Prior to this weekend’s GT Open-sanctioned Winter Series event at Paul Ricard, AF Corse was testing at Vallelunga with its Ferrari 458 GTE cars that will compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship. (En Français)
At least two drivers were evaluated in the test, including GP2 standouts James Calado and Sam Bird. Belgian driver Jerome D’ Ambrosio had tested with the team earlier in the year, with all three understood to be in contention for the fourth and final full-season seat in the team’s two-car GTE-Pro program.
Calado finished third in GP2 last year with ART Grand Prix, while Bird, who made his sports car debut in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in a PC car, finished runner-up in the open-wheel series in 2013.
Team owner Amato Ferrari told Endurance-Info on Thursday that the final decision on the driver pairings for the Nos. 51 and 71 Ferraris have not yet been made. At present, only Gianmaria Bruni (No. 51) and Davide Rigon (No. 71) are confirmed, with Toni Vilander’s placement to-be-determined.
The team had to fill two positions for 2014, following Giancarlo Fisichella’s move to the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione and Kamui Kobayashi retuning to Formula One.
Lewis Hamilton talking about Sam last season.
Sam Bird’s Motorsport CV
2014 United SportsCar Championship with Starworks
5th in class, 24th overall, Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona
2013 GP2 Series 2nd place with Russian Time
Russian Time GP2 finish 1st in debut season
2012 Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Reserve Driver
3rd in Formula Renault 3.5 with ISR Racing
2011 6th GP2 Series with iSport
2010 5th GP2 Series with ART Grand Prix
Young Driver test with Mercedes AMG Petronas F1
2009 AT&T Williams F1 Testing
Podium in Macau Grand Prix with ART
Bird raced in GP2 with Russian Time, gunning for the championship after losing out to Fabio Leimer last year. Bird finished ahead of Caterham F1 new blood Marcus Ericsson, and himself has a foot in the door as a development driver with Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team.
Sam’s one to watch, so Race Department had a chat with him.
Our condolences go out to the family and loved ones of Igor Mazepa. Igor was the team principal of Bird’s 2013 GP2 team, Russian Time. Mazepa suddenly passed away last week, after taking his team to the crown in the Russian squad’s first year. He will truly be missed.
Firstly, congratulations on your first endurance event in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. How does the United SportsCar Championship differ from your past racing experiences?
It was a new experience for me in many respects. First time racing at Daytona or anywhere in the USA, first ever endurance race. I really enjoyed it. The focus in this type of racing is on combining the outright pace that I’m accustomed to with very prolonged focus, consistency and race management. I’m pleased with how I acquitted myself.
We spoke to Aston Martin Racing’s Darren Turner earlier this month, and he touched upon the tragic incident at Le Mans last year. How was the atmosphere when Gidley and Malucelli collided at Daytona?
I was not in the car at the time so I saw it happen on one of the team’s monitors. It was a horrible moment and the entire paddock went quiet. As a driver, your heart immediately goes out to the fellow competitors involved and you just hope that they’re ok. We all kept informed of the news of their condition that filtered through during the event, and while it was clear that there were some nasty injuries, the worst fears that inevitably went through our minds initially were averted.
A recent poll showed that 40% of fans think you deserve a race seat in Formula One over any other young driver. Is Formula One still something you’re still pursuing, or are sports cars the place for you?
Of course I would still love my chance in F1. It’s where I have worked hard to be throughout my career and I know I am ready. But it’s no secret that I don’t meet the current “economic” requirements. Having said that, I still believe that there are plenty of exciting racing championships where a bit of talent and a lot of dedication and hard work are the currency required, so I’ll focus my efforts on those. If the chance to race in F1 still comes my way, I will of course grab it and I will keep myself prepared for it.
Your first season with Russian Time GP2 was fantastic, and you took the chequered flag at some iconic tracks. Some drivers are very sentimental about particular tracks, are you?
