Scuderia Corsa in Search of Repeat Glory at Le Mans

Since its formation in 2011, Scuderia Corsa has won many of the crown jewels of sports car racing. The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The Motul Petit Le Mans. The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class (twice). And last year, Scuderia Corsa claimed victory in the GTE Am class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with drivers Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell and Jeff Segal.

Today, a pair of Scuderia Corsa Ferraris are on course at Circuit de la Sarthe for the first day of practice and qualifying, making preparations that they hope will place them in the center of the victory podium for the second consecutive year on Sunday afternoon.

Sharing the team’s iconic red No. 65 Ferrari 488 GTE are 2016 WeatherTech Championship GTD co-champions Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan, along with another WeatherTech Championship regular in Bret Curtis. The team’s other entry – the No. 62 – carries another familiar paint scheme to IMSA fans, the white and black WeatherTech livery, for Bell, Sweedler and new-for-2017 co-driver Cooper MacNeil.

“I’m extremely excited to be running with Scuderia Corsa at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans,” MacNeil said. “The team did a fantastic job at the test (on June 5), the car ran flawlessly, and we all put in good fast laps. Everything was running smoothly, like a well-oiled machine.

“They won the race last year with a Ferrari with the exact same two drivers. The only thing different is the third driver and the new car, but obviously the team itself is tried and true and they proved themselves last year.”

While she raced with Scuderia Corsa throughout the 2016 WeatherTech Championship season, Nielsen raced at Le Mans last year with a different team. This year, she’s partnered with Balzan – who is making his first Le Mans appearance – and Curtis, who previously competed in the race in 2012.

“There are things you’re doing automatically the second year, which you weren’t aware of and had to think about and remember to do the first year,” Nielsen said. “It becomes more of a habit the second year.

“An example would be the sleeping pattern. It was all new for me last year. We start later in the day, but you’re excited, so you wake up early. You’re pretty tired in the end. This year, leading up to the race, I’ve been trying to go to bed later and sleep more. I spent two days in Paris doing that before I came here trying to get into that rhythm.”

Nielsen’s sleep pattern advice might be considered a “freebie” for anybody competing at Le Mans. However, her other piece of advice going into race week was reserved strictly for her season-long teammate.

“I did give him a tip, but it’s a secret, because it’s from my dad,” said Nielsen, referencing her father, Lars Erik Nielsen, who also has competed at Le Mans. “I only give it to Balzan!”

Balzan – a two-time IMSA champion with a Rolex Series GT title in 2013 alongside his 2016 WeatherTech Championship GTD crown – is taking it all in for the first time this week.

“Competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is something every driver aspires to do, so this will be a dream come true,” he said. “Obviously, I have worked with Christina for quite some time now, and we’ve enjoyed great success together, which we hope to carry with us. We’ve both competed against Bret Curtis over the last few years in IMSA, so having him join us is also very welcome.”

For Curtis, who also was expected to participate in the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans with MacNeil and his then-co-driver, Jeroen Bleekemolen, but was injured in a crash during practice and was unable to compete in the race, the feeling is mutual. Like many others in the race this week, he takes pride in flying the IMSA flag.

“I couldn’t be more excited to return to Le Mans and represent such a large IMSA contingent,” Curtis said. “In many ways, returning to the race is unfinished business for me. After several seasons of competing in the GTD category, this is as prepared as I’ve ever felt to take part.

“There is simply no event like this in the world, the crowds, the events leading up to it, the overall spectacle, so it’s important that when you arrive the driving feels almost second nature. Scuderia Corsa arrives as the defending winners of this race, Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen are proven champions, and we have an excellent car in the Ferrari 488 GTE. There’s definitely a lot of optimism heading in.”