Ferrari’s Le Mans 24hr pole sitter: “we’re pushing each other to the limit”
Ferrari’s locked out the front row, but a mountain lies ahead…
“It was a special lap,” Ferrari’s Antonio Fuoco tells TopGear.com, ‘special’ being a somewhat mild understatement. During Thursday night’s hyperpole shootout, the young Italian set a time of 3m 22.982s in his #50 car to secure pole position at this year's Le Mans 24hrs.
Fuoco’s teammates in the sister #51 Ferrari 499P were just under a second slower, securing them a second placed slot, meaning that Ferrari – returning to the top class of Le Mans for the first time in 50 years – has locked out the front row.
With nine outright wins, putting the Scuderia third on the all time winners list behind Audi and Porsche, does the 27-year old (pictured above) feel the weight of history on his shoulders ahead of the most famous endurance race of them all?
“As a Ferrari driver you’re always under a bit of pressure,” he tells TG. “When Ferrari enter a project they always want to win, so the pressure is high. But the team and the management keep us safe and in the comfort zone, which is good for us because it allows us to focus on what we need to do.
“I’m quite young, but I’ve been with Ferrari for 12 years now. It’s a family more than a team, and we have a really good relationship. Between car 50 and 51 we share everything, and we’re pushing each other to the limit,” he added.
It’s something his teammate in the #51 car, former F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi, echoes: “Normally your teammate is your main rival, because in the end it’s the same car, the same team and you want to beat him. But this time it’s different. You want to help your teammates because you want to help them be as fast as you. If we’re all fast, the result is better.
“And you want to leave the car in as good a condition as possible – tyres, brakes, the engine. You need to respect the car a lot more.”
Indeed speaking of the car, were the drivers surprised by how fast it was out of the blocks? Not so much. “We knew our one lap pace was really fast since the first race of the year,” car #50 driver Miguel Molina tells TG. “We weren’t surprised to be fighting for pole. We were competitive but we know this will change in the race. Toyota is still the benchmark – they are the experienced guys, they have everything under control. They are the reference right now.
“But in one lap we could fight, and yesterday Antonio showed that the car is fast.”
Indeed, Brit James Calado racing in the #51 car, is wary of Toyota: “The question is, are we the fastest? We don’t know yet because we don’t know what the others are doing. So far it’s been good,” he told TG. “We’ve shown our performance, we were absolutely as fast as we could be in qualifying and it’s nice to see those sorts of lap times. The car is performing well – it’s very strong but I’ve done this for many years and you never know what the others have got until you start the race.
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“Based on outright pace, we’re there or thereabouts. We need to see what the Toyotas can do because we know they’ve got performance in hand.”
Giovinazzi agrees: “Here at Le Mans, Toyota is still in front of us in terms of pace and everything. The first goal – to get pole position – is gone, and now the second goal is to put pressure on Toyota. They’ve got experience. They’ve already won at Le Mans so they know how to do it. For us it’s the first time, as teammates and with the car.”
So what does the team reckon on tomorrow’s race? “We have to be grounded,” Molina said. “A lot of things can happen over 24hrs, we need to do our race and our job. We need to think about reliability.
“When the sun rises, we’ll see where we are. Right now the most important thing is to make the first few hours without any problems, then we’ll see where we are.”