The Ferrari 488 GTE Evo provided Optimum Motorsport with the “best solution” for its 24 Hours of Le Mans debut considering the limited time it had to organize an entry and the impossibility of its McLaren GTE “preference”, according to team manager Bas Leinders.
British squad Optimum, which primarily runs McLaren 720S GT3s, achieved an automatic invitation to Le Mans by finishing fourth in the Asian Le Mans Series GT class.
The team chose to take up its entry, which meant it then needed to source a new car for its first outing in the GTE ranks because McLaren’s racing stable only goes as far as GT3.
It will contest the race in GTE-Am under the Inception Racing banner with its Asian LMS trio of Ben Barnicoat, Ollie Millroy and Bronze-rated American driver Brendan Iribe, who is a co-founder of the Oculus virtual reality platform.
Team manager and triple Le Mans participant Leinders said that the short timeframe between securing and filing the entry in February required a quick decision for which the Ferrari emerged as the “obvious” choice.
It will be Optimum’s first time running a Ferrari.
“Securing this invitation and making this decision, and committing to the program, was a very short time,” Leinders told Sportscar365.
“We were maybe not available to push for all the possible options, but we already had some contacts from before.
“And our client [Iribe’s] wish was to either race with the Porsche or the Ferrari. The Ferrari solution was the most complete that we could come up with in this short period of time, and to be ready.
“The race has been postponed, which gives us a bit more time to prepare. With the other championships starting soon, Le Mans when it was in June [gave] not a lot of time to get ready.
“It was an obvious solution and the best solution that we could come up with for this ‘surprise’ 24-hour invitation.”
Leinders explained that a lack of availability formed part of the reason why its Porsche 911 RSR-19 option closed up. Porsche has only released ten examples of its new GTE car to purchasing customers who are able to race it starting from this year.
A potential return to Aston Martin, with which Optimum won the British GT title in 2018, appears not to have been considered.
“That fact about the Porsches was one of them, but not the only one,” said Leinders.
“If there were 30 of those Porsches around it would have maybe been easier to secure a Porsche, but maybe we would have gone with the Ferrari anyway.
“So we are not saying the Ferrari was the second choice, but maybe the situation would have been different if there were more cars available in general.”
He added that the ideal scenario would have been for Optimum to run a McLaren, based on the team’s work with the 720S GT3 and his own personal link to the manufacturer.
“My preference would have been to have a McLaren GTE,” said Leinders, who was previously the McLaren GT sporting manager.
“I worked for McLaren in 2016-17, and at that point there were some GTE projects on the table, and even some later which never evolved or were not finished.
“That is a shame and it would have been great to have a McLaren on the grid now at Le Mans.
“This is not the case, unfortunately, so we went for this solution. Our number one would have been a McLaren GTE, but as that does not exist, we went for the next-best option.”
Team Undecided on Preparatory GTE Outings
Optimum has yet to decide on whether it will try to enter FIA World Endurance Championship or European Le Mans Series rounds to gain race mileage with the Ferrari.
Leinders suggested that the postponement of Le Mans to Aug. 21-22 presents more options to pursue other GTE race appearances before Optimum’s debut in the 24 Hours.
“Now with the big race being rescheduled, it gives us maybe another opportunity and a window to do a race before, in order to prepare better,” he said.
“We are looking at the possibilities, but at the moment it’s too early to tell. We are going to have a busy program with McLaren to start with, so we need to fit this alongside it for the team and the drivers. But we are up for the challenge.
“Last year, because of the COVID-19 situation, we managed to do 17 races in a row for Optimum Motorsport. I don’t think we’ll get that many races in a row this year; I sincerely hope not! We can take on big challenges like we did last year with three programs.
“I’m sure we can handle this situation. Obviously, it’s not just being present on the starting grid: when we are there, we want to have a good result.
“We will look at all the options possible to get a good result.”