WEC: AF Corse’s Calado spurred on by Ferrari’s F1 success

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The benefits of Scuderia Ferrari’s internal revolution over the winter were clear to see at last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix as Sebastian Vettel stormed to the team’s first Formula 1 race win in almost two years.

However, the changes at Maranello have had something of a spillover effect, with the AF Corse GT racing team preparing for the new FIA World Endurance Championship season with renewed vigor and added pressure following the team’s F1 success.

Speaking to MotorSportsTalk at the launch of the 2015 WEC season in London on Thursday, AF Corse driver James Calado explained how although the changes did not directly impact the GT racing arm of Ferrari, there has been a definite shift in the atmosphere at Maranello.

“It’s all interlinked of course,” Calado said. “All of the factories are very close together, everyone knows everyone. When you see Sebastian do a fantastic job, obviously winning in Malaysia, the atmosphere has changed.

“Obviously there are a lot of changes in Ferrari at the moment, all for the good. In just the two years that I’ve been there, you see that people are happier and in a better place now.

“We’ve got a brand new factory which is absolutely superb, a fantastic facility. They are working flat out within the F1 department to try and get back to their winning ways, and I think that only gives the GT drivers and people working on the GT project more pressure to keep pushing and keep performing.

“Although we were champions last year, we want to be champions every year. That gives a good mentality to everyone involved.”

Calado made his GT racing debut in 2014 for AF Corse after spending 2013 working with Force India in F1 and racing in GP2.

Although he admits that he found it hard to adapt to endurance racing at first, he feels fired up for a better season with AF Corse in the WEC.

“I think in general it was a bit of an average year in terms of my performance,” Calado said, reflecting on 2014. “I think I underestimated the difference between single seaters and GT racing.

“It was very, very difficult to adapt not only to the car but also to endurance racing, because as a young single seater driver you always wanted to be the fastest driver at all times whenever you’re in the car, which is completely different to endurance racing.

“Winter testing has gone extremely well. We seem to have found a little bit of performance from the car. Myself and Davide [Rigon] and also the other car, we think we can get good results throughout the year.”

The low point of Calado’s 2014 season came at Le Mans, when a crash on the Thursday before the race left him with a brain haemorrhage and unable to race in the prestigious event.

However, the Briton is relishing the opportunity to get out and race at the Circuit de la Sarthe this time around as he goes in search of a class victory in GT-E Pro.

“Actually get out and not crash this time – that would be nice!” he joked. “Last year was unfortunate. To be honest, I still don’t remember what happened. I remember being on the hard tire at the time, and I just made a mistake.

“I’m only human, it happens, but it was one that cost the team scoring any points that weekend. Things happen, but you move on. It did take a bit of time to get mentally back into it again.

“But right now, like I said, testing’s gone great. I feel really relaxed and really comfortable in the car, also working with Davide and my engineers.

“I think we’re in a really good place and good shape, and let’s just hope we can get a win at Silverstone, that would be the icing on the cake to get a really good result to build on.”

The 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship kicks off at Silverstone on April 12.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.