Calado 'so proud' to emulate British aces in Ferrari's Le Mans Hypercar

James Calado will follow in the footsteps of John Surtees, Brian Redman and Derek Bell by driving a Ferrari Hypercar at Le Mans – he speaks to Rob Ladbrook about realising a dream

James Calado Ferrari 499P Hypercar

James Calado now has the chance to take top sports car honours in the Ferrari LMH


Never, in the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours, has a British Ferrari factory driver ever taken overall victory.

John Surtees, Brian Redman, Mike Parkes and Derek Bell are among those who have tried but never conquered the endurance race for the Scuderia.

This year though, 100 years after its first running, that inglorious run could come to an end after James Calado was named as one of the drivers spearheading Ferrari’s first attack on sportscar racing’s top category for half a century with the all-new 499P Hypercar.

A three-time World Endurance Champion with Ferrari’s GTE squad, the 33-year-old has been biding his time with the factory team, helping to develop the Hypercar and hoping that his name would be among the six announced earlier this week.

John Surtees driving for Ferrari at Le Mans in 1965

Calado hopes to emulate other British Scuderia sports car aces like John Surtees

Getty Images

While victory in this June’s race is very much in mind, Calado is elated at having the opportunity to emulate Surtees, who last stepped out of a works Ferrari at La Sarthe 58 years ago and played a large role in Calado’s formative career.

“The minute I got this drive, I immediately thought of John,” Calado tells Motor Sport. “I grew up reading stories about great Ferrari Le Mans drivers like Brian Redman and John Surtees, and it’s funny as John then became an incredible supporter of mine through my career. I raced against John’s son Henry in junior single-seaters, and John was a part of the Racing Steps Foundation [a programme set up to help develop the brightest British single-seater talent through the junior ranks towards Formula 1]. We were very good friends.

“John helped guide me, and it’s nice to think that I’m now in a similar position”

“When I started at Ferrari back in 2014, I got a letter from him congratulating me on joining and telling me about his own experiences in sports car racing. He said that the world wasn’t just about Formula 1 for Ferrari, and that it had as much passion for Le Mans and sports car racing as it did for grand prix racing. I still have that letter, and I instantly thought of him and the advice he gave me and the phone calls we had about me making the move to Ferrari.

“To now be a part of this, that’s now essentially become full circle… John helped guide me, and it’s nice to think that I’m now in a similar position to where he was all those years ago. That makes me personally very proud.”

And it’s not just that part of history that Calado is acutely aware of. He’ll be one of just a handful of drivers who will race a factory Ferrari prototype at Le Mans for the first time in 50 years. Redman was the sole Briton among the last crop to do so, when he drove a 312PB back in 1973. After that race, Ferrari turned its back on the chance to fight for outright Le Mans wins, and it’s taken half a century of rule tweaks and persuasion to lure it back with the pretty 499P Hypercar.

Related Article

Hypercar revolution: 2023’s new dawn for sports car racing

While it is yet to be tested against the competition, the team is pushing to succeed where the likes of Redman and Surtees stumbled.
“I always feel very lucky to be a part of this team,” says Calado. “Ferrari is such a big manufacturer, with an incredible history, and just to be a part of a programme like this is an amazing achievement. Having the chance to go for those outright Le Mans victories and world championships for the first time in 50 years… having that chance to make history… that’s going to be very special. We need to work hard if we’re going to achieve that, and it’s a brand-new car so there needs to be a lot of work done to get to a point where we can fight for wins and titles.”

And therein lies the challenge. With Ferrari being one of seven manufacturers signed up to the Hypercar class this season, success is far from a given, regardless of the team’s heritage and pedigree. The new 499Ps will be run by seasoned Ferrari team AF Corse, but even then it will be a big test for a squad that has masses of GT experience, but not so much on the prototype side barring a single season in LMP2.

With this season shaping up to be the hottest contested WEC campaign yet with Ferrari joining Porsche, Cadillac, Peugeot, Vanwall and Glickenhaus in taking the fight to class pace-setter Toyota, the eventual champion will certainly have been made to work for it.


Ferrari 499P is Scuderia’s first top tier sports car effort in 50 years


“We know we’re facing a huge challenge,” says Calado. “On our side, there’s some adapting to do. For the team, the engineers I know are learning the Hypercar quickly and there’s already been a big step up in Ferrari. We’ve got a lot more people than ever before working on this project, people working flat-out day and night to make sure everything is working and we’re pulling in the right direction. We’re at a level that’s much like F1, and I have full trust in what they’re doing. We’ve got the right guys behind us to get what we want, which is to win races and championships with Ferrari on the biggest stage in sports car racing.

