Calado's road from 'out of control' junior to Ferrari Le Mans hero

Sports Car News

James Calado made history last year as he became another British Ferrari Le Mans winner – and hero. He speaks to James Elson about trying to go back-to-back in 2024

2 PIER GUIDI Alessandro (ita), CALADO James (gbr), GIOVINAZZI Antonio (ita) Ferrari Le Mans WEC 2024

Calado has matured into the complete sports car driver with Ferrari


Lewis Hamilton’s 2025 Ferrari F1 move has brought the idea of British Scuderia drivers into sharp focus – it’s over 30 years since Il Leone himself, Nigel Mansell, won the hearts and minds of the Tifosi with his no-hold-barred drives.

Before him John Surtees, Mike Hawthorn, Peter Collins and Tony Brooks all raced in scarlet, while the Maranello marque has a long history of British sports car drivers, with the aforementioned joined by Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Mike Parkes and Derek Bell as all flying the flag for Ferrari at Le Mans.

However, until recently, only one Brit had ever won Le Mans for the Scuderia: Lord Selsdon, who famously contributed roughly 1hr 30mins to Luigi Chinetti’s incredible 1949 drive in a Ferrari 166MM which gave Enzo his first ever La Sarthe win.

That all changed last year though, as the No51 Ferrari Hypercar – featuring Worcestershire-born James Calado as well as Italians Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi – took a famous victory after an intense battle with Toyota in one of Le Mans’ greatest ever races, winning after a half century’s absence from the top class.

Le Mans 2023 winner Ferrari at the finish line

Calado, Pier Guidi and Giovinazzi made history with overall win on Le Mans return

Calado, who was mentored by John Surtees as part of the Racing Steps foundation, is keenly aware of his place in history. He tells Motor Sport that it’s “a privilege, I feel lucky everyday,” on being the British representative in red, a team with whom he’s has transformed from a rapid yet ragged junior to the consummate sports car driver.

Now the Cropthorne-native is looking to make even more history by winning the great race race back-to-back.

He’ll be doing so at an event more keenly contested than for a long time – the La Sarthe top class this year features 23 cars, and joining the Ferrari-Toyota fight is Porsche, whose cars have already won two races this year, with Cadillac, Alpine, Peugeot, BMW and Lamborghini entering the fray too.

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“It’s definitely not going to be as easy as last year,” Calado emphasises. “It’s going to be tough because of more cars and manufacturers, Porsche is very strong and Toyota will be there as well. I expect it to be very close – I think it’s gonna be one of those ones where it’s going to go right to the end.”

That said, Ferrari is a team which has flattered to deceive thus far in 2024. The team has shown devastating pace from Round 2 onwards after a slow start at the season opener in Qatar, but fell on its own sword with a wet weather strategy fumble in Imola before being caught out by a safety car in Spa after the race was stopped – and then extended by two hours. Its British driver is still bullish though.

“From my perspective it’s been really positive, because I think we’ve been the strongest car,” Calado says.

“In Spa, we were no doubt the fastest with all three cars – in both races we were leading the races and in circumstances out of our control we didn’t score the points.

“Spa: we would have won that race; Imola: we were there, so it’s promising going into Le Mans because I think we’ve found a lot of performance compared to last year.”

6 PIER GUIDI Alessandro (ita), CALADO James (gbr), GIOVINAZZI Antonio (ita) Ferrari Le Mans 2 WEC 2024

Brit feels 499P car now has race pace to match qualifying speed

Ferrari is now appealing that Spa result, but that’s not for Calado to waste energy on – he’s busy getting the best out of the 499P car with his team-mates.

He highlights where it’s most improved, with particular focus on converting the 499P’s obvious qualifying into something which can be maintained for an entire endurance event.

“If you look at it, the last few races I think our race pace has been the most improved [out of the field] compared to last year,” he says.

