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24H Le Mans

CALADO: Winning the Big One!

James Calado files his latest Sportscar365 column after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans…

Photo: Ferrari

I said at the end of my last column that we ‘just’ needed our first Le Mans win and it would be perfect and, guess what, WE WON!!

As we all know, ‘we’ in motor racing is not just us drivers – me and my full-season team mate Alessandro Pier Guidi plus, for our endurance races, Daniel Serra – but a much, much wider family which includes Ferrari Competizioni GT, everyone at AF Corse, Michelotto, Michelin and many more.

We haven’t had the easiest season, with just one win at Silverstone last August for the No. 51 Ferrari, so we really needed this and, of course, Le Mans is the big one.

It’s the first 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE-Pro win for Ferrari since 2014, the first for the 488 GTE, and it was also the 70th anniversary of Ferrari’s first victory at this amazing race, so the timing couldn’t have been better.

It’s been our goal for the last six months, and we worked really hard as a team to put a great package together. A lot of preparation went into it: sim work, training, testing and so on, and we changed our approach the race a little bit and it paid off.

Photo: MPS Agency

In previous years we’ve had reliability issues, things like suspension or the front splitter, so our plan this year was to keep the car in one piece.

We reinforced some parts to make it stronger, and while it’s really tempting to try and gain that extra lap time, actually every time you do that you could potentially be damaging the car. Our approach was different in that respect and it really paid off as the car still felt solid at the end as well as being quick.

Our pace was where we wanted it to be all week, and everything went smoothly apart from strategy issues where we got unlucky with the timing of safety cars and slow zones…as pretty much most of the GTE field did at some point. Having said that, we also gained from the timing of a safety car which gave us a gap at the end so we can’t complain and it worked out really well.

Photo: MPS Agency

We had only qualified 8th and 12th (from the 17-strong GTE Pro field) and we used those sessions as a test for the race, to set the car up, to get a better balance and see where we were in terms of fuel in the car and so on.

We didn’t really feel we needed to go for a super-fast lap time as it was more beneficial to get a well-balanced car. Luca Volta, our engineer, was awesome and did a phenomenal job, as did the whole team.

I’m so tired now, it hits you after the podium and then you suddenly realized how drained you are. It’s such a long week, but adrenalin, hunger for success and determination get you through most of it. It’s only when you stop that you realize just how tired you are and you turn into a zombie!

It was my 5th Le Mans and every year you get more experience and this year I learned such a lot, so it gives us a lot to go into next season with.

I’m look forward to going home how and spending some time with my family as it’s not long until we’re back testing again…the next season starts in just a few months. Until then though we can enjoy the feeling of success; we did it, we are Le Mans winners!

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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