24 Hours of Le Mans – The 458 Italia of Scuderia Corsa triumphs in the Sarthe classic
Le Mans, 19 June 2016 – The 84th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans finished with a win, two podiums finishes and a big disappointment for Ferrari in the two GT classes. The victory, for the second consecutive year, came in the GTE-Am class and was delivered by the 458 Italia of US team Scuderia Corsa driven by Jeff Segal, Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell. Second place in the same class went to the 458 Italia of AF Corse with François Perrodo, Rui Aguas and Emmanuel Collard who galloped ahead in the championship standings. The other podium came in the GTE-Pro class where the 488 GTE of Risi Competizione, in the capable hands of Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander and Matteo Malucelli, battled for victory to the last with the Ford GT of Team USA driven by Hand-Muller-Bourdais.
A true storm raged on the French track a few minutes before the start. The rain flooded the course and forced the race director to order a start behind the Safety Car. The Safety Car stayed on the track for almost the entire first hour before the race could finally start, with the two Fords of Team USA in the lead and the Ferrari 488 number 51 of AF Corse driven by James Calado immediately behind. Car 71, with Sam Bird, and car 82 of the Risi Competizione team, with Giancarlo Fisichella, went up to fifth and sixth place thanks to the fact that the Ford of Team UK #67 started from the box. All Ferraris did a triple stint, which ended one lap ahead of schedule for car number 51 due to a slow puncture. The car was called to the box at the last moment and James, coming in, drove roughly over a curb and heavily damaged the car. Car number 71 was not able to sustain a fast pace either; on the other hand, the 488 of Risi Competizione was extremely consistent and was even able to pull into the lead, vying for the top positions throughout the race. In the meantime, car 51 started again, 12 laps behind, after repairs. Disappointment came deep into the night for the 488 number 71: with Davide Rigon at the wheel, a problem in a rim forced the car into the sand at curve 4 and put it out of contention. The negative day for the AF Corse team finally ended very near sundown, as several engine sensors made it advisable to pull the car into the box. At sundown, the duel of car 82 with the Ford continued and went on almost to the end when, because of a spin of Toni Vilander, the Ford 68 built a comfortable lead and finished ahead of car 82.
The big reward for Ferrari came in GTE-Am class, in which the American drivers of Scuderia Corsa, Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, and Jeff Segal, at the wheel of the 458 Italia number 62 (on which they earned third place in 2015), hit the target and gave Ferrari the win for the second consecutive year in this class (in 2015 the win came courtesy of SMP Racing team). This is the 35th win for the Maranello firm (9 overall and 26 class wins). After qualifications that were difficult to say the least, Sweedler, Bell, and Segal were able to make up ground quickly, vying with Aston Martin and Porsche for the first 12 hours of the race and then taking the lead during the night. Two other Ferrari 458 Italia also ran a brilliant race: François Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard, and Rui Aguas, on car number 83 of AF Corse, finished second and took a commanding lead in the championship because of this success, and car number 61 of the Singapore Clearwater Racing team, with Weng Sun Mok, Keita Sawa, and Rob Bell, finished fourth. The sixth place (after a very difficult start) of car number 60 of the Danish team Formula Racing, with Johnny Laursen, Mikkel Mac Jansen, and Christina Nielsen must also be mentioned.