THE BRITS IN GTS

Brit will be look­ing to con­tinue his good form in France

Motor Sport News - - Le Mans Preview - Stephen Lick­o­r­ish

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.”

Photos: LAT

Bird will part­ner Da­vide Rigon and An­drea Ber­tolini

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