“We the drivers must adapt too, not in terms of driving the car, but in terms of managing the GT traffic effectively. We’ve always complained about the prototypes coming through while we’re battling, so to now be on the other side of that, doing the overtaking… it’ll take a few races to maximise the most efficient way of handling a stint.”

One thing the drivers won’t be short on before the start of the campaign is mileage, with the 499P having already conducted well north of 5000km (3100 miles) of running around European circuits, with Calado being heavily involved with the test programme.

“We’ve all been involved in developing the new car, but I’ve done pretty much every test aside from one or two,” he says. “We’ve had a big say in the direction we need to go and what we need to do to make this car as competitive and as reliable as we can.

“I actually haven’t had to adapt my driving too much from the GTE to suit the 499P. The Hypercar is undoubtedly faster, but it’s not a crazy difference like it was with LMP1. It’s quite similar to a GTE car in slow-speed stuff. In fact, in some slower turns, where you can take a bit more kerb, the GTE is perhaps a bit faster, but with the Hypercar the high speed is where the difference lies as it has so much more downforce, plus the electric motor on the front axle, so the biggest adaptation isn’t the driving skill or the feel because the 499P feels like a Ferrari, it behaves like a Ferrari. The biggest difference is in the management of things like the electronics, understanding how to make the car faster, such as what we’re doing on the steering wheel settings or how to change things if there’s a balance issue. You need to have your engineering mind switched on more than if you’re racing a GTE car.”

For this season Calado will be paired with long-term team-mate Alessandro Pier Guidi – with whom he shared those WEC GT Pro titles – and ex-Formula 1 racer Antonio Giovinazzi aboard the number 51 car — the same number the pair ran throughout their GT campaigns. Calado and Pier Guidi share an enviable WEC record, having taken 11 wins and 23 podium finishes from their 39 race starts together.

2 James Calado Ferrari 499P Hypercar

Giovinazzi and Guidi join Calado in the No51 car


Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen will share the sister car, number 50, numbered in recognition of Ferrari’s years of absence from sports car racing’s premier class.

“I’m really glad I’m staying with Alessandro,” adds Calado. “We’ve already had a lot of success together and we know each other well and that familiarity can be important with a new project. We’re very similar in the way we drive, we have the same sort of personality and we know how to work well together. It’s also nice to stay with the number 51 on the car, and we have the introduction of Antonio Giovinazzi, who has a lot of experience in Le Mans prototypes.”

As well as rival Hypercars, Ferrari will also be competing for overall victory against Porsche and Cadillac LMDh cars, built to a more prescriptive rulebook.

Related Article

Ferrari's next Le Mans winner? 499P Hypercar revealed in full

“This year is shaping up to be incredible, the strongest entry into the top class for years,” says Calado. “That’s what we want: to see this championship grow and prosper, with a lot of competition between different cars. I think it’s clear that what the FIA and ACO have done has been right, with these new regulations and it’s re-ignited that interest in sportscar racing among the manufacturers. I think it’s going to be great and it’s only going to grow, but it’s also going to be very tough.

“For Ferrari, going down the Hypercar route was the only option. I understand the LMDh way, but for Ferrari it’s about building the entire car and having that control over it. I think it gives us the best platform to go and challenge Toyota and the rest. In terms of pressure, I don’t think choosing LMH adds anything. It’s the right direction for the company and it’s the Ferrari way, always has been, to race and try to win in a true Ferrari.

“But with the variables, we just don’t know where we’ll be, not until maybe the first or maybe the third race. It’s a brand-new car and to go in expecting to brush everybody else aside and win straight away is a bit naïve. We need to learn, like everybody else… a lot of things; about the car about tyres, traffic management and the rule set. To say we’re going into the first race expecting to be P1 straight away is unrealistic. We’re set up to work as hard as we can and eventually the results will come, I have zero doubt.

“Getting an outright win at Le Mans with Ferrari would undoubtedly top all of my other achievements. No matter what car you’re in, Le Mans is about experience. You need the knowledge of the track, of the traffic, of handling a 24-hour race. I feel we have that knowledge and experience. I want to win for Ferrari, for my team-mates and for myself and we’ve got the resources in place to do that. That’s the ultimate goal: to win Le Mans and more world titles.”