The 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans saw Ferrari prevailing in a cutthroat GTE-Pro field. The #51 AF Corse driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra brings home yet another trophy for Maranello, in the best and toughest race of the world.
The stats of Ferrari at Le Mans
Let’s play with numbers: this victory has lots of special meaning for the Prancing Horse and for its drivers. Exactly this year, Ferrari was celebrating 70 years since their first Le Mans triumph, with the iconic 166 MM Barchetta Touring. Today’s win is the 36th. Specifically, the Prancing Horse boasts 27 class wins in GT and nine overall wins. The last time a Ferrari was on the top spot at La Sarthe was back in 2014, with icons Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Gianmaria Bruni. This is also the first Le Mans victory for the Ferrari 488 GTE, which finally shows its true potential after falling victim of controversial Balance of Performance in the past. But what was behind this impressive result today? let’s find out together.
The #51 overall result was a joy to watch. I was lucky (or crazy?) enough to watch around 20 hours of the race, and I have to say that strategy, performance and focus where simply on a different level with the AF Corse team. The team and the drivers were able to take on a strenuous challenge with Porsche, which had already won both the Constructors’ and Drivers’ GTE-Pro title in WEC. Specifically, Ferrari impressed with a consistent race pace, lapping at very good times with regularity, which was able to compensate the not-always-perfect pit stops. The drivers made absolutely zero mistakes: my mention of honour goes to James Calado, whose stints were some of the best pieces of racing I had seen in a while at Le Mans.
A game of strategy
There was another thing which proved to be a surprise in the 488 GTE. If you know something about Ferrari’s (limited) struggles in WEC in the past couple years, you know that the car always lacked straight-line speed, partly because of a very harsh Balance of Performance. During the race, however, drivers didn’t seem to have an issue with it. At this point, one might object that sister car #71 (Rigon-Bird-Molina) had to retire because of an unidentified engine issue. Their pace and speed, however, were good enough to make both cars rise through the field after a mediocre qualifying performance with ease. After the #71 retired the pace was still good, but the #51 entered a slightly more conservative approach.
At this point, piecing everything together, yours truly has a theory. I believe that AF Corse has found a way to optimise the 488’s straight line speed before Le Mans, but decided (wisely, and with very good reason) not to show their full potential before the race. After seeing how this newfound way worked on the #71, they tweaked it to avoid repeating the same mistakes with the #51. In Calado’s own words: “We’ve had to change a few things after our teammates’ issues”. That’s how you apply development, strategy and the much needed voice of reason to racing. And that’s how you win it.