This might be the easiest Le Mans victory (Peter Mitchell-Thomson)

This might be the easiest Le Mans victory (Peter Mitchell-Thomson)

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Peter Mitchell-Thomson drove for just 72 minutes

His co-driver? Luigi Chinetti. How long did he drive? For about 1,362 minutes.

Buying the race car

After then-recent succes of Ferrari in the Mille Miglia, Peter Mitchell-Thomson (a so-called gentleman racer) decided he wanted in on the succes. He bought chassis 0008M from the factory in Maranello for $ 17,000 (that's around $ 226,000 today).

Ferrari 166 MM Luigi Chinetti Le Mans 1949

Ferrari 166 MM chassis 0008M during Le Mans 1949

The factory had entered chassis 0008M into Mille Miglia and won the iconic 1000-mile race in the Ferrari 166 MM. Mitchell-Thomson teamed up with Luigi Chinetti, who was a two-time Le Mans winner and would later become the Ferrari importer for America, into the 24 hours of Le Mans, the gruelling endurance race that was hosted for the first time since 1939.

The race

Enzo Ferrari did not enter any cars himself as he didn't found the cars to be reliable. However, two privateers (one of them being Mitchell-Thomson) entered the cars into the iconic endurance race. As was usual at Le Mans, the cars were numbered in order of their engine size, 'our' 166 MM being #22, the other 166 MM being chassis 0010M with #23.

Peter Mitchell-Thomson, Luigi Chinetti and Marion Chinetti Le Mans 1949

Peter Mitchell-Thomson, Luigi Chinetti and Marion Chinetti

Around 8 pm, the Ferrari was driving third before the two Delahayes in front had to retire due to overheating problems. After driving through the night, gaining a three-lap lead, Chinetti swapped seats with Mitchell-Thompson at 4.26 am.

After only 72 minutes of driving, the men swapped again. However, at this point the car started having some issues which resulted in a slipping clutch. Chinetti, far from a young guy at 47 years old, was exhausted and the other entrees (mainly Delages) caught up with him.

Ferrari 166 MM Luigi Chinetti Le Mans 1949

Through the day, Chinetti lost his large lead and the second car (Henri Louveau in his Delage) was gunning it through the corners and he made up for time lost during the race. However, the 15 km gap was too big to beat Chinetti and Mitchell-Thompson in their little Ferrari 166 MM.

This was Luigi Chinetti's third Le Mans victory, only the second driver to do so. He certainly did not rest, because the won the Spa 24-Hours race the following weekend in chassis 0010M..

Chinetti spent an incredible 1,362 minutes (or +22.5 hours) behind the wheel of the little Ferrari, a then record for a race winner. This record only lasted 12 months, when Louis Rosier spent 23.25 hours on his way to victory in the 1950 24 hours of Le Mans.

Setting the tone

Ferrari 166 MM 0008M and Luigi Chinetti

The 166 MM proved to be very successful at Mille Miglia but now also had a victory at Le Mans. It was actually the first time a Ferrari entered Le Mans, which was not matched until McLaren’s win at first attempt in 1995Two other points worth mentioning is that this was the very first victory for a V12 engine and until 2015, was the smallest engine to win Le Mans outright.

Ferrari’s first-ever Le Mans win set the tone for the next two decades, winning 9 more, including six in a row from 1960 to 1965 and most recently in 2023.

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