On the eve of the year’s most eagerly awaited race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, we meet the head of Ferrari Attività Sportive GT Antonello Coletta, for an overview of this somewhat anomalous season. Indeed, a 24 Hours of Le Mans in September and 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in October show what an exceptional year it is. The French Endurance classic, won last year by Ferrari in the LMGTE Pro class, will see a record sixteen Prancing Horse cars at the start. This marathon will be different from all the others not only because it will be held behind closed doors, but also because the weather and light conditions will be very different from those to which the drivers are historically accustomed.
“It will be a new experience, all in all interesting”, says Coletta. “We will have to be ready for new conditions for a race that is usually held at another time of year. Firstly, the night will be longer, and we expect it to be colder for longer. Some strategic choices, such as tyres, will also need discussion. All teams must be prepared to adapt to these new conditions. Also, we will undoubtedly miss the warmth of the public and the fans that we are used to experiencing here. There will still be an emphasis on and anticipation for this event, which remains the most important of the season”.
Let’s talk about the FIA WEC World Championship. What is the balance sheet so far for this somewhat unusual season, and what are the hopes and expectations for the finale?
“The current championship is a bit atypical: we arrived from last year’s Le Mans victory which was very important because I believe that that edition of the 24 Hours will be remembered for a long time. Seventeen official cars started, all within a second of each other, with an equal chance of winning. It was a fantastic race, a race that saw us competitive for the entire 24 hours and also at the end, with victory.
When Season 8 started shortly afterwards, we could have won the season-debut race, but unfortunately, we were given a Stop&Go due to a mistake recognised when our car was serving the penalty and with only a few laps to recover. We had some tricky experiences with a disqualification in China which deprived of us a victory which was then rightly reinstated because we had not committed any infringements. These decisions have somewhat disrupted our approach to the rest of the championship… there is no point in denying it. We have been close to victory in other races and this confirms our tenacity and our continuous striving for success, even if objectively we have collected a slightly lower number of points than we deserved”.
The standings have not yet reached their final verdict…
“True, and mathematically we are still in play for final victory but practically speaking I don’t think there is really much chance because the points gap won’t be easy to bridge. But, as experience teaches us, we have previously won overall victories in situations that seemed impossible. The lesson we have learned is to take nothing for granted when you are close to achieving an outstanding result. From experience, I can say that we are much stronger when we have to chase than when we are ahead. So I hope this augurs well for the final result of this championship, which will anyway be totally different because we skipped Sebring. That was a race that would have given us a higher score and therefore would have allowed us to recover ground if we had been better than just competitive. Instead, we are now left only with Spa, Le Mans and the last race in Bahrain. In the end, whoever wins will deserve it in any case. Therefore, we will do everything to remain competitive not only in the World Championship but also at the next 24 Hours of Le Mans”.
Let’s take a step back in time, to look at Ferrari’s recent history in Endurance racing.
“We started more or less officially in 2006 with the FIA GT2 championship that we won immediately. So, the return was significant from a sporting angle. We understood the importance of Endurance. So, we returned to the field with the 430, first in GT2 and then – with the 458 – in GT2 and GT3. Then came the 488, also with a GTE and GT3. I remember an anecdote: when we were deciding on the livery of the cars in 2006, I asked for the same livery that Ferrari had used the last time it tried its hand at Endurance. So, that yellow line on the side crossing the red car was meant to signify the return of Ferrari. In these fifteen years, we have accumulated an incredible number of wins with numerous championships and victories in the most important races such as Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring, and the Petit Le Mans”.
Also when the WEC World Championship began, Ferrari was at the start…
“Not only was it there at the start, but Ferrari was among the founders, together with the FIA and ACO, of the championship that’s now called the FIA WEC. I like to recall that everything started from the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup Series. I remember that Ferrari kept the trophy because to do so, a manufacturer had to win the championship for two consecutive years. We also beat the prototype competitors at the time and so the only ILMC trophy can be found at Maranello. From that experience, the World Endurance Championship was born, which we have won four times as manufacturers. We have won several times with different drivers. This was also possible, thanks to the support of our official AF Corse team, always at our side in this adventure”.
We are lucky to live in the era of the 488 GT3, which is the most successful car in Ferrari history. What is the secret to improving the results of the previous car, when the roll of honour of the replaced car is already excellent?
“Here too, I wouldn’t talk about secrets: our advantage is to start from a base of really exceptional cars. We can develop a product that is already at the forefront from a technological point of view, extreme from a mechanical and aerodynamic point of view, and this makes it easier for us to create the racing version. Over the years we have invested in and strengthened the technical department dedicated to racing, creating Competizioni GT Engineering which boasts very transversal skills, from production to Formula 1 to other disciplines… Here too we can count on many excellences. Trying to mix all this together and then make it a successful product is part of my role and I would say that, so far, it is going well.”
“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” is a very well-known phrase, although the reference was to road cars. The wins, however, also help to sell racing cars…
“We have sold an impressive number of cars: we always set ourselves targets a specific period of time, and we are now approaching the end of the 488 cycle. These great sales and sports successes show that customers recognise something really excellent about our product. Not to forget that racing with Ferrari is special…”
We have talked about the past, but it is impossible not to talk about Ferrari’s role in the future of Endurance.
“Clearly, as we have said Endurance racing is part of Ferrari’s past and recent history, so we are interested in the new regulation taking shape. However, several aspects have to be analysed – first of all, the technical one. We need to work out what the most exciting configuration might be – and then the strategic aspects of our possible participation.
“Ferrari is very focused on the developments in the new top Endurance category. At the moment, there are still some adjustments pending for the technical calendar. Here at Le Mans, we will also discover the sporting one. We began with a technical analysis, evaluating the pros and cons of the technical regulations. Our aim is to reach the end of the season in a position to decide whether to try our hand in this category and in what configuration. We are evaluating it now as I think all the competitors concerned are doing. We are waiting for all the regulations to conclude our analysis”.
Let’s end our chat by talking about the common ground between past and future: Club Competizioni GT.
“Club Competizioni GT was established last year although we had been considering it for a while. Endurance racing has always been in Ferrari’s DNA: we have some beautiful cars created down the years, and we thought of organising events similar to the special programmes, but obviously with a different slant. We wanted to bring back to the track the many cars that currently only on show in collectors’ garages and that they are unable to take to the track because of the lack of any central organisation. This is what we are trying to develop now with Club Competizioni GT. The programme is designed to fit within a platform that is officially under Ferrari’s management, here too both from a logistical and technical coordination point of view. We leave it to customers to choose their technical assistance while putting our skills at their service. However, the organisation of the event is totally in the hands of Ferrari.
Club Competizioni GT, therefore, aims to be another exclusive club in the panorama our activities. Clearly, we have only had the first season, and this pandemic has slowed what was supposed to be a year of development. When we resumed at Suzuka, there were more cars than at all the events organised so far, and this is a cause for hope. We are delighted and pleasantly surprised by this. And this is also a chance to put some incredible cars on track. In fact, we are starting from the F40 onwards, embracing many models that have made the history of Ferrari in Endurance.”