Rookies Franco and Costa are exceeding expectations with Conquest Racing

There’s a certain freedom in others having no, or even low, expectations. No one is expecting a a rookie team and drivers in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to set the world on fire and be standing on the podium every weekend. And Conquest Racing with Manny Franco and Albert Costa Balboa and the No. 24 Ferrari 296 GT3 haven’t done that; they have, however, been close enough that the expectations on themselves to do so are beginning to form.

“We kind of came in with no pressure because most of the tracks I haven’t been to with a GT3, some tracks I’ve never been to — Long Beach being an example,” says Franco. “So entering the season, it’s not that much pressure. But now, seeing the performances that we have had — considering that we know that we probably have a bigger struggle than everybody else coming into most tracks, because there just hasn’t been a 296 to be able to get data from — that now kind of adds that pressure to perform.

“It’s kind of an expectation on us as a team. We’re going in with the mentality of, ‘Let’s just do the best we can,’ but when you’re that close to being first it’s the pressure of, ‘Hey, let’s let’s just go for it’ rather than being, ‘Let’s just take a test here, because we have to collect data.’ It’s, let’s just do the best we can and just see if we can actually reach the top.”


Franco, Costa, Alessandro Balzan and Cedric Sbirrazzuoli kicked off the season with a third-place finish in GTD at Daytona, which is not a bad start at all. Although Ferrari, along with BMW, got its hand slapped for performing outside expectations in the Rolex 24, the Indianapolis-based team still had to execute, and did so with aplomb in its first IMSA race since 2012 in LMP2. That’s the best result of the season as the GTD teams head into their fifth race of the year, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen this weekend. A repeat performance has been hard to come by, although the team was looking good at Sebring until a late-race penalty and Costa was running second in Long Beach but got knocked around a bit. After four rounds, Franco and Costa are seventh in the GTD points.

Franco has only been racing for about two-and-a-half years, starting in Ