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Intercontinental GT Challenge

AF Corse “Didn’t Want to Fight Mercedes” With Title at Stake

Ferrari opted for cautious approach in final stages of Kyalami 9H to seal drivers’ title…

Photo: Ferrari

Fighting for the Joburg Kyalami 9 Hour race win was “secondary” in importance to beating Audi’s entries for the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli drivers’ title, according to AF Corse’s team manager and chief engineer.

AF Corse Ferrari drivers Alessandro Pier Guidi and Come Ledogar became IGTC champions for the first time by finishing second to Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA-ASP in the rescheduled 2021 season finale.

Pier Guidi and Ledogar’s main task alongside Miguel Molina was to finish ahead of the Audi Sport Team Sainteloc and WRT entries, both of which involved drivers hoping to overcome a two-point deficit to Pier Guidi, Ledogar and Nicklas Nielsen in the standings.

While AF Corse looked like a contender for the race win during the early stages, race engineer Luca Volta and team manager Bernardo Serra agreed that fighting the No. 89 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo was not the priority.

AF Corse emerged from the pits ahead AKKA-ASP with five hours to go but Timur Boguslavskiy made an immediate move on Ledogar to put the Mercedes back in front.

“We didn’t want to fight Mercedes,” Volta told Sportscar365.

“They were two or three tenths faster than us, epecially with Marciello. We just wanted to win the drivers’ championship, which was the only goal. To win the race was secondary.

“If we could catch Mercedes and go into a fight and get hit or spin out, Ferrari wouldn’t be happy.”

Serra added: “The Mercedes was definitely faster than us. We were just thinking about Audi to win the championship. Our goal was to stay in front of Audi. For us, the Mercedes was transparent.”

While the Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020s ventured off-sequence in the opening stages, they returned to a safer, more conventional pit cycle after three hours. At that moment, AF Corse decided to mirror the Audis because it felt capable of keeping ahead on pace.

Volta said the Ferrari team realized it could reflect Audi’s pit stop strategy when both Pier Guidi and Nielsen overtook Mattia Drudi with just under six hours remaining.

“Fortunately, we saw that Audi was lacking a little bit of performance. So we said, OK, if they don’t split the strategy we just go on because if we copy the strategy we can win [the title].

“There is always two ways of seeing the race. If you don’t have the performance, you always go hard on strategy: you bet your chips and maybe do high percentage stuff.

“If you have the performance, you follow, because you are in front so you try not to invent too much.

“After the restart we saw that Pier Guidi overtook Drudi and then we were pulling away. So we said that if they don’t do anything, we don’t do anything.

“When the safety car retired, we said that we keep on doing our job and just have to increase [the gap].

“If they chose to split the strategy between the two cars, we would just try to understand it. But they didn’t do any moves so we just tried to pit one lap after and that’s it.”

Ferrari’s slim IGTC manufacturers’ title hopes faded during the fourth hour when Nielsen pulled the No. 71 car to one side with a driveshaft failure.

That put all of Ferrari’s complete focus onto the drivers’ title chances of Pier Guidi and Ledogar who won the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa with Nielsen last August.

“It’s strange because it’s not a common problem on this car,” Serra said of the No. 71 car’s issue.

“It came in a very bad moment. I’m honestly very upset for Nielsen because we had divided the crews and it was a pity that he didn’t win the championship.”

After Nielsen’s retirement, the No. 51 drivers took a cautious approach to the closing hours rather than seeking to overcome the No. 89 Mercedes-AMG Evo for the race win.

“Honestly it was one of the reasons why I didn’t push in the last stint, without taking any curbs, bumps or jumps,” Pier Guidi told Sportscar365.

“This track is really demanding for the car and the driver. This is also why we decided to do single stints to be more fresh for a fight.

“At the end we understood that it was too difficult and risky [to fight AKKA-ASP] and we thought more about the championship than this race.

“It would be really nice to win the championship and the race, but the pace of the Mercedes was too strong for us.

“At the end of the last stint, I just decided to manage the car and bring it to the end.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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