The world’s most gruelling – and famous – endurance race saw the AF Corse team of Calado, Pier Guidi, and Serra take the trophy, marking the Prancing Horse’s 27th victory at LeMans. Exactly 70 years after its first
Afew days before the start of 2019’s edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans racing week, Ferrari announces a livery change on its two 488 GTE EVOs, slated to compete in the GTE Pro category for the AF Corse racing team. On the roof, a shiny new logo appears: ‘1949-2019. 70ème anniversaire Première victoire au Mans’ (‘1949-2019. 70th anniversary first victory at Mans’).
That was the year Luigi Chinetti and Lord Selsdon drove the 166 MM to victory in an edition of the race which made history in many ways. For starters, it was the first postwar race. During the five years of occupation of French territory during the second world war the circuit and its infrastructure were plundered.
After the end of the war, it took the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest) a full four years to raise the necessary funds and to restore the circuit, which meant that the 24 Hours of Le Mans was only reborn from its ashes in 1949. A previous winner in 1932 and 1934 with Alfa Romeo, Chinetti again took on the role most wanted by racing fans, of the hero.
The Italian, then aged 47, duly complied by driving his number 22 166 MM for no less than 22 hours and 51 minutes. The stunning feat made the first of the nine overall Ferrari triumphs on the Sarthe circuit even more memorable. There were many good reasons, then, for AF Corse – with their 488 GTE EVOs – to go for glory in this year’s GTE Pro category that put 17 cars and six manufacturers to the test. The cars themselves were quite a sight, their multicolour sun visors a tribute to the World Champion Manufacturers title garnered by Ferrari in the previous FIA WEC campaign – its fifth out of a maximum possible of six, and the first ever officially recognised by FIA. Having qualified in 8th and 12th place, respectively, the Ferrari 488s, number 71 and 51, met with very different racing fortunes.
Delayed from the very first hour and eventually forced to retire, the former – driven by Sam Bird, Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina saw its sister car defend the Maranello colours on its own, a task masterfully performed by the ‘dream team’ that reunited Briton James Calado and Italian Alessandro Pier Guidi – the 2017 GTE World Champions – with Brazil’s Daniel Serra.
The three piloti, at the top of their game, performed flawlessly – as did the AF Corse mechanics and strategists, who taught their competitors a lesson, notably by skillfully exploiting the use of the safety cars. By turns, Aston Martin, Corvette, Porsche and Ferrari each led the dance at different stages, making for a very tight race.
Still, with the lead taken on lap 43 (the first of a total of 137 laps holding the lead, an overall category best) and a tight 29’12 in the pits, car number 51 was clearly dominant.
In the annals, this will go down as the 27th category triumph for Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the third win for the AF Corse team after 2012 and 2014.
Even amongst the contenders, the exemplary performance of the winning team, which took the chequered flag a full 49 seconds ahead of the number 91 Porsche 911 RSR, was applauded. For the victorious Ferrari trio, Pier Guidi said: “It’s sure been a hard race. We had to attack from start to finish. Being on the top of the podium and listening to the Italian hymn in this red overall, before this amazingly huge crowd – that’s something I’ll never forget”.
The brand’s head of GT racing, Antonello Coletta, declared that “Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra were perfect, making the best of the strategy brilliantly thought out by the technical team and by Amato Ferrari’s men. I am mighty proud of this: we deserved to win the GTE Pro again, and to do so seventy years after our first victory in 1949 makes us ten times as happy”. With no less than eleven cars on the starting grid, Ferrari was the most widely represented manufacturer at this 87th Le Mans edition. Notable appearances included, in the GTE Am category, a second and third place raced by 488 GTEs from JMW Motorsport and WeatherTech Racing, driven by Rodrigo Baptista, Jeff Segal, Wei Lu, and Cooper MacNeil, Toni Vilander, Robert Smith, respectively. Another outstanding performance came from Car Guy Racing, with Takeshi Kimura, Kei Cozzolino, Côme Ledogar.
On its absolute debut at the Sarthe circuit, the Japanese team placed fifth in its category, four places ahead of Kessel Racing’s car number 83, driven by an all-female team that brought together Manuela Gostner, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting. Seventy years after that first, grandiose victory, Ferrari is still writing gold into the history book of the world’s premier Endurance race.