Scuderia Corsa will defend its 24 Hours of Le Mans class victory with an expanded two-car effort next year, both with Ferrari 488 GTE cars, team principal Giacomo Mattioli has confirmed.
Mattioli revealed to Sportscar365 that he will take up the two auto-invites awarded to the California-based squad, courtesy of Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell and Jeff Segal’s class win, and for the team’s GT Daytona title in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“Both will be 488 GTE cars,” Mattioli said. “The idea is to work with Kessel and Michelotto again… I think by Jan. 10 or 15 at the latest we’ll make the [driver lineup] announcements.”
While lineups have yet to be announced, both 2016 Le Mans winners Sweedler and Bell are planning to be part of the effort again, for what would be their third consecutive year with the team in the French endurance classic.
“Le Mans is Le Mans,” Sweedler told Sportscar365. “Obviously it was special [this year] as all of the drivers were from the U.S.
“The 24 Hours of Daytona and Twelve Hours of Sebring are absolute bucket-list races but Le Mans is the top of the bucket list. To be able to go back again and defend a win should be quite surreal.”
Sweedler and Bell, however, would be without their regular co-driver Segal, who has been upgraded from Silver to Gold driver rating.
GTE-Am class rules mandate only one Gold/Platinum-rated driver per lineup, alongside at least one Bronze-rated driver, which applies to Bell and Sweedler, respectively.
“It’s bittersweet that Jeff cannot join us but both Townsend and I are thrilled that he’s now part of the Acura factory program,” Sweedler added.
While not likely being part of the team’s projected GTE-Am lineup, the newly signed Michael Shank Racing Acura driver has vowed to be at Le Mans in support of his co-drivers and friends.
“It is a shame we’re not able to return as a winning team,” Segal told Sportscar365. “What I’ve told Bill and Townsend is that my intention is to be there with them, in whatever capacity necessary, because we are a team together.
“Even if I’m not driving, [it would be] helping out in any way I can, whether it’d be in supporting them, coaching and spotting for them.”
Bell, one of only three drivers to have tackled the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans in the same year in 2016, admitted the upgrade from Sweedler’s Ferrari F458 Italia GT to the new 488 GTE would be a significant step forward.
“Without question the 488, from the word go, from the very first day that thing hit the track, it’s delivered,” he said. “In the history of Michelotto race cars, this is clearly their finest piece of work in terms of being able to launch out of the gate with authority. That’s pretty rare.
“They really nailed it, both with the GT3 and GTLM specifications. I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of that and take the knowledge we gained with Michelin at these two years at Le Mans and apply that to the 488. It should be great.”
It’s understood a handful of other drivers, including 2016 GTD champion Christina Nielsen, are in the frame for the team’s two-car GTE-Am effort.
Mattioli said he’s ruled out running the 488 GTE car in the WeatherTech Championship next year, with its focus being around Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan’s title defense in GTD.
In addition to a possible Le Mans return, Sweedler and Bell were confirmed earlier this week in a new Audi R8 LMS effort run by Alex Job Racing for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races.