The battle of the factory teams in GTE Pro, as ever, didn’t disappoint this year, AF Corse prevailing for a fourth win in the top GT category at the 89th 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The No. 51 trio of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Come Ledogar were the class of the field in this one, beating the best crews from Porsche and Corvette on their way to a massive victory for themselves and the Ferrari brand.
Despite a Porsche (from HubAuto) taking pole, the German marque didn’t quite have the speed to challenge in the race and lost crucial time during safety car periods. It quickly became a Corvette-Ferrari duel once the race settled down, with AF Corse having a slight upper hand.
The 488 GTE Evos were at their best in the cooler temperatures. During the night hours, on soft rubber, the pace was blistering, allowing both AF entries to sit 1-2 relatively comfortably. A suspension issue for the No. 52, though, reduced the Italian team’s challenge to just one car, up against the better of the two Corvettes, the No. 63.
Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor and Nicky Catsburg pushed themselves to the limit in this one, and did everything they could to keep the C8.R in contention for a win on its Le Mans debut. It wasn’t meant to be, though, as the Ferrari drivers, in particular Calado, had an answer to every question asked by the Corvette drivers.
In the end the winning margin was just 41 seconds, despite the No. 51 undergoing a brake change in Hour 19. The No. 63 was unable to get close enough in the second half of the race to attempt a move for the lead, with so many slow zones, and full-course yellows disrupting every effort to reel in the eventual winners. No other cars finished on the lead lap in the attrition-hit category.
Grande @FerrariRaces.#WEC #LeMans24 @AFCorse pic.twitter.com/bZDXaLLgst
— WEC (@FIAWEC) August 22, 2021
“It wasn’t easy at all,” Pier Guidi explained after the race. “Sometimes you gain, sometimes you lose, so we pushed really hard — the rain made it really hard for everyone. The Corvette was super quick, but we expected that. It’s our second time in this position and it feels fantastic. So big thanks to the team and Ferrari for putting us in this position.”
One car which encountered a long list of issues was the No. 64 C8.R, which suffered its first setback before the race even started. Tommy Milner was hit by Calado as the cars pulled away for the formation lap, which did a small amount of damage to the car’s rear that would manifest itself later in the race. Calado was at fault, and apologized, blaming fog on the windscreen for his misjudgment.
Milner, Alex Sims and Nick Tandy will have been glad to just make the finish, after clutch issues, alternator issues and diffuser damage forced the car to spend lengthy periods in the garage.
Porsche took the final podium spot with its No. 92 911 RSR 19. Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Neel Jani were lucky to have made the start after Estre’s heavy off in the Hyperpole session. The efforts of the Porsche mechanics to build a new car from scratch on Friday didn’t go unrewarded, as the crew will leave with trophies, beating the sister car to third.
The No. 91 finished off the podium in fourth. Its attempt to snatch third late in the race ruined by a costly off from Fred Makowiecki, who had an off at the Ford Chicanes which ripped the rear end of the car at the start of the final hour.
As for the other two customer Porsches, neither made the finish, the No. 72 HubAuto example suffering mechanical woes and the No. 79 WeatherTech entry retiring before the halfway mark after a big off for Cooper MacNeil at the Ford Chicanes.