, look fantastic – dare one say sensuous? – and remain competitive over a long period. Maybe even become a customer car.
John Elkann, Ferrari Executive Chairman, outlined the brief: “The 499P sees us return to compete for outright victory in the WEC series. 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 9 overall victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”
There are two sets of rules for the premier classes at LeMans. LMDh uses a spec Williams Advanced Engineering battery, Bosch motor and XTrac gearbox in the entrant’s choice of chassis from 4 – Multimatic, who are effectively the remains of Lola (Porsche), Dallara (BMW, Cadillac), Oreca (Acura/Honda, Alpine/Renault), and Ligier (Lamborghini); the VAG empire is fighting itself again. Ferrari, by contrast, have chosen the purist LMH (“LeMansHypercar”) route which allows the company to design and build its own chassis and powertrain, limited to 550kW maximum power and 1030kg minimum weight. Lithe by today’s standards, but for comparison the 333SP was 890kg and 478kW, downgraded for LeMans to around 425kW. Times change.
Antonello Coletta, Head of Ferrari Attività Sportive GT, is rightly proud that the 499P is a true Ferrari and not, as some would describe the LMDh’s, a “kit car”. Perhaps Enzo would have called their teams Garagistas? Coletta told the magazine Autosport “Ferrari is a constructor, the manufacturer of the car and for us it is not our philosophy to buy a part. We decided to come back into prototypes when the rules gave us the chance to make all the car. This car is a manifesto of the technologies of Ferrari.”
The power unit is therefore based on the 296GTB, but it’s unlikely any part from your friendly local Ferrari dealer will be usable on the 499P. The engine has been lightened and is load-bearing. It therefore performs a valuable structural function, compared to the versions fitted to competition GT cars, where the engine is mounted onto the car’s rear sub-chassis. The second ‘soul’ of the hybrid powertrain is the ERS – Energy Recovery System – with a maximum power output of 200 kW. The electric motor is equipped with a differential and is driven by a battery that is recharged regeneratively during deceleration and braking. The battery pack, with a nominal voltage of 900v, benefits from experience honed in Formula 1, although it was purpose-built for the project. The 499P’s overall maximum power output is 500 kW and the powertrain is coupled to a seven-speed sequential gearbox.
If the power unit nods to the 296GTB production road cars, the chassis is closer to the F1-75. It uses an all-new carbon-fibre monocoque chassis and, unsurprisingly, the 21st century standard competition layout of double wishbone, push-rod suspension. Ferrari are keen to emphasise the outstanding qualities of its damping. The electronics systems are developed from and further innovate upon the experience honed in the world of GT racing, and one can expect that anything that can be controlled by an ecu, is.
No less sophisticated is the braking system, which integrates a brake-by-wire system necessary to allow the recovery of kinetic energy by the front electric axle under braking. The system has been developed to combine precision and speed of response, but with the target to win a 24 hour race, reliability and durability are essential and this has been bred-in. The electric front axle uses energy recovered while braking, storing it in the high-voltage battery before transmitting torque to the front wheels when a certain speed is attained. That speed is determined by rules which take into account wet or slick tyres and the “Balance of Performance” table.
In the eyes of any true racer, the most beautiful car is the one that wins. But in the world of Ferrari, function must have a pleasing form, which in this case was refined with the support of the Ferrari Styling Centre under the direction of Flavio Manzoni. The car is described as consisting of simple, sinuous shapes. To quote the stylists “The balance between tense lines and flowing surfaces, expressed in a futuristic, pure and iconic language, defines a clear yet essential architecture. The bodywork of the prototype is sculpted from a flat surface, from which the side pods and wheelarches develop harmoniously. Aerodynamic flows pass through the side pods over the recesses between the main ridges surrounding the cockpit, cooling the radiators concealed beneath the bodywork.”
The aerodynamicists have undoubtedly done a superb job in maximising downforce. For example, the wheel arches include large louvres to vent high pressure air. The stylists have turned this into a feature, but it’s primarily functional. We are told that the nose has a sense of character and expressiveness, with subtle references to the styling traits first introduced on the Ferrari Daytona SP3.
At the back, the double-plane wing provides downforce while at the same time accelerating the air to maximise the extraction from the underbody. Any aerodynamicist hates additions to his or her wing, but in an endurance sports car, lights are an essential so the lower wing also features a ‘light bar’ that “enriches the rear design with a decisive yet minimalist touch” whilst, one might venture to suggest, has an even more minimalist effect on the downforce and drag.
The livery, with which the 499P will debut at the forthcoming 1000 Miles of Sebring, includes a revived version of the renowned 312 P colour scheme from the 1970s,
At the end of the Finali Mondiali on 30 October at Imola, the fans were able to enjoy the public on-track debut of the 499P, with Alessandro Pier Guidi at the wheel. For the race season, it will be managed on track by Maranello technicians and engineers with the collaboration of AF Corse. The partnership continues the winning streak which began in the 2006 FIA GT with the F430 GT2 that secured Team, Driver and Constructor titles in its debut season. The vast majority of GT successes in recent years have been the result of the partnership between Ferrari and AF Corse, including all those achieved in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) since its inception in 2012.
Ferdinando Cannizzo, Head of Ferrari GT Track Car Development summed up the process which led to the unveiling of a stunning sports racing car. “This is a really thrilling moment. We know that we have a huge responsibility. We have designed and engineered a car that is brand new and particularly complex in every aspect. This unprecedented challenge motivated everyone into all-encompassing, all-sharing collaboration involving every department of our company and our technical partners. Starting from a blank sheet of paper was a source of unique and continuous motivation in order to find effective solutions to guarantee the 499P’s performance and reliability.”
Although one car has been shown in public, there are actually 2, which together have completed 12,000km of testing. This presumably excludes the factory testing in wind tunnels or 7-8 poster shaker rigs which evaluate vehicle dynamics, body torsion, and road and aero load, and thereby optimise spring and damper settings before a wheel is turned.
Will the car win at LeMans? Obviously, that is the target, but when asked Coletta was not optimistic. As he pointed out, other teams have had longer to develop their car, an interesting parallel to the 512S/M and the 917. Dallara and Oreca have 2 teams independently developing the chassis, which must give greater feedback, so in many ways despite the outstanding facilities of the factory, the Scuderia are fighting an uphill battle. Would having extra cars besides numbers 50 and 51 help in development? Probably not at this early stage but there have been “a considerable number of requests from important teams”, an example being US-based Risi Competizioni.
Alessandra Todeschini of the Competizione GT department said “We have seen a lot of interest. We will take one year to evaluate if it’s the case to put some more cars on the grid. This  is not the correct year, because we’re still under development and we feel it’s too much to place outside of the factory team at this point.”
Could the 499P have the success that its forebears had? The world is facing difficult times, with fuel crises and inflation, and the glamour of LeMans is wonderful escapism. The old enemy – that other brand with a prancing horse on its badge – is there. The car is the most charismatic on the grid. There’s a pool of experienced drivers to draw from. Don’t hold your breath – it’s a long time to 11 June 2023 when we’ll know the answer. But personally I’m looking at the ferry timetables, booking the trusty old Golf in for a pre-expedition service and digging out that tent I last used in 1995. It could be a good weekend.