Ferrari’s 2017 season in the WRC (World Endurance Championship) was more than ever the embodiment of this perspective. There were many changes from 2016, which was also a successful year, and an even greater desire to win to show that the excellence of the work and projects can help you overcome any obstacle and achieve outstanding results.
Ferrari, the reigning constructors’ champion, arrived at the starting line faced with many unknowns. Above all there was the official return of a manufacturer of the caliber of Porsche, bolstered by a new car, which with Ford and Aston Martin made for a very prestigious array of opponents. Then there were the drivers, with the departure of Gianmaria Bruni at the end of 2016, someone who had won so much with Ferrari. Another Italian, Alessandro Pier Guidi, took his place in the team. He may be an excellent driver but was a rookie in the WEC. The newcomer partnered James Calado in the 488 GTE no. 51 while Sam Bird and Davide Rigon remained in no. 71. The new sporting regulations completed the list of unknowns, with the introduction of the “automatic” Balance of Performance system, whose effect on race strategies and economies no one could predict.
The heightened status of the championship was one of the great changes for 2017, with the GT class also becoming to all intents and purposes a world title for manufacturers and drivers.
The Ferrari working group, the technicians of Michelotto and the AF Corse team got down to work in winter to be ready for the start of the championship. In particular it was decided to make a major improvement to the GT simulator at Maranello through investments in technology and software. The technicians and drivers found this tool particularly useful as it enabled them to perform some preliminary tasks early, thus freeing up valuable track time for refining the car and for evaluation tests on tyres and other components.
The season kicked off at Silverstone in April with a win for the Ford of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell, Ferrari’s season-long rivals. Pier Guidi and Calado were placed second while victory in the GTE-Am class went to Clearwater Racing Ferrari’s Weng Sun Mok, Matt Griffin and Keita Sawa.
Car no. 51 also took second place at Spa-Francorchamps on a perfect weekend for Bird and Rigon. The drivers of the 488 GTE no. 71 dominated the race from qualifying although the technicians and fans had a fright when Bird was involved in too close an encounter with Pier Guidi in the sister car.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans was the third race of the season. It was also the only sour note of 2017 in the GTE-Pro class. The French marathon, with a record of 11 Ferrari’s starting, imposed a too heavy BOP on the 488 GTEs, which couldn’t keep pace with their rivals on the straights. Rigon, Bird and Molina came fifth while car no. 51, crewed by Pier Guidi, Calado and Michele Rugolo, a last minute replacement for the injured Lucas Di Grassi, left the scene in the morning when James, who was frenetically chasing the leading group, was involved in an incident with a lapped car. It was also a race to forget for the Ferrari of Risi Competizione, which was literally knocked out by the prototype of Matthieu Vaxivière after just four hours. Pierre Kaffer was in the driver’s seat at the time, which he shared with Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander.
The GTE-Am class crews saved the day. Three 488 GTEs monopolised the podium with victory going to the car of JMW Motorsport, with Will Stevens, Dries Vanthoor and Rob Smith, second place to Spirit of Race, with Marco Cioci, Aaron Scott and Duncan Cameron, and third to Scuderia Corsa with Cooper MacNeil, Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler.