James Calado says a carefully managed approach allowed AF Corse and Ferrari to take the GTE-Pro victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 70 years on from the Italian brand’s first win at Circuit de la Sarthe.
The Brit described the tense battle between six GTE manufacturers as “one of the closest races ever”, with himself, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra coming out on top ahead of Porsche.
It marked Ferrari’s first win in the premier GT class since 2014 and Serra’s second GTE-Pro victory the last three years.
“I think it was one of the closest races ever,” Calado told Sportscar365. “Everyone had misfortune, everyone had luck, but I think at the end of the day, we were quickest.
“We got the strategy better than the others and I think that showed. Especially towards the end, we were quite dominant, leading the majority of the race.
“However, Porsche put on a strong fight, they showed that they were really quick towards the end of the race and obviously Corvette had a bit of misfortune so that would have been a bit more difficult.
“At the end of the day, I came into this race with the approach that we needed to look after the car more than anything and that’s what we did, and it paid off.”
Calado described the race-long multi-manufacturer GTE-Pro battle as focusing on managing the 488 GTE Evo and avoiding pushing too far.
“Mentally, it was very challenging,” he admitted. “It was all about managing the car.
“It’s really tempting to find tenths here and there but you’re using the car when you do it so it’s a matter of holding back and hoping you can keep it in one piece.
“Saying that, the pace was really good, quite surprising really, and we were there from the start. It’s a good feeling going into next year that maybe we can compete for another championship.
“It’s the 70th anniversary since the first [Ferrari win at Le Mans], so it’s an amazing achievement.
“We’ve got everyone here from Ferrari to see it happen, so I’m over the moon. It hasn’t really sunk in yet but what an amazing achievement.”
While a safety car intervention did put a pause on the hectic battles at the front of the field during the first part of the race, Calado described how slow zones later bunched up his car to the pursuing Porsches.
“Yes, I think it was,” he said when asked if the nighttime safety car period was critical to the race outcome.
“But then we hit two slow zones, which the Porsche behind us didn’t. They gained pretty much a minute back so that’s why it was close.
“I mean, obviously, you can win things, you can lose things, in terms of strategy but as a whole, we pretty much got it spot on.”
John Dagys contributed to this report.