The No.54 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo claimed its first win of the 2023 season as it surged to the front in the second half of the FIA World Endurance Championship LMGTE-AM class at Fuji in Japan.


At the start it was the D’Station Aston Martin had the local fans on their feet right from the start, igniting their excitement as Tomonobu Fuji made a bold push to the front on the opening lap. Fuji’s skill and determination were evident as he quickly built a useful gap, leaving the rest of the field trailing in his wake. As the first pit stop approached, Fuji handed over the reins to Satoshi Hoshino, hoping to maintain their lead. However, the No.54 AF Corse Ferrari, driven by Francesco Castellacci, began to loom threateningly in the second hour. Castellacci closed in on the Aston Martin, setting the stage for an intense battle as the third hour of the race unfolded.

The No.33 Corvette, piloted by Ben Keating, was also in the mix, engaging in tight battles with the Iron Dames Porsche, driven by Sarah Bovy. Bovy had initially run second in the first hour but was overtaken by Keating in the second hour, adding another layer of intrigue to the competition.

Meanwhile, the Northwest AMR Aston Martin, under the guidance of Ian James, made an impressive start and found themselves in the top six. Their strong performance continued, ultimately leading them to claim the fifth position, with Ian James completing a double stint and earning the cheers of the crowd.

Completing the top six was the Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GTE Evo, with Takeshi Kimura running a double stint to kick off his home race. The race was turning into a thrilling showcase of skill and strategy, with each team pushing their limits to secure a podium finish.

The No.83 Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari, despite a first-corner spin by Luis Perez Companc, embarked on a fightback mission. Alessio Rovera took over at the first pit stop, determined to make up for lost ground and contribute to their team’s success.

In a surprising turn of events, the Iron Dames Porsche took the lead for the majority of the third and fourth hours, with Michelle Gatting at the wheel after Sarah Bovy’s stint. Rahel Frey then took over, successfully consolidating their lead over an ‘out of sequence’ fuel-saving Corvette.

However, the No.33 Corvette triggered an incident with the No.54 AF Corse Ferrari at the start of the third hour, resulting in a penalty for Ben Keating due to the contact. A 30-second stop/go penalty was handed to Corvette Racing, who had chosen to fuel save in the first stints. This setback caused the car to fall down the order, with Nicolas Varrone now at the helm, but they remained determined to fight their way back into contention.

Varrone faced a tense moment when he survived a massive lock-up while exiting the pits after their first scheduled stop. The pressure was mounting, and every move counted in this fiercely competitive race.

In the midst of all these developments, the No.86 GR Racing Porsche, with Riccardo Pera at the wheel, temporarily secured the second place spot as they attempted an alternative strategy. The No.77 Dempsey Racing Porsche ran fourth, ahead of the No.54 AF Corse Ferrari, the Kessel Racing Ferrari, and the Project 1-AO (Rexy) Porsche, all of them vying for their place on the podium.

As the race reached its midpoint, the early leaders, D’Station Aston Martin, found themselves in 10th place after losing ground in the mid-race phase. The competition remained fierce, and the local fans continued to rally behind their favorite teams, eagerly awaiting the dramatic twists and turns that lay ahead in this thrilling endurance race.

#777 D’ STATION RACING / Aston Martin Vantage AMR – FIA WEC 6h of Fuji – Fuji International Speedway – Gotemba – Japan –

In a gripping race that unfolded with drama and determination, the No.54 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo achieved a triumphant victory in the 2023 season. Their journey to the top of the podium came in the second half of the race, a testament to their unwavering resolve and skill on the track.

The race day began with an intense encounter as Thomas Flohr, behind the wheel of the No.54 Ferrari, encountered an early skirmish with the No.33 Corvette Racing Chevrolet C8.R, piloted by pole sitter Ben Keating. Despite the initial contact, Flohr exhibited composure and resilience, setting the stage for an impressive recovery. He handed over the reins to his teammate, Francesco Castellacci, during the second hour of the race.

Castellacci wasted no time in taking up the chase, determined to close the gap between the Ferrari and its competitors. The target in his sights was the Iron Dames Porsche 911 RSR 19, and Castellacci’s relentless pursuit eventually paid off. He successfully established the lead, setting the stage for a thrilling showdown.

As the race reached its climax, Castellacci handed over the Ferrari to Davide Rigon, who took the checkered flag. It was a triumphant moment for the No.54 AF Corse team, securing their first win of the season. This victory held special significance as it marked their second triumph at the iconic Fuji Speedway, the first being in 2017. For Rigon, it was a well-deserved LMGTE Am category win, his first since 2013, a testament to his enduring commitment to the sport.

The No.33 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R, piloted by Ben Keating, Nicolas Varrone, and Nicky Catsburg, displayed exceptional resilience and strategy throughout the race. Keating had endured an early collision with Flohr, resulting in a 10-second penalty for the altercation. However, the team’s strong fuel-saving efforts, combined with the rapid pace of Varrone and Catsburg, enabled them to secure the runners-up position. It was a remarkable comeback that highlighted their determination and teamwork.

Adding a twist to the post-race proceedings, the Kessel Racing Ferrari, driven by Ritomo Miyata, Takeshi Kimura, and Scott Huffaker, faced a penalty for a late full-course yellow infraction. This decision by the race officials led to their demotion to the third position.

Images Courtesy FIA WEC / Focus Pack Media


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