The Italian-American will drop the French flag on the 62-car field at this year’s double-points round of the World Endurance Championship at 4pm on 21 August.
Elkann’s appointment in the honorary starter role by race organiser the Automobile Club de l’Ouest follows the announcement at the end of February that Ferrari will end a 50-year absence from the top flight of sportscar racing as a factory in 2023.
The marque will make its first bid for outright honours with a works team at the 24 Hours since 1973 with a new Le Mans Hypercar as part of WEC campaign.
Elkann, who is chairman of Ferrari, described the chance to start Le Mans as “a truly exceptional privilege and one filled with emotion for me”.
“Le Mans is much more than a challenge of mechanical endurance: it is a unique space in time that recalls some of the greatest racing rivalries of the past, and creates new tales and legends every year it is run,” he said. “Ferrari’s history, that also binds us to these 24 hours, is one of passion, excitement and success at Le Mans that began in 1949 [with its victory in the first post-war edition of the race].
“But above all, it is a story of innovation, technological daring and dramatic sporting challenge at the very highest level. All of which also explains our recent decision to bring Ferrari back to the Hypercar class and to Le Mans in 2023.”
ACO president Pierre Fillon added: “Given the all-round jubilation witnessed when Ferrari announced its return, it is particularly fitting that John should start the race. Having manufacturers as prestigious as Ferrari join the Hypercar class signals a glittering future for endurance racing.”
Ferrari has begun to flesh out details of its LMH programme in the wake of the news of its return earlier this year.
It announced last month that it will maintain its relationship with the AF Corse squad, which has masterminded its factory WEC campaigns in the GTE Pro class since the revival of the WEC in 2012, for the new programme. It is expected that the Ferrari LMH hybrid prototype will begin testing in the second quarter of 2022.
Elkann, who is the grandson of long-time Fiat patriarch Gianni Agnelli, isn’t the first Ferrari boss to be the honorary starter. Luca di Montezemolo filled the role in 2009 when he was president of Ferrari and parent company Fiat.
Other leading figures from the automotive world to be honoured with the role include Henry Ford II in 1966, Agnelli in 1968 and Ferdinand Piech, the architect of the double Le Mans-winning Porsche 917, when he was chairman of Volkswagen in 2001.
Film director Luc Besson and actor Brad Pitt waved off the field in 2002 and 2016 respectively.
The job of official starter has also been filled by politicians, royalty, local dignitaries and astronauts.