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CALADO: Uphill From Spa

James Calado files his first column for Sportscar365 following a challenging FIA WEC season-opener…

Photo: MPS Agency

Well this wasn’t quite how I wanted to start my columns for Sportscar365…with a sorry tale of how things might have been…but we don’t always get what we want, do we?!

Many wise people have told me over the years that one of the most important parts of being involved in any sport at a high level is not how you deal with success, but instead how you deal with failure.

None of us like to admit to ‘failing’ but, on the face of it, 9th place in GTE Pro for our No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE at last weekend’s Six Hours of Spa looks like a pretty poor result.

It wasn’t all bad though and I’m looking forward this season to telling you all about our race weekends at AF Corse Ferrari.

We knew from our pre-FIA WEC season tests and the Prologue – the big test in April which is the first time all WEC competitors are on track at the same time – that we probably weren’t going to be the quickest among the GTEs which include some brand-new cars, some evolution models and some unchanged cars.

The competition is tough in the WEC this year up against Aston Martin, BMW, Ford and Porsche and there’s not a single weak link in the line-ups. That’s going to make successes even sweeter.

Our pre-race aim was to get a podium, which in the end our sister car did and that was very good for the team. Our time will come, I’m sure of that!

It was nice being back racing again, especially at a place like Spa which is one of my favorite tracks.

The whole week was brilliantly sunny – which is rare enough in itself at that track – and it was our first race with a new race engineer, Luca Volta, who is a great guy and very good with the Ferrari.

He used a different set up compared to previous years which worked well for us, and he, Alessandro [Pier Guidi] and I have gelled well.

Over the winter we’ve developed quite a lot on the 488 including a new aero kit and lot of new, under-the-skin things which make the car more drivable, especially through the corners where it’s amazing.

In terms of time we’ve gained about a second but we’re lacking in straight line speed which is a pure BoP issue.

We just hope that it all gets sorted out more favourably – to equal the competition more fairly – for Le Mans the rest of the WEC season as being overtaken by the GTE Am cars on the straights wasn’t fun!

We thought we’d be about 8 tenths of a second off the pace in qualifying, but the Fords in particular were very quick and we ended up 5th.

We knew our only chance was to try a different tire compound or strategy, and to get clean pit stops but that’s when it all went wrong.

Our race had been pretty good up to the second stop, and we were racing hard against the No. 71 Ferrari, which was using a different tire compound to us, and BMW – all quite equal on pace.

Our sister car planned to undercut us in the pit stops but we pitted at the same time. When another car is so close behind you you can’t always see the fast pit lane clearly in your mirrors, and we also couldn’t afford to lose any time to the No. 71.

Anyway, it was one of those unfortunate racing incidents where the car was released and the timing was off by just a split second.

Alessandro came into contact with the Project 1 Porsche and it was a hefty whack which damaged the front suspension, splitter and nose so we lost quite a few laps for repairs. We can’t blame one person, it just happened and now we move on…

Looking ahead to Le Mans, the first of two visits to this amazing race in the Super Season.

Ferrari has had success there in the past and I’m going with a positive attitude. We need to score well after Spa but we’ll have to wait and see what the BoP is – if that’s better then we stand a good chance of getting a strong result.

Our team mate there will be last year’s GTE-Pro winner, Daniel Serra, who is fast and very familiar with the Ferrari from IMSA.

We’ve got a test planned at Monza so he can get up to speed with the Evo, and we can work on our driver changes.

With the new regs meaning refueling and tire changes take place at the same time, we need to be spot on and get it just right.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

James Calado (@caladojames) is a Ferrari factory driver and the 2017 WEC GTE World Champion, driving for AF Corse in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

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