The 2015 results did not live up to expectations, even though the 458 Italia always looked more than capable of delivering the right results.
Maranello – Second place in the Constructors’, second in the Drivers’, second and third in the Teams’ and a win for team and drivers in the GTE-Am class: for any other constructor, a season like that would not be seen as that bad. However, Ferrari never settles for anything less than victory and it lined up at the start of the 2015 World Endurance Championship (WEC) as the reigning champions after an exciting 2014 season. The 2015 results did not live up to expectations, even though the 458 Italia always looked more than capable of delivering the right results.
Bruni, Vilander, Calado and Rigon
Unfortunately, a long run of problems and unlucky situations prevented Gianmaria “Gimmi” Bruni and Toni Vilander, at the wheel of the number 51 AF Corse car to hang onto the drivers’ title. These difficulties also meant that James Calado and Davide Rigon in car 71, were unable to take their first win in this category, which would definitely have been well deserved. The season got underway in April at Silverstone with a qualifying session far from simple. Vilander and Bruni managed to secure fifth place, while Rigon and Calado, the latter making a mistake, ended up last in class and were even behind the GTE-Am class 98 Aston Martin of Dalla Lana-Lamy-Lauda.
There was a scare for Bruni after the start, as he came across a spinning prototype car, but miraculously avoided it, although he almost came to a complete stop. Apart from that, the race ran its course without drama, with both Ferraris rejoining the group. An accident brought out the Full Course Yellow, which means all drivers must stick to a speed of 80 km/h. The AF Corse team used it to attempt a strategy gamble, calling in the 71 car for a complete pit stop. The 51 car came in just for a fuel top-up and got going again immediately.
Not long after came another Full Course Yellow and this time the moment was right for bringing in car 51, which managed a pit stop without losing any time. This well thought out strategy from AF Corse propelled the Ferrari into second place, behind the number 92 Porsche of Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki, which had a problem of its own. Unexpectedly therefore, Bruni and Vilander won the opening round of the season, ahead of the 91 Porsche and the other Ferrari. In the GTE-Am class, victory went to the Dalla Lana-Lamy-Lauda Aston Martin ahead of the number 83 AF Corse Ferrari, of Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas and SMP Racing’s 72 car in the hands of Aleksey Basov, Victor Shaytar and Andrea Bertolini, the Italian staying with the team having won the 2014 European Le Mans Series title and now responsible for bringing on the Russian team in the toughest series for enclosed wheel cars.
The second race got underway on 2 May at Spa-Francorchamps. Once again the Aston Martins shone in qualifying, with MacDowell-Rees-Stanaway taking pole. This time however, Ferrari was more competitive, to the extent that Bruni and Vilander were second with Rigon and Calado starting fourth. At around half distance, Rigon had an accident while attempting a move on the GTE-Am class Porsche number 77. The cars touched at the final corner and the accident almost caught out the 51 car too. Bruni produced a stunning passing move at the final corner. He came alongside the number 99 Aston Martin around the outside at the new Bus Stop, the two cars running side by side through the turn and as they came into the left hand part of the chicane, he had the inside line coming onto the straight and was ahead of his rival.
The applause from the grandstands and the cries of delight in the pits stuck in the throat, when the news came that because of a problem at the pit stop, the 51 car had to purge a 60 second stop&go penalty, 60 seconds which seemed like an eternity. The car finished fourth, with the win going to the number 99 Aston Martin. The GTE-Am class produced a carbon copy of the opening round of the season, with the 98 Aston Martin ahead of the AF Corse 83 Ferrari of Perrodo-Collard-Aguas and the SMP Racing 72 car driven by Basov-Shaytar-Bertolini.
Second part of the WEC 2015 season review
So June came round and it was time for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Once again the MacDowell-Rees-Stanaway Aston Martin took pole position, beating the Bruni-Vilander number 51 Ferrari by less than a tenth, the regular crew joined on this occasion by Giancarlo Fisichella, whose main role this year was racing in the USA in the USCC championship at the wheel of the Risi Competizione 458 Italia. However, qualifying was best forgotten for the 71 (Rigon-Calado-Beretta) car which had to start from the very back of the grid.
For Bruni-Vilander-Fisichella, the race almost ended after just a few hours: the 51 car was hit by Loic Duval in the number 8 Audi at the end of a Full Course Yellow phase. Fisichella pitted and lost a lap, while the 71 car was second having staged a great climb up the order. As the eighth hour chimed, the number 51 458 Italia was fighting back but the 71 car needed a change of starter motor and that cost it no less than four laps. In the middle of the night, the Ferrari was closing rapidly on the lead Chevrolet number 64, driven by Gavin-Milner-Taylor and, thanks to a clever strategy, even moved into the lead as dawn came.
