Since their World Championship debut with an LMP2 prototype, Cetilar Racing have been able to attract both attention and affinity from motorsport fans. An all-Italian project, brainchild of Roberto Lacorte, this year has changed dimension and category after taking up the challenge to compete in one of the most competitive and hard-fought classes, the LMGTE Am. The impact of this new transition has undoubtedly been a positive one, as evidenced in the results to date: a podium at the Spa-Francorchamps debut and a win at Portimão are feats not usually within the grasp of newcomers. However, the Italian team has so far proven that they will be in contention for both the driver and team titles, to such a degree, that with the 24 Hours of Le Mans fast approaching, the team currently leads both tables. The result of the most eagerly awaited race of the season, however, could prove decisive, which is why Roberto Lacorte and his team have gone to such great lengths to prepare every detail of the race they know so well. We interviewed the Tuscan driver-entrepreneur in the run-up to the French marathon.
What are the characteristics that make Cetilar Racing a unique team among those competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
“The most obvious feature is the fact that we have always relied on entirely Italian excellence, both in terms of technology and team elements. This is not out of mere unjustified national rivalry, but more specifically because Italian motorsport represents an incredible level of excellence and promoting the country is our objective. In Italy there is a wealth of excellence and we aim for the very top. That's why we joined forces with Ferrari and AF Corse: I’d say that’s as good as it gets in the world of GT. Then, there are those characteristics that don't have any commercial value, that go way beyond the budget, for instance, the passion, the common goal, the shared values, elements that are as crucial as the more technical ones. For example, it’s surprising just how much passion I found at Ferrari and particularly in the AF Corse team: a team that represents the history of motorsport, but which at the same time has the level of enthusiasm you’d usually expect from a team that is just starting out. They are still driven by that propulsive motivation typical of newly-formed organisations. We search out those elements that can help make a winning team: I’ve betted heavily on this.”
After racing with an LMP2 model, this year you debut in the LMGTE Am class where you clearly aim to win. Is that also why you chose Ferrari?
“Of course. We chose Ferrari because we were looking for a manufacturer and management that will allow us to aim at victory. This year we went out on track, not just to take part, but we wanted a car that could make us successful. And indeed, apart from at Monza, we have so far achieved a podium and a win. I have to say that the predictions made by Amato Ferrari, when he invited me to take this route, have proved to be correct. Of course, when I was told ‘We’re going to win,’ I just wasn’t able to believe it, especially given that the world championship line-up is extremely competitive this year. But then, the physical and mental presence of Antonello Coletta, and his passion, is amazing. Coletta makes us feel important, he really makes us feel like a team that is strongly recognised and fully nurtured by Ferrari: he has gone beyond all expectations of what we expected him to do for us. When you look at Antonello Coletta and Amato Ferrari, you understand how Ferrari has been able to achieve so much success.”
The driver line-up can be described as extremely interesting and competitive: how would you describe Antonio and Giorgio in one adjective?
“Giorgio [Sernagiotto, ed.] has an immense passion and zest for this sport. Antonio [Fuoco, ed.] is pure pace and speed, talent and professionalism.”
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a race where experience is very important and sometimes decisive. How will the experience gained in LMP2 help in the GT field?
“Cetilar Racing is a team that has gained its experience managing long-distance races. In the five years of racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans we have learnt that this is a type of race that has to be handled in a very particular way - differently from the others. It's a race where dry performance and speed on a dry lap are worth nothing, but where consistency and mental presence in every situation, even the most unpredictable, are fundamental. Of course, even this is not enough because the 24 Hours of Le Mans is like an entirely separate entity that decides who will finish and who will win: it is something unique. We have also raced at Daytona and the differences are immediately apparent and it makes you understand why the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the icon of motorsport.”
Can Andrea Belicchi's great knowledge of the 24 Hours be an additional weapon for the team?
“For sure. Andrea has taken part in eleven editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and will continue to make his experience available to manage the race in the best possible way, accompanying us on the track. His role this year has been incredibly useful and positive for our on-track performance. Andrea is the fourth driver in every sense, he follows us step by step from the wall, trying to help us manage better in traffic, and we know how important traffic is in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He makes his presence fully felt, he is totally dedicated to us and to coordinating us as best he can.”
In the battle for both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and for the WEC title, which rivals do you fear the most?
“Without a doubt the crew of François Perrodo, Nicklas Nielsen and Alessio Rovera, who are also with Ferrari. A very strong crew, they are very fast, the most fearsome without a shadow of a doubt. They have the same technology, the same technical structure as us, so on a material level they are comparable to us, but at the same time in GT they have more experience and so they have to be respected. In addition to them I would add Ben Keating with Aston Martin as well as Egidio Perfetti with Porsche. This year there are many crews that could do well. We are, perhaps, the ones who have so far shown more speed and consistency, but Keating, Perfetti and Perrodo are the toughest rivals both for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and for the world championship.”
Looking at the times, among the gentleman drivers, you are one of the fastest and most consistent. Taking a quick look back, how much work is required to achieve these results?
“There’s a lot of painstaking work that goes into driving technique, which is a constant learning curve; you have to be able to incorporate the advice and techniques you’re taught and make them your own. They have to become instinctive and only then can you be consistent. Put another way, you shouldn’t have to think about it, you have to do it because it forms a part of you. That’s the thing I feel the most, because some attitudes have become instinctive. Then of course there’s experience, like knowing the tracks, having experienced certain situations. However, the most important thing is to make certain techniques instinctive, because in motorsport you can't simply apply yourself to it, you have to have it in you.”