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Gearbox Issue Put Ferrari “Almost at Point of Retirement”

James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi survive serious gearbox problem en route to world title…

Photo: Ferrari

James Calado said he was prepared to ‘keep going until the car died’ en route to the world title as a gearbox issue brought the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo to the brink of retirement during the closing hours of the 8 Hours of Bahrain.

Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi secured their third GTE world drivers championship in Saturday’s FIA World Endurance Championship season finale, but did so in a dramatic scenario that saw the pairing limp home with a serious gearbox issue that struck well into the second half of the race.

The Briton was at the wheel of the car, leading the class and on course to win the championship in a Ferrari 1-2, when trouble hit.

“I jumped in and everything was fine for my second double stint and then I heard a funny noise,” Calado told Sportscar365.

“At first I didn’t know what it was because it was like a vibration. Sometimes you get a vibration like metal or something.

“I was soon to realize that it was only fourth gear that was making the noise. Then I was like ‘this is bad’. It got worse and worse and then it stayed quite consistent and the shifts were fine.

“Then all of a sudden one lap, there was an explosion, like a bomb had gone off in the car and the sound of metal, like [wrenches] going everywhere and no gears.

“I tried loads of different combinations and stayed out. It was almost at the point of retiring the car and then I realized that some of the gears worked.

“So we kept it in fifth [gear] for the whole lap, did a driver change to get Alessandro in the car at the end.”

Instead of bringing the car into the garage, Calado pitted and handed over to Pier Guidi, who plummeted to last place in the GTE-Pro category.

Calado said that Ferrari engineers had briefed the Italian on the issue before taking over, but their situation was further complicated by skyrocketing oil temperatures that reached as high as 140 degrees Celsius.

“I knew there was a problem, but honestly when I started I didn’t know how to manage it,” Pier Guidi noted.

“Because we had no idea what to do and what was the best for the car to save it as much as we can.

“So I went into the car, started to use the clutch, shifting and avoiding fourth [gear]. But doing this, the temperature was still going very high.

“I said ‘We are not going to end like this.’ So I noticed using the high gears, the temperature was going a bit lower.

“I tried to do a few laps in fifth, never shifting. The temperatures were dropping and went into a normal range. So I understood that was the best way to try.”

While Pier Guidi kept shifts to a minimum to avoid damaging more gears, that the team then started to worry about the closing GTE-Am pack, as finishing behind that category’s frontrunners would end their title chances.

We needed to be around 12 seconds a lap off the GTE-Am cars and they would have caught us up,” Calado explained. “It ended up being around six to seven, but if it would have been twelve, he would have probably been there.”

Pier Guidi added: “I was not thinking too much, just asking the gap to stay in front of GTE-Am and I was able to be quicker than what I needed.

“So I was quite in control and I was not thinking realistically if it was going to break or not, because I could not do anything about that.”

Calado further added that the prospect of retirement was a real fear for the squad, but that they were determined to carry on to the bitter end if necessary.

“What can you do in the last race when you’re leading the world championship? You go until the car dies,” he said.

“Of course you don’t bring it into the garage until it completely blows up. This is a world championship, imagine the regret if we would have put it into the garage.”

Ultimately, Pier Guidi was able to nurse the car to the finish and remain ahead of the GTE-Am pack to seal the world championship. 

“In the last fifteen minutes, I started to hope and thinking we could do it,” he said. “It’s been like this for more than one and a half hour, we can do it.

“Then I even waited for the prototype to close the gap to do one lap less. When I saw the checkered flag, it was like an oasis in the desert.”

Davey Euwema is Sportscar365's European Editor. Based in The Netherlands, Euwema covers the FIA World Endurance Championship, European Le Mans Series and Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS, among other series.

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