After a barren year, whether in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) or at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ferrari, namely via AF Corse, certainly intends to achieve success again with the all-new 488 replacing the 458 Italia in the LM GTE Pro class.
AF CORSE (ITA)
Team Principal: Amato Ferrari
Team manager: Battistino Pregliasco
Base: Piacenza (I)
2016 FIA WEC results
6 Hours of Silverstone: 17th Rigon/Bird (ITA/GBR), #71 Ferrari 488 GTE (1st LM GTE Pro); 18th Bruni/Calado (ITA/GBR), #51 Ferrari 488 GTE (2nd LM GTE Pro).
WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps: 14th Rigon/Bird (ITA/GBR), #71 Ferrari 488 GTE (1st LM GTE Pro); Ret. Bruni/Calado (ITA/GBR), #51 Ferrari 488 GTE.
AF Corse is managed by former racing driver, Amato Ferrari, no relation to Enzo, even though he enters cars bearing the Prancing Horse badge. In 1995, he began working as a team manager, and he was then asked to look after the organisation of the Maserati Trophy between 2003 and 2005. AF Corse made its first appearance in 2004 when it gave the Maserati MC12 its début, winning two out of the four races (Oschersleben in Germany and Zhuhai in China) in which it took part. In 2005, the team returned to the Italian Championship and bagged the GT3 title with a Maserati Trofeo Light. Since then, it has competed in the FIA GT Championship with considerable success, fielding a Ferrari F430 GTC with which AF Corse won the GT2 class in the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in 2006, as well as that season’s Teams’ and Drivers’ titles for Jaime Melo and Matteo Bobbi. As a reward for this success, it was invited to the 2007 24 Hours of Le Mans in what was its maiden outing at the Circuit de la Sarthe. It finished twenty-second overall and fourth in LM GT2 with the drivers and sponsors of JMB Racing. The team also racked up another title in FIA GT2 with nine victories in ten races! AF Corse scored its hat-trick in FIA GT in 2008 thanks to five wins by Bruni and Vilander. It was less successful at Le Mans where steering problems eliminated Vilander/Biagi/Montanari. In 2009, AF Corse again defended Ferrari’s interests in FIA GT, winning the GT2 teams’ title with the help of three victories by Bruni and Vilander, including the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. At Le Mans, Bruni/Perez Companc/Russo came home in twenty-sixth place (6th in GT2).
In 2010, with the help of former Formula One stars, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jean Alesi, AF Corse had a good debut season in the Le Mans Series as its two lead cars finished second and third in LM GT2. In addition, the Italian team made a major contribution to the GT2 Manufacturers’ title for Ferrari in the 2010 ILMC. The highest-placed of its cars (Alesi-Fisichella-Vilander) finished sixteenth overall in the Le Mans 24 Hours (4th in GT2).
In 2011, AF Corse entered two cars for the full ILMC season: a brand-new 458 Italia in LM GTE Pro (with Fisichella and Bruni, backed up by Kaffer at Sebring and Vilander at Le Mans), and the previous year’s F430 for Perazzini and Cioci in LM GTE Am. The 2011 season was a very successful one for Ferrari’s official representative in a hotly-contested category. Fisichella and Bruni emerged victorious in four of the seven races winning the GTE Manufacturers’ title for Ferrari and the LM GTE Pro Teams’ crown for AF Corse. In the Le Mans Series, it was the same story with the added bonus of the Drivers’ title for the two former F1 aces who shared the same number of points. The only win that escaped AF Corse was Le Mans where its cars were beaten by the Corvettes.
In 2012 the Italian squad entered for the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and the Le Mans 24 Hours. It also beefed up its team with a second F458 Italia for the very quick duo Beretta, a Corvette stalwart in the previous seasons, and Bertolini, backed up by Cioci in the long-distance races. The early part of the year didn’t go according to plan as Fisichella/Bruni/Vilander retired at Sebring while Bertolini/Beretta/Cioci just missed out on victory behind BMW and Corvette after an intense battle in the closing stages. At Spa, the cars saw the flag in second and fourth places behind the works Porsche. At Le Mans, AF Corse had another no-holds-barred battle in the LM GTE Pro category which resulted in the Italian squad’s lead team of Fisichella/Bruni/Vilander winning by a short head. Ferrari had broken the domination held by Corvette, the GT yardstick since the turn of the century. AF Corse then gave Ferrari victory in all the remaining rounds of the WEC, with the exception of Mount Fuji, clinching the FIA World Endurance Cup for GT Manufacturers and the FIA Endurance Trophy for LM GTE Pro Teams.
