THE BRITS IN GTS
Brit will be looking to continue his good form in France
This year will be Sam Bird’s third Le Mans 24 Hours. And he will be racing in a third different class. He made his debut with AF Corse in GTE Am in 2014, before switching to the G-drive LMP2 entry last season but now he’s back in an AF Ferrari, this time in GTE Pro.
“It’s a slightly different approach because with GTE Pro you’re going all out for the GT win,” he says. “With GTE Am, as much as it pains me to say it, you’re not fighting with the Pro Ferraris, Astons and Corvettes. Then LMP2 is different because you are overtaking GTS all the time so it’s a different challenge.”
Bird’s Le Mans debut was a tough one, as he was involved in a spectacular collision with two prototypes when rain started to fall. Then in 2015 his Ligier JS P2 struggled to match the pace of the KCMG ORECA and he had to settle for third.
But this time Bird has been the man to beat in the run up to the La Sarthe contest and goes in as one of the favourites.
Alongside Davide Rigon, he has won the class in the first two rounds of the World Endurance Championship – and both times the Ferrari 488 duo’s advantage has been over a lap. However, Bird insists some of the Prancing Horse’s rivals have yet to show their hands.
“We knew the car was good but we didn’t realise it was going to be quite so dominant,” he says. “We won the first two races comprehensively but know the straight-line speed in the Ferrari is not as strong as Aston Martin or Corvette or Porsche.
“It’s really hard to say who our biggest rivals will be – we are very quick at normal circuits but we don’t know where Ford are as I think they have been underplaying their car. I think they’re going to be extremely strong and Porsche will always be strong and Corvette as well. So it’s very difficult to know who is going to be the main competition.”
Regardless of who his chief rivals are – with fellow Brit James Calado in the sister car a major threat – the reigning LMP2 WEC champion is desperate to end the race on the top step of the podium.
“I stood on the podium last year but when you have just worked so hard for 24 hours, giving absolutely everything it’s quite difficult when you look up and see someone else on the top step,” he reflects. “Other podiums you can stomach but with Le Mans it’s much harder to stomach it.
“To win this year in a Ferrari would be a dream come true.”
Bird will partner Davide Rigon and Andrea Bertolini