Nielsen on winning Le Mans: “There was no space for mistakes”
Photo: WEC

Nielsen on winning Le Mans: “There was no space for mistakes”

The Ferrari AF Corse driver looks back on the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans of which he took the chequered flag for the Prancing Horse’s No. 50 499P Hypercar.

Nicklas Nielsen etched his name into Ferrari’s history books by crossing the finish line as winner of the 92nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, round four of FIA WEC, prompting wild celebration scenes in the No. 50 garage with teary-eyed teammates Miguel Molina and Antonio Fuoco falling in each other’s arms in complete ecstasy.

Three weeks after sealing the Prancing Horse’s 11th win in the greatest endurance race in the world, the 27-year-old Danish Ferrari official driver still finds it difficult to describe how good it feels to be an overall Le Mans winner for the legendary Italian carmaker.

“The emotions are still the same when I see pictures and videos of the race”, says Nicklas Nielsen to “It was a tough one.” And that’s putting it lightly.

Adding to the extraordinary challenges the 24 Hours of Le Mans offer, the two-time LMGTE Am FIA WEC champion (2020, 2021) with AF Corse had to deal with his right-side door being loose in changing track conditions during his final stint. “I could reach the door, but I was not able to close it and continue like that. It was a very critical point of the race.”

This issue forced Ferrari to recall the 499P No. 50 to the pits and adopt a bold and ultimately race-winning strategy in terms of energy consumption. Saving every ounce of fuel in the last laps, Nicklas Nielsen took the chequered flag with only 2% of his energy allocation remaining and a 14”221 gap to the second-placed Toyota No. 7, the finest of margins for a day-long race.

“The weather and the small issues we had made this victory even better”, underlines Nicklas. “The amount of emotions that came out when I crossed the line was a sign of all the hard work I've done since the beginning of my career in karting, of all the sacrifices, all the time and effort all my family has put in. I was so happy that my brother and my dad were there to witness this. It was a life goal for all of us.”

“More than being a team, I feel like we are a family”

Nicklas, who already won the French enduro in the LMGTE Am category in 2021, has become the third Danish driver in history to triumph at Le Mans, following in the footsteps of John Nielsen and Tom Kristensen, who holds the record for the most wins at La Sarthe. “It’s something I’m really proud of. Drivers race their whole lives trying to achieve this, and I did it already. I still have a lot of years left. I will try and do it, but I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be very, very tough to win it nine times like Tom!”

However, should Ferrari AF Corse were to extend their unbeaten streak in France in the Hypercar era, Nicklas Nielsen may very well win the 24 Hours of Le Mans on more than one occasion. Last year, it was the No. 51 sister car of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Antonio Giovinazzi and James Calado who got their hands on the Centenary race. “It’s a huge achievement and a big confidence boost, not just for the drivers but also for the team”, adds Nicklas. “All the hard work of all the engineers and the mechanics is paying off. Without the people behind, we, the drivers, are not able to achieve what we are doing on the track. When it comes down to the small details, the people behind are always the key and I’m so thankful for them.”

The Dane also paid tribute to the camaraderie and never-say-die attitude of the Ferrari AF Corse crews that made winning back-to-back Le Mans a dream come true. “This year, there was no space for mistakes. Conditions were so difficult but the three of us on car No. 50, and even on car No. 51, managed the situation very well. What made us the best team last year and this year is that we never gave up. More than being a team, I feel like we are a family. That’s what I really like about racing with Ferrari, because you feel like part of the family and part of the history.”

For Nicklas and Ferrari, the story continues in Brazil for round five of the 2024 WEC season, the Rolex 6 Hours of São Paulo next week (13-14 July). The pinnacle of sportscar racing is making his long-anticipated return to Interlagos for the first since 2014.

“I know some of the drivers have been there before with the LMP1 and the GT in the past, but it’s going to be something new for most of the teams. We will do everything we can to try and win the championship. It will be the perfect end to a very, very strong season so far.”