Despite still being the youngest driver in its full-season lineup, James Calado believes his new-found seniority within Ferrari, in the wake of Gianmaria Bruni’s exit, could help pay dividends on his World Championship aspirations.
The 27-year-old Englishman, who is set to embark on his fourth season in the FIA World Endurance Championship, has a new co-driver in Alessandro Pier Guidi, 33, who takes Bruni’s seat in the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE.
Alongside the returning pair of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird, both 30, Calado and Rigon are set to enter the year as the veterans in the Amato Ferrari-led squad, in their fight against Ford, Aston Martin and Porsche in the stacked GTE-Pro class.
“I guess being the youngest, I feel every year I’m in a strong position and I’m in a better position to win races,” Calado told Sportscar365.
“It’s sort of more leadership for sure, more direction in terms of how I want the car, which is good. We’re testing quite a lot trying to improve the setup. I think we’re in a good position.
“Last year was unfortunate with a bit of bad luck. We had misfortune which cost us the championship, especially the first two or three races.
“But in terms of speed, I’m at the peak of my performance. It’s looking good as long as the BoP is fair, so it should be a good fight, especially with Ford.”
While being a fresh face to the season-long lineup, Pier Guidi is no stranger to the team, or Calado, with the Italian having been the third driver in the No. 51 car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year.
That race, however, didn’t go to plan, as Calado, Bruni and Pier Guidi were forced to retire with engine-related issues.
“[Alessandro] is very, very quick, and very consistent,” Calado said. “He’ll get in the car now and we’ll start to work together. I think we’re in really good shape.
“As a lineup, it’s really good for both cars. The aim is to score points, the most important thing is the manufacturers [championship] for Ferrari again.
“Obviously now it’s a World Championship [title] so everyone’s going to put in that little bit of extra effort to try and go for the World Championship.”
Calado has stayed busy during the WEC off-season, having taken part in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Twelve Hours of Sebring with Risi Competizione, and scoring podium finishes in both races.
It’s come on the heels of class victory in October’s Petit Le Mans, also with the Houston-based Risi team.
“Every time I get in the car, I’m learning,” Calado said. “In terms of the relationship with the team and everyone at Ferrari, it’s really good now. The car is how I like it to be.
“There are things with [Risi] that are obviously slightly different to the way I’d normally run, but at the same time, vice versa. My knowledge is reasonably high now, especially with this car.
“It seems that no matter where I am we can come up with a good solution in terms of setup, the balance. What’s important is all the drivers agree.
“We all have similar feedback, so in terms of driver performance as a whole, it’s really good for Ferrari.”
The former GP2 ace, who is now firmly making a long-time career in sports car racing, believes the extra seat time, and success, could also help in his championship quest.
“With Lady Luck on our side, we stand a good chance of winning the World Championship, but as you know anything can happen,” Calado said. “But GT in WEC, it’s super competitive.
“You look at [IMSA] as well and it’s unbelievable. One tenth is the difference between maybe three or four places now. It goes to show how competitive it is and to win is extra special.
“It looks like the WEC is also attracting a bit more attention from other manufacturers. I think it’s on the rise. It’s a good place to be, especially with Ferrari.”