‘GTE Pro was a battle of the Brits’
For five hours and 50 minutes, two British drivers were locked in battle for victory in the GTE Pro class – although thanks to the strategies of the two AF Corse Ferrari 488s they did not lock horns in person. With 10 minutes left, the #51 car shared by James Calado and Gianmaria Bruni was set for victory when it slowed with an engine problem and Davide Rigon, co-driving the #71 machine with Sam Bird, swept into the lead to take a second consecutive win.
The two cars were not separated by much more than 20 seconds at any point in the race. Bruni took the lead at the start and was chased hard by Bird until a moment at Pouhon on the seventh lap created a small gap between the pair.
“I had a little bit of oversteer and caught it,” said Bird, who lost three or four seconds. “At Pouhon, if you get on the kerb too much you can’t get it back on the circuit. And it’s so dirty off line that I had to be really careful bringing it back on.”
The two crews matched each other almost lap for lap, but the #51 car very gradually extended its lead, largely thanks to faster pitstops, before the safety car was deployed to clear up the wreckage of Stefan Mucke’s massive accident at Eau Rouge in the Ford GT. Calado would have made it to the finish with a few seconds in hand, but for the problem.
This allowed the other Ford GT of Marino Franchitti, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell to take second.
Ferrari was also in the mix for GTE Am victory, with Rui Aguas’s AF Corse Ferrari leading early on before being passed by Pedro Lamy in the #98 Aston Martin. But a drivethrough penalty for the Ferrari for exceeding track limits (the first of two), combined with an out-of-sync second stop, put the car a lap down in the second hour.
The Aston Martin, spearheaded by the rapid Lamy sharing with Mathias Lauda and bronze-rated Paul Dalla Lana, was then able to close out a straightforward win.