The team had the same ambitions for 2013 and hired Japanese hotshoe Kamui Kobyashi after his F1 outings for Toyota and Sauber. At Silverstone, the Ferraris were beaten by Aston Martin and they arrived at Le Mans after turning the tables on the British make at Spa. The Italian team met with little luck in the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours and had a race against the clock to repair #51 badly damaged in an accident on Test Day. In the race itself, they were outclassed by the Porsches and Aston Martins and failed to repeat their 2012 success. The two F458 Italias finished behind the aforementioned and the Corvettes, although they scored precious points in the world championship chase. Bruni and Fisichella then won in Brazil but, for the final round in Bahrain, AF Corse decided to split its lead team to maximise the chances of one of them taking the FIA World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers. Fate decided that it would be Bruni, as a wheel issue on the car shared with Kobayashi put paid to Fisichella’s hopes. With Porsche hot on their heels throughout the race, “Gimmi” Bruni, who had mastered the art of putting in a fast lap in the qualifiers, and Toni Vilander crossed the finish line as winners, scooping the FIA World Endurance Cup for GT Manufacturers for Ferrari and the Team Trophy for AF Corse, as in 2012. Vilander and Kobayashi made a major contribution to the Manufacturers’ cup success as they scored points in all the rounds bar Interlagos (Brazil), where the car was destroyed by fire.
In 2014 AF Corse took on two new drivers: Italian Davide Rigon (first champion in the history of the now-defunct Superleague Formula), and British ace James Calado from the GP2 Series, who had also been F1 reserve driver for Force India in 2013. They replaced Kobayashi, who had returned to F1, and Fisichella, who stayed on to supplement the #51 line-up of Vilander and Bruni for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Olivier Beretta from Monaco joined the drivers in #71. The team kicked off the 2014 FIA WEC campaign in exactly the same way as in 2013 as the Ferrari 458 Italias won at Spa, beating Porsche and Aston Martin, and just missing out on a one-two. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, AF Corse faced an additional rival, the Corvette Racing team, who entered the brand-new Corvette C7.R for the first time. Once again the GTE Pro class was the theatre of a thrilling battle and again Ferrari came out on top thanks to #51 and the evenly-matched driver line-up of Bruni (3rd Le Mans class win), Fisichella and Vilander (2nd Le Mans class win for both men). AF Corse scored another two FIA WEC victories that season and clinched yet another title, its third in three years!
The insatiable AF Corse team returned in 2015 with unchanged driver line-ups: Bruni and Vilander in #51 and Calado and Rigon in #71. At Silverstone, they kicked off the season in the best possible fashion with a victory and third place respectively in GTE Pro, but met with less success at Spa. The #51 was given a stop & go penalty while #71 was hit with a drive-through. With the back-up of Fisichella in #51 and Beretta in #71, AF Corse came to the Circuit de la Sarthe as hot favourites in spite of the progress made by the other works teams. However the 24 Hours of Le Mans reflected the 2015 season as a whole: often in the points, but rarely on the top step of the podium, whereas they had started from pole in four races out of eight. After regularly swapping the lead at Le Mans with the sole surviving Corvette C7.R, the #51 Ferrari was suddenly forced to pit with gearbox trouble. Once it was fixed, Bruni/Vilander/Fisichella rejoined the track in third position. It remained there until the finish line whereas Rigon/Calado/Fisichella in the sister car climbed one step higher on the LM GTE Pro podium, scooping maximum points in the process as the winning Corvette was not involved in the FIA World Endurance Championship. At the Nürburgring, Bruni and Vilander were let down by electronic problems while in Austin, their hopes of victory were dashed by an issue with a door. Rigon and Calado finished both races in third place. Deliverance came in Fuji with a second class win at last for the holders of the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers, with the sister car clinching third place yet again. Although they finished the season with two second places, Bruni and Vilander were unable to retain their cup as Porsche scooped the three prizes up for grabs. After such a glittering career, the Ferrari 458 Italia bowed out on a low note.
The 458 Italia having reached the end of its life cycle, Ferrari decided to replace it with the 488 GTE for the 2016 season, to comply with the new LM GTE Pro technical regulations that come into force at the beginning of the year. Although the Italian manufacturer’s new weapon had a tough start to life at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, it has exploded on to the FIA WEC scene with two class wins in two races for the reshuffled driver line-ups. Vilander having crossed the Atlantic, AF Corse has welcomed Sam Bird, one of the winners of the FIA Endurance Trophy for LM P2 Drivers in 2015. The Englishman has joined Rigon in #71, while Calado has moved over to join Bruni in #51. And what a start for the new Ferrari works driver as the Anglo-Italian tandem in #71 has won both races! At Silverstone, despite a three-minute penalty for swapping the engine in #51 before the race, Calado and Bruni finished in second spot to offer AF Corse a one-two. In Belgium, however, they were robbed of certain victory by a mechanical failure less than ten minutes from the chequered flag. Although the 488 is still young, Ferrari will once again be one of the main contenders for victory in LM GTE Pro at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.