Scuderia Corsa ready to recapture glory at Le Mans

There's nothing else in this world like endurance car racing. Be it a relatively short race like the 6 Hours of Nürburgring or 24-hour endeavors like Le Mans or Daytona, drivers and cars alike are put through long and grueling racing that either ends in triumph or heartbreak. At this year's Detroit Grand Prix, we had a chance to sit down with Scuderia Corsa drivers Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen just hours before they left for France to participate in first practice for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Scuderia Corsa competes in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship team in the GT Daytona class. This is the second year Balzan and Nielsen have partnered, and the relationship has been fruitful. The pair won the class championship in 2016 and are currently sitting in second for 2017. Despite being in the sport longer, this will be Balzan's first attempt at Le Mans. The pair will be joined by American Bret Curtis in the race, usually racing against Balzan and Nielsen behind the wheel of a BMW.

"There's a lot to prepare for with this race," Balzan said. "Christina raced there last year, so she's helping me prepare. It's not like any other race, even something like Daytona. There's a lot of preparation that goes into this race."

Everything from food intake to sleep schedules has to be adjusted and set appropriately. There's 24 hours of on-track action bookended by pre-race prep and a post-race cool down. Your body and mind must adjust accordingly, and it's not as simple as drinking a few cups of coffee and munching on an energy bar.

Scuderia Corsa is the defending class champion at Le Mans, though not with Nielsen behind the wheel. The team is backed by Ferrari and competes with 488 GT3s, a stripped out, lightweight, race-only version of the 488 GTB. The cars share a version the 3.9-liter turbocharged V8, but the rest of the car has been extensively modified, bearing little resemblance beyond styling.

"The cars don't share much with the regular car," Balzan said. The interior is all removed and the suspension and aero are all different. It looks similar, but it's really changed. It drives like a totally different car."

That's par for the course with GT cars. While they might share more in common with road cars than something like the Porsche 919 Hybrid prototype, the world of race cars and production cars are far removed. That said, Balzan and Nielsen both enjoy the road car correlation.

"It's nice being able to see the connection between what we drive and what you can drive," Nielsen said. "It's something special about these cars compared to the others."

And there are lots of others. The field at Le Mans is far more packed and diverse, with everything from Fellow 488s to the cutting-edge prototypes from Toyota and Porsche. During qualifying, Toyota set a new lap record. Dealing with all of the traffic is a huge hurdle, even considering the nearly 8.5-mile length of Circuit de la Sarthe. There's a substantial speed differential between the 488 GT3 and the top-flight prototypes.

Slower cars must watch out for faster ones constantly coming up and passing them. There's essentially multiple races going on all on the same track at the same time, as each class is fighting for victory. Wrecks and mechanical failures are almost a given when you consider these machines are being pushed and pushed for 24 straight hours. As the day goes on and the sun settles down, any lapse in concentration can end in tears.

Le Mans isn't a sprint. Everyone of its 1,440 minutes requires attention and deliberate action. Preparation can only take you so far. Scuderia Corsa took a class win last year. Watch again this weekend to see if the Balzan, Nielsen, and Curtis can capture the magic again.

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