Ferrari still behind Toyota going to Le Mans, reckons Giovinazzi

Ferrari goes into the start of practice for this week’s Le Mans 24 Hours still behind Toyota in the Hypercar pecking order, believes Antonio Giovinazzi.

#50 Ferrari AF Corse Ferrari 499P of Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen

The Italian driver made the remarks despite setting the pace in last Sunday’s official test day at the wheel of the #51 499P Le Mans Hypercar he shares with Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado for the World Endurance Championship blue riband.

Giovinazzi set a best time of 3m29.504s in the afternoon session, topping the times by a tenth of a second from Porsche driver Laurens Vanthoor, while Toyota’s best car was three tenths off the pace in third in the hands of Kamui Kobayashi.

However, speaking ahead of Wednesday’s opening practice session, Giovinazzi said he is convinced that Toyota remains a step ahead of the Hypercar competition.

“Testing is just testing,” said the ex-Formula 1 racer when asked by Autosport where he feels Ferrari stands relative to its rivals. “I think Toyota is still in front of us, and maybe Porsche and Cadillac are closer to us.

“We are there ready to fight, and the chance is there. It’s 24 hours, anything can happen, but Toyota is still in front. 

“It’s about experience. They have a lot more experience than us, especially at Le Mans. I think we have a fast car - we showed that in qualifying in the first three races [of the WEC season]. But you cannot buy experience.

“We are a young team, we don’t have much experience of this race in a Hypercar. Toyota has that, they know how to win and to be fast. I think for us it’s more about putting pressure on Toyota and maybe something can happen.”

The minimum weight of the Ferrari 499P has been raised by 24kg for Le Mans under Balance of Performance, compared to a 37kg increase for the Toyota GR010 Hybrid.

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 - Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez

Photo by: Rainier Ehrhardt

Ferrari sportscar racing technical director Ferdinando Cannizzo backed up Giovinazzi’s assessment that Toyota remains favourite at the start of race week, while stressing that the race will not be a straight fight between the Japanese manufacturer’s GR010 HYBRID and the 499P.

“I guess Toyota are favourites, but I am not underestimating Cadillac and Porsche either,” he said.

“For us the most important thing is reliability. And in terms of reliability Toyota is the benchmark. We know they are the strongest; they can rely on years of experience.

“But we expect the LMDhs [the Cadillac V-Series.R and the Porsche 963] to be part of the game. 

“For sure they will be competitive: it will not be the same situation as the previous WEC races with Toyota too fast and Ferrari as the second force in the championship.”

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Giovinazzi added that he hopes the tyre degradation issues Ferrari suffered in the opening part of the WEC season will be less of a concern around the high-speed Circuit de la Sarthe.

“We are focused [on tyres] because it was not our strongest point. We saw at Sebring and Portimao, we focused a lot on that. And I think we improved at Spa in terms of tyre degradation and saving tyres for the race,” he said. 

“Here at Le Mans it’s less of a problem, it’s not such an aggressive track for the tyres, so it can be good for us. But it’s not only about that.

“We just need to focus on being better in degradation and everything we can do. And then, once we start the 24 hours, react at every moment in the best way.”

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