In the end it seemed as though it was just a case of managing the lead, given there were only two hours to the finish, but then unfortunately the gearbox broke on the 458 Italia. Thus the Chevrolet went on to win ahead of the 71 car and the 51 machine, which the mechanics got back out on track in record time. The disappointment of missing out on the win was somewhat mitigated by delight for the crew of the GTE-Am 72 car. Basov, Shaytar and Bertolini were lying second for a long time but they were gifted the win when Paul Dalla Lana’s race in the 98 Aston Martin ended in the wall when there were just 45 minutes to go and victory was in its grasp. Thus Bertolini took the win that had looked set to elude him forever.
The best GT racer in the world
WEC was back on track at the end of August, but in the previous month, there was important news for Ferrari: Gimmi Bruni, the best GT racer in the world, had turned down several offers from various companies and had renewed a multi-year contract with the Maranello marque, thus being on hand to move forward with his fellow drivers on the development of the 488 GTE which would race as from the start of the 2016 season. Ferrari had one of its best qualifyings of the season at the Nurburgring, with a front row lock-out courtesy of Bruni-Vilander and Rigon-Calado. However, things turned out differently in the race: after a few laps, the number 51 458 Italia was left stranded with a control unit problem.
The team eventually got it going again, but it was a long way down and eventually scored just half a point. As for the 71 car it came home third behind the two Porsches after having tangled with the 92 of Pilet-Makowiecki. Saving face for the Maranello marque was the 72 SMP Racing car, with which Basov, Shaytor and Bertolini started from pole, going on to confirm their Le Mans form in the GTE-Am class by beating the 98 Aston Martin and the 83 Ferrari. At the end of the summer comes the Austin race where the 71 car ended up third, again behind another Porsche one-two, with Bruni and Vilander only seventh. Once again Basov, Shaytar and Bertolini saved the day for Ferrari, taking their third successive win and, on the back of the win in the Le Mans 24 Hours, they had now scored enough points to take the championship title. Tomorrow the third and final part of the WEC 2015 season review.
Third and last part of the WEC 2015 season review
For Ferrari, it seemed the Fuji race might be the right time to make amends. However, it rained on race day and that was seriously bad news for the 458 Italia when compared to its Porsche rivals. The driving rain stopped after about an hour, but the rain tyres were still the order of the day up until the final two and a half hours of the race. To close the gap to the Porsche, the AF Corse strategists decided not to change driver and tyres, but to stick to refueling only.
After a great drive from Toni Vilander, Gimmi Bruni jumped in the car and the team opted to fit slicks. For the first two laps, the Ferrari man was driving as though on ice, but as the soon as the tyres were up to temperature, he began lapping seconds faster than the rest winning the race. Two weeks later, in Shanghai, the script in the GTE-Pro class was almost the same as at Fuji. The Ferraris flew in qualifying with Bruni and Vilander taking pole. However, it rained for the race and this time it fell throughout the entire four hours.
The time for the Ferrari fight back was limited and so the 91 Porsche won from Bruni and Vilander, with Lietz taking enough points to clinch the Drivers’ title. In the GTE-Am class, there was a very well deserved first win for Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas. Then came the third week of November and the final round of the 2015 WEC season. In the heat of the Gulf, Ferrari once again stamped its authority on qualifying. In the race, the Porsche Pilet-Makowiecki 92 car proved to be unexpectedly quick.
However the 71 car climbed all the way up to third place. At this point, with the Ferraris in second and third place, it meant that even with a win for Porsche, the Constructors’ title would go to the Prancing Horse. But once again, bad luck was waiting just around the corner. Something went wrong at the third pit stop for car 71 and four laps after the stop, Rigon lost the front left wheel when the rim broke. The 92 Porsche won, ahead of the 51 Ferrari. The 71 car finished sixth with the title heading off to Stuttgart.
In the GTE-Am class a fifth place is enough to ensure the world title to the SMP Racing team, with the drivers’ crown going to Aleksey Basov, who had cut his teeth in the Ferrari Challenge, Victor Shaytar and Andrea Bertolini. This great celebration ended the era of the 458 Italia in WEC’s GTE-Pro class, making it one of the most successful Ferraris of all time in racing terms. However, the model will continue racing and hopefully winning in 2016, in the GTE-Am class.