Alessio Rovera has described his rapid rise to factory driver status with Ferrari as “like a dream” after quickly impressing the manufacturer in two seasons racing for AF Corse.
The 26-year-old Italian was recently announced as Ferrari’s latest official recruit, just under a year and a half after turning his first laps in one of the company’s GT cars.
Rovera’s first term in Ferrari machinery came with AF Corse in the 2020 Italian GT Endurance Championship, which he won alongside Antonio Fuoco and Giorgio Roda.
AF Corse then lifted him from national GT3 racing to the GTE ranks of the FIA World Endurance Championship and the European Le Mans Series for the 2021 season.
Rovera, Francois Perrodo and Nicklas Nielsen went on to win the WEC GTE-Am title in a campaign that included race victories at the 6 Hours of Spa, the 6 Hours of Monza, the 8 Hours of Bahrain and the double points-scoring 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Reflecting on his progression from domestic-level sports car racing to a factory driver position, Rovera told Sportscar365 that the full journey “happened really fast”.
“It’s like a dream,” he said. “It’s the dream of every racing driver – all the kids that want to become a racing driver want to become a Ferrari factory driver. To achieve it is something special.
“Everything happened really fast. I joined the Ferrari family last year in Italian GT with AF Corse. This year I had the opportunity to race in WEC.
“The championship was amazing: we won four races out of six, including Le Mans, so it was something special.
“[Ferrari’s head of Attivita Sportive GT] Antonello Coletta called me during the Le Mans weekend and he said that he was really interested. He offered me a contract.
“In Bahrain I signed the contract and it was something amazing. It was something I didn’t expect last year, because I was in the Italian championship. It’s an important championship, but to go from that to being a factory driver is a big step.”
Rovera explained that his career reached a crossroads at the end of the 2019 Italian GT season, which he contested with Mercedes-AMG customer squad Antonelli Motorsport.
After spells in Porsche single-make competition and Italian GT, Rovera got acquainted with AF Corse team principal Amato Ferrari who set his path to a factory drive in motion.
“The end of 2019 was not so good because after I won the Italian GT [Sprint] Championship in the Mercedes, I didn’t really know where to go – I was in a blind moment,” he said.
“Then I met Amato for a dinner and we spoke about 2020. He said there was an opportunity to race in Italian GT with Giorgio and Antonio, which was a really strong team.
“I tried the car at Vallelunga for the first time in June, after the big stop for COVID, and the feeling was super.
“And then it was an amazing year: we won the Italian GT Endurance Championship and were really fast. Antonio and Giorgio were really good teammates and people, so the relationship was perfect. Everything started from there.”
Rovera’s movement toward Ferrari factory driver status gained traction as his association with AF Corse quickly blossomed into a strong relationship.
He suggested that although he didn’t plot out a path to become an official Ferrari driver, there were indications from the Italian team that he had the potential to achieve a greater standing with the manufacturer.
“I’m a guy who takes things step by step,” Rovera said.
“Speaking to Amato, he said that if I did well in Italian GT there would be a good opportunity for 2021. I focused on the Italian championship and won it, and then I went to WEC.
“He said, if you also do well this year, maybe at the end of the year there will be a present or something else! It was an amazing season, and finally I’ve done it.
“Everything was just perfect last year. I joined a team, AF Corse, that is like a family. The relationship with the mechanics, engineers and the boss Amato was just perfect.
“I have to say a big ‘thank you’ to Amato because he introduced me to the Ferrari world. Without Amato, for sure I wouldn’t be here.”
Rovera, who is eyeing a seat on Ferrari’s 2023 Hypercar program, believes that he has developed significantly as a handler of Ferrari GT racing machinery in the relatively short period time since his first test for AF Corse around 17 months ago.
“I have improved a lot,” he said. “In the Italian championship, I had the chance to race with Antonio Fuoco. When you race with a strong driver, you improve because you want to show your potential.
“For sure you have to improve all the things about qualifying pace and race pace, so I think I have improved in every sector of driving, not just one.
“I was also lucky to race with Nicklas Nielsen this year. He’s a really strong factory driver for Ferrari.
“To have him in the car, it was easier for me because I could show my potential back-to-back with him.”
AF Corse LMP2 Preparations in Full-Swing
After winning the WEC GTE-Am title, AF Corse’s Perrodo-led No. 83 crew switched to the LMP2 Pro-Am class with Rovera and Nielsen still involved for the 2022 season.
Last week AF Corse conducted its first private test with a new Oreca 07 Gibson over three days at Motorland Aragon, which enabled the two Ferrari factory drivers to get their first taste of LMP2 machinery.
“It was fine, and we adapted really quickly,” said Rovera.
“Francois was already on the pace, so I think for the Pro-Am we can be in the front. Overall, we will see.
“We tried new tires and also some long stint simulations. Everything was OK.
“I have to say also that my concern was about the g-forces in the neck. But there were no problems there for myself, Nicklas or Francois.
“We will need to do some work in the test days, because the car is new for us and also for the team. We will get there, step by step.
“We have to improve some things, but I think we will be competitive at Sebring.”