AF Corse’s move to change only two tires at its final pit stop of the Paul Ricard 1000km “worked perfectly” and was instrumental in the Ferrari team winning the GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup, according to Alessandro Pier Guidi.
Pier Guidi, joined by his guest co-drivers Tom Blomqvist and Come Ledogar, won the fourth and final round of the Endurance Cup season to clinch the drivers’ championship.
The Italian took only left-side tires at his last stop to vault past Mathieu Jaminet in the leading GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R before holding off the Frenchman to take the win.
AF Corse’s victory came after a recovery from a tough start that saw both of the front-row starting Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020s lose several positions in the early stages.
Blomqvist struggled for pace in the opening stint with his tire pressure set too high for the conditions, while the Brit then had to use a set of qualifying tires in hour two.
But with new tires coming on at every stop thereafter, the No. 51 Ferrari came back into contention with Ledogar at the wheel before Pier Guidi came in for the final push.
“I was catching the Porsche in the second-last hour, but it was really hard to close it completely and overtake because they were really strong,” Pier Guidi told Sportscar365.
“The team proposed to do something different, to just change two tires instead of four.
“This saved more or less eight seconds, which was the time we needed to jump in front of them out of the box. But then I knew that I had just two new tires and I had to manage these to stay in front of the Porsche.
“The risk was more or less calculated because the tires were not bad. But I drove one hour with the Porsche between 1.5 and 2.5 seconds behind, so it was tough.
“Lap by lap, I was waiting for the right side to drop. But lap by lap, the tire was still there, and I started to think that maybe I could make the finish.
“I was expecting a significant drop on the right side, but in the end they lasted properly. They were not in a good shape, but it was enough to stay in front.”
Pier Guidi used traffic to pull away from Jaminet in the first few laps of their duel before his Ferrari’s tires started to show signs of wear in the middle part of the stint.
The Italian said this was the “most difficult” period of the battle, but things improved once his car had shed more of its fuel weight making it easier to manage the degradation.
“With the new tarmac at Paul Ricard, it is a bit easier because there is less tire degradation and the temperature went down [into the night] which helped us,” he said.
“We needed to do something to get in front of them, because on speed I was not sure if I would be able to close the gap completely and then overtake him.
“Our thinking and our hope was that the tire could last, especially on the right side where at Paul Ricard it’s not at 100 percent stress compared to the left side.
“It was planned in the last five or six laps of the second-last stint, but it worked perfectly.”
AF Corse’s championship run started with a seventh-place finish in the 3 Hours of Imola, but a first-corner accident took the No. 51 Ferrari out of the Nürburgring 6 Hours.
Pier Guidi pinpointed the next round – the Total 24 Hours of Spa – as a crucial race in the team’s title push. Across the three points distribution intervals, the AF Corse Ferrari’s 28-point haul was the largest of the full-season entries.
“That was the key to coming back in the season,” reckoned Pier Guidi.
“At the end, doing a good 24 Hours is always key to winning GT World Challenge. Every year the car that wins the championship is a car that does very good at Spa.
“Spa has so many points with three ‘checkered flags’ at six hours, 12 hours and 24 hours.
“It makes the difference in this championship. The Nürburgring was not nice, but we were not worried. After Spa, I was confident that we could do it.”
Drivers Had Hoped to “Win and Lose Together”
Despite winning Endurance Cup, Pier Guidi hinted a shade of regret at doing so without James Calado and Nicklas Nielsen who were his co-drivers at all races except Paul Ricard.
A date clash between the GTWC Europe season finale and the WEC’s 8 Hours of Bahrain forced Ferrari to split its crews across the two title-deciding events.
With Pier Guidi and Calado also in contention for the GTE world championship, and Nielsen vying for the GTE-Am title, Ferrari elected to pursue its chances in both series.
The clash also required AF Corse and Ferrari to split up some of its crew members who work on both programs, although the GTWC Europe pit crew that gave Pier Guidi his jump on Jaminet was the same group that has serviced the No. 51 throughout the season.
“I’m sorry for them [Calado and Nielsen] because they worked exactly as I did, all season long, apart from the last race,” said Pier Guidi.
“We win and lose together. Even this year and in this championship, we would have liked to win and lose together, but Ferrari decided to split the lineup to try to win everything.
“I think they made the correct decision, even if for us it was probably not the best, because somebody had to lose. That’s why I’m sorry that James could not win.
“And at least Nicklas won in WEC [GTE-Am] so it was good for him in a way. We will try to win next year together, again, so that everyone will be satisfied.”