Rinaldi Racing is set to make its 24 Hours of Le Mans debut after securing an automatic invitation to the race by finishing third in the Asian Le Mans Series GT championship.
Team principal Michele Rinaldi confirmed to Sportscar365 that his team, which has been a regular Ferrari competitor in GT3 racing for several years, will take up its auto-entry into the French endurance classic with a Ferrari 488 GTE Evo racing in the GTE-Am class.
Pierre Ehret, who has raced at Le Mans eight times and also represented the Rinaldi team at GT3 level, is set to be the Bronze-rated driver in the lineup while the rest of the crew has yet to be determined.
“I have my really good customer, who is for me a legend, Pierre Ehret,” said Rinaldi.
“Now he is 64 years old, but I have his 430 and 458 GTE what he was running in Le Mans. I told him that I will go there [to Asian LMS] for an entry, and if I get an entry we have to do Le Mans together. He said, ‘ok, go!’ That was the start of this project.
“I’m so excited and happy to get this entry. For Pierre it is clear that we have to run a 488 at Le Mans. Now we are looking for a driver lineup and to prepare everything to do the race.”
Rinaldi Racing finished third in the GT class of Asian LMS, which was held earlier this month as four races in eight days split between Dubai Autodrome and Yas Marina Circuit.
The team’s No. 55 Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 driven by David Perel, Rino Mastronardi and Ferrari factory driver Davide Rigon achieved podiums in two of the contests, and also finished fourth in the first part of the Yas Marina double-header meeting.
Additionally, the sister Rinaldi crew of Patrick Kujala, Christian Hook and Manuel Lauck won the GT3-Am sub-category.
The top-four teams in the overall GT standings qualified for Le Mans, although GPX Racing which finished second has already declared that it won’t be taking up its entry.
Mastronardi and Rigon are already confirmed to contest the FIA World Endurance Championship headliner with Iron Lynx and AF Corse in GTE-Am and GTE-Pro, respectively.
Rinaldi said that it will be a “dream” for his own team to debut at Le Mans, where he previously worked as a mechanic on a Porsche entry in the 1996 edition of the race.
“We know that it will be our first race in GTE-Am, and with Pierre it’s not the goal to win,” he said.
“But the 24-hours is a long race. In the end, he will decide which drivers will be in the lineup. Let’s see what happens. Let’s prepare and see if we have some luck and a good result, you never know.
“I’ve had some customers and we want to would go together [in the past] but without an entry there was no chance. I have been there as a mechanic, as a team member. So for me it was for me a dream to go with my own team there.”
Rinaldi Racing could appear in the early-season European Le Mans Series races to prepare for its Le Mans debut.
“I hope that we can get some races in the ELMS before,” said Rinaldi. “We need this, no question. It also depends on the other drivers and that Pierre is open to doing more races. But we have to check this also with the ELMS, if we get a chance to do some.
“The nice point of the Ferrari is that if you have the GT3 car, with a small budget you can upgrade the car to GTE.
“But we are still not decided if Pierre will buy a new GTE car and keep the GT3 car. First of all, we needed the entry. Now we will go on.”
Rinaldi Returns to Silver Class for GTWC Europe
In addition to confirming his team’s Le Mans program, Rinaldi said that a Silver Cup entry for Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS is also on the cards.
Last year the team ran a single Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 in the Pro-Am category of Endurance Cup, but is moving back to the Silver division which it last contested in 2019 with Perel, Rinat Salikhov and Denis Bulatov for the long-distance races.
Rinaldi said that the driver lineup has been locked in, but wouldn’t confirm details beyond the team’s presence in both Endurance Cup and, after one season out, Sprint Cup.
He explained that the switch from Pro-Am to Silver was driven by several factors including a dissatisfaction at how the average-based qualifying format, which was introduced in 2018, meant Pro-Am entries often started from the back end of the grid.
The team had plans to enter Silver Cup last year but withdrew its entry before the season got underway.
“To be honest, Pro-Am in GT World Challenge is really difficult,” said Rinaldi. “For me, Stephane Ratel is still doing a great job and I like how everything goes on at SRO.
“But for Pro-Am teams, it’s bad. With the average qualifying time the maximum is the middle of the field. If someone is looking at the result, the team is at the end.
“Before, you could show maybe in qualifying you can bring your car into the top ten, but in the last years the average qualifying was not the best way.
“At the moment, gentlemen [drivers] have no fun with COVID. They do races to have fun, to stay with their friends together and have nice dinners. Everyone is waiting a little bit, with how it’s going on.
“But Ratel listens to everyone. Now he’s starting this GT Rebellion Series for the gentleman drivers. I have gentlemen drivers, and I hope I can also bring something together to do some Rebellion races. This is the plan.
“Silver Cup is a different story. Now we can fight with the Pro cars again.
“You are open also with the qualifying and can bring the car to the top if you do a good job. I hope that we can have some good results there.”