Very much so! Winning at Spa, Monaco, Silverstone and a few others is that little bit more special.
Many of our readers race on simulators competitively. How valuable are simulators in terms of preparing for a race?
They’re useful preparation and have become increasingly important to F1 teams as track testing has become limited. But you cannot really replace the track experience.
A technical issue held you back from taking the GP2 title you deserved, last season. What went through your mind when the car stalled?
After the first start was aborted due to some stallers down the grid, I knew that my clutch was at risk, particularly in the very hot conditions and starting from the front row, where you are made to wait for longer than anyone else. You’re always aware that something like this can happen and when it does, you just can’t afford to get too down about it. There is a job to do to recover the situation. With Tom Dillman out of the weekend injured, the onus was completely on me to try to win Russian Time the team title. And as it turned out, my recovery drive from last on Saturday, put me in a good enough position on Sunday to finish 4th and clinch the title that was always my team’s primary objective.
You’re one of the seemingly few drivers in the running for an F1 race seat who are there based on pure driving finesse. How difficult has it become to survive on talent alone in the world of top-tier motorsports?
It’s been challenging every year but I’m not one to moan about it and cry out that “it’s not fair”. It is what it is. Work hard and have faith in yourself and in your future.
What would you say are your career highlights so far?
There are many: my first F3 win in Bucharest as a rookie, my Macau podium, winning my first GP2 feature race at Monza, again as a rookie, winning in back to back seasons in World Series by Renault and GP2 at both Monaco and Silverstone. Having said that, some of my best and most memorable races are not always the ones I won. My first GP2 Series race in Barcelona, where I had to come in on the first lap for a front wing change, rejoined last and then managed to overtake most of the field to finish 9th is the one that most people still talk to me about most!
What’s your view on the new rule changes, such as double points, coming to Formula One this season?
We’ll have to see how that plays out but on paper, I’m not a fan of the double points concept. It seems a little too arbitrary and artificial. But I’m open.
Finally, would you rather fight a horse sized duck, or a hundred duck sized horses?
That’s a very important question and one that I have often stayed awake at night thinking about! I would have to choose the horse sized duck. I’d like to think that from one Bird to another, we would understand each other!
Thanks for talking to us, Sam. We’d like to wish you all the best with your career!
Sam is yet to announce his plans for 2014, and we’re sure he’ll be successful wherever racing takes him.
The Briton was once again the quickest man in class.
Having already turned heads at the Roar before the 24 test three weeks ago, by setting a new Daytona Speedway track record on his sports car debut, Sam Bird was back at the wheel of the #8 Starworks Motorsport Prototype Challenge car, for his first ever endurance race this weekend in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The Briton was once again the quickest man in class, setting the fastest lap of the race in a 1:43.016, but he was keen to underplay this accomplishment and point out that his achievement lay elsewhere:
“Of course it’s important to be able to outpace the opposition; as we saw in the Prototype class, the win can go down to the very last lap”, said Bird.
“But success in endurance racing is about the ability to set consistently fast laps, while staying out of trouble. My approach was measured aggression and focused decision-making and I’m pleased with how I performed.”
“The team as a whole did well. Unfortunately, the car suffered a severe steering issue during Eric’s first stint and he had to bring the car in. It took around forty minutes to resolve and we rejoined twenty laps adrift. We did make up good ground during the rest of the race but it was too big a handicap to overhaul in such a competitive field.”
The #8 Starworks car finished 5th in class and top Starworks finisher of the three cars entered.
“I want to thank Peter Baron and the whole of the Starworks team who worked extremely hard throughout the weekend. I also want to say how much I enjoyed sharing my first Rolex 24 at Daytona experience with my team mates Mirco Schultis, Eric Lux and Renger van der Zande.”
Sorry I was a bit useless this weekend… I wasn’t home, so I couldn’t be on here to update it!
Bring on Sebring!
The race is over! Car #8 finished fifth within its classification.