“As drivers we’ve all got that year under our belt – we’ve learned well how to manage the tyres properly, in terms of driving the car and set-up, working with the engineers to try and help optimise things for the duration of a stint.

3 PIER GUIDI Alessandro (ita), CALADO James (gbr), GIOVINAZZI Antonio (ita) Ferrari Le Mans 2 WEC 2024

Calado emphasises importance of bring home the car in one piece


“It shows that we’re the strongest in that area – and we’re [still] quick in quali as well!”

All of Calado’s sports car learning has come at Ferrari – including his GT years, he’s been with the marque now for the best part of a decade. He explains how’s he’s matured over that period.

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“A lot – especially the first few years, I was a little bit out of control coming from single-seaters,” he admits. “That’s always about trying to destroy everyone, your own team-mates, just trying to be the best and most dominant – endurance racing is different because you need to work with other drivers, you need to work with the team and you need to look after the car.

“Le Mans is about managing the whole thing because you need a race car at the end which isn’t damaged, which hasn’t got broken suspension, with bits of bodywork falling off – you need a car which is in one piece and I’ve learned that from experience.

“You don’t necessarily need to be the quickest car at all. You can hold back a bit as long as you’re there or there about. Keeping the car together is really the key, because the moment you need to push normally is always the last six hours. You need to be able to have the car underneath you to extract the performance.”

7 PIER GUIDI Alessandro (ita), CALADO James (gbr), GIOVINAZZI Antonio (ita) Ferrari Le Mans 2 WEC 2024

Le Mans competition is now stronger than ever…

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That was never more important than in the thrilling climax of last year’s Le Mans, when Alessandro Pier Guidi was able to soak up the pressure from Toyota’s Ryo Hirakawa, the 499P still on song after almost 24 Hours.

The experience was gleaned from two GT victories at La Sarthe for Calado (also with Pier Guidi) it’s clearly an environment which gets the best out of Calado.

“I’m happy,” he enthuses. “It’s my 10th year at Ferrari now, so I love it. I always wanted to be a Ferrari driver when I was young, and I’m in a good place.

“I always feel privileged, I always feel lucky to be part of this team. I always feel like I need to work hard still and keep pushing to get the results that you deserve.”

What’s helped Calado to thrive was highlighted by what John Surtees told him when he joined Ferrari in 2015.

James Calado John Surtees 2011

Surtees was a guiding light for Calado in formative racing years

“The first thing he said to me was at Ferrari, sports cars was just as important as Formula 1, and they treat it equally the same – and they do to this day, it’s really been like that.

“He always said Ferrari is one big family and it really is – especially the GT side of it. We’ve got the F1, the road car production, the sports cars – everyone knows one another. He was right.”

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With adoration comes expectation though. While the grand prix team has had its ups and downs, the Tifosi’s passion for sports cars has been supercharged – making Le Mans more important than ever. Previous Italian WEC rounds saw crowds of around 5,000. This year’s Imola race saw over 70,000.

“It’s huge,” he says. “There’s been a lot more attention – not just on us but WEC in general too, the amount fans arriving at the track has increased, we keep seeing new record attendances being reported.

“I expect Le Mans will be very busy this year – but it’s all for the good. Italy more than anywhere is still celebrating our win from Le Mans. I really appreciate the support we get.”

4 PIER GUIDI Alessandro (ita), CALADO James (gbr), GIOVINAZZI Antonio (ita) Ferrari Le Mans 2 WEC 2024

Calado feels at one with “family” Ferrari team


If the support is fervent in his new home, then what of the UK? With talk of the WEC expanded up from eight rounds at some point in the future, Calado knows where he would want to see a race.

“Silverstone,” the Brit says. “It’s a great track and in these cars it would be pretty quick because they work really well in high downforce areas.

“Silverstone is fast flowing and to have a home race for myself would be great. I’m actually pushing them along. I always keep saying to the guys we need to do something – hopefully we’ll get it.”