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Le Mans 24 Hours of Le Mans

How AF Corse sacrificed potential LMP2 Le Mans victory to ensure Pro-Am spoils

The Italian team narrowly missed out on more Le Mans 24 Hours history this year as a conservative strategy and late reliability concerns hampered its bid for outright LMP2 victory

#183 AF Corse Oreca 07: Gibson: Francois Perrodo, Ben Barnicoat, Nicolas Varrone

#183 AF Corse Oreca 07: Gibson: Francois Perrodo, Ben Barnicoat, Nicolas Varrone

Photo by: Marc Fleury

Throughout the build-up to the Le Mans 24 Hours there was discussion about whether a Pro-Am LMP2 entry could win the class outright - and AF Corse nearly managed just that.

The Pro-Am crews must feature a bronze-graded amateur driver, while the regular LMP2 entries only need to run a silver alongside two golds or a gold and a platinum.

The #83 AF Corse ORECA of Ben Barnicoat, Nico Varrone and Francois Perrodo was one of six key cars that was in victory contention for much of this year's race but, ultimately, a slightly conservative strategy and some late reliability woes cost it the chance of making history by becoming the first Pro-Am outright LMP2 winner.

The trio enjoyed a handy advantage out front in the 18th hour, thanks to some impressive pace from Barnicoat, before the final safety car presented the team's strategists with a tough decision as they were mindful of the potential threat from the #14 AO by TF machine that was second in the Pro-Am class but a lap down at that stage.

"We were out front, winning the race and had it pretty well under control and then that last safety car really put us in a difficult position," Barnicoat told Motorsport.com.

"Do we pit now and go for the overall win, but that would've given AO a lap back and that would've brought them back into the fight of Pro-Am so we decided to stick to the job that we set in March when we all came together and started working for this programme."

#183 AF Corse Oreca 07: Gibson: Francois Perrodo, Ben Barnicoat, Nicolas Varrone

#183 AF Corse Oreca 07: Gibson: Francois Perrodo, Ben Barnicoat, Nicolas Varrone

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Ultimately, AF decided to be cautious and cover off the threat of TF by not pitting immediately. When Barnicoat did finally stop, Varrone emerged in third place.

"Even though that was the strategy we opted for, we were still on for an overall podium but the last four or five hours the battery was running a little bit low and it was taking an extra five seconds to stop the car every pitstop," Barnicoat explained.

"With these cars, it does 40 minutes [before needing to pit again] and, with the weather, you're pitting so much.

"It was at the point where you're just praying the car was going to start."

Fortunately for AF Corse, the car did start each time and it was able to take the flag in fourth place, 35 seconds behind the victorious #22 United Autosports crew, but achieved its target of taking the Pro-Am spoils.

Barnicoat was still "so, so happy" to take his first class win at Le Mans and put the disappointment of last year, when he crashed out, behind him. And he praised the vital role of bronze driver Perrodo in both this year's triumph and in how to avoid such mistakes.

"They [bronze drivers] may not be the fastest but Francois certainly kept it clean and did his job," said Barnicoat.

"I learned a big lesson last year when I didn't do it and it was great to redeem myself this season.

"The way the earlier safety cars fell for us was amazing because it meant we were able to get Francois' driving time done early and, in his early stints, he did a phenomenal job and that just left the job down to me and Nico."

#14 AO by TF Oreca 07: Gibson: Pj Hyett, Louis Deletraz, Alex Quinn

#14 AO by TF Oreca 07: Gibson: Pj Hyett, Louis Deletraz, Alex Quinn

Photo by: Emanuele Clivati | AG Photo

The TF crew of Louis Deletraz, Alex Quinn and PJ Hyett also had ambitions of winning LMP2 outright as a Pro-Am entry, especially after starting from pole. However, awkward timings for some of the safety cars - just after Hyett had completed stints in the car - meant the crew was unable to capitalise upon using up the bronze driver time under caution as much as some of its rivals and ultimately slipped a lap down.

"There were always slow zones and safety cars that stopped us from coming back," Deletraz told Motorsport.com.

"AF did a fantastic job, they were quick all race, no mistakes so they deserve it."

Instead Deletraz had to settle for second in class for a third successive year as his wait for an elusive Le Mans triumph continues.

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