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Merhi Bullish About Team LeMans Ferrari Prospects

Ex-Formula 1 racer Roberto Merhi eyes first SUPER GT win as new Ferrari 296 GT3 shows well in official testing…


Roberto Merhi feels he is in a position to aim for his first SUPER GT victory following Team LeMans switching from Audi to Ferrari machinery for the new season.

Having campaigned Audi machinery in the Japanese series’ lower GT300 class since 2021, LeMans unveiled its new Ferrari 296 GT3 in December, subsequently confirming an unchanged driver lineup comprising ex-Formula 1 racer Merhi and Yoshiaki Katayama.

Mattia Oselladore continues as chief engineer for a second season, combining his role with his commitments with Formula 2 squad MP Motorsport.

Having scored three podium finishes last year on their way to ninth in the GT300 standings, Merhi and Katayama have shown well across this month’s two official pre-season tests at Okayama International Circuit and Fuji Speedway in the No. 6 Ferrari.

Merhi went fastest in a rain-affected final session at Okayama, and fourth overall in the dry, while Katayama was third-fastest on a wet track in the opening session at Fuji.

“This year we have a car that is more competitive over a single lap than the Audi, I would say,” Merhi told Sportscar365. “But we haven’t had the chance to do a proper long run yet because of the rain and the qualifying simulation on the first day at Okayama.

“It’s a new car for us, so we have been prioritizing other things. But when we have done slightly longer runs, we’ve had more tire degradation that we would have liked.

“We need to see how competitive the car is, because we still don’t know because of the weather conditions, but last year we were close [to scoring a win], with Fuji [Round 5] being the closest one. We made three podiums, so I don’t think a win is something crazy.

“We’ll try to put everything together, but if there are no mistakes from the team or the drivers, I think we can win a race, for sure.”

Merhi first drove the new 296 GT3 in a private test at Fuji Speedway in February, where eyebrows were raised by the speed shown by not only the LeMans Ferrari but also the PONOS Racing example driven by Kei Cozzolino and Lilou Wadoux.

However, in official testing the Ferrari is understood to have been running at a reduced turbo boost pressure in line with the Balance of Performance that is set to be used for the opening round of the season at Okayama next month.

“It’s a big difference,” admitted Merhi. “Last year the 296 raced here in GT World Challenge Asia, and they had the BoP we were using in the February test, but then they changed the BoP a lot since then and we lost a lot of performance. But we need to see.”

Merhi added that he feels several of the fancied contenders in the GT300 class have yet to reveal their true potential over the course of official testing.

“It’s hard to understand where we are,” said the Spaniard. “The [JLOC] Lamborghini was quicker than us at Okayama, and here [at Fuji] they were also quicker than us. But for sure the Nissan is hiding a lot and I think also some others, the Toyotas, the Subaru.

“When you are at the fastest in testing, it’s not important. I think the Lamborghini is the only one pushing, and the others are hiding some performance.”

Jamie Klein is Sportscar365's Asian editor. Japan-based Klein, who previously worked for Motorsport Network on the Motorsport.cоm and Autosport titles, covers the FIA World Endurance Championship and SUPER GT, among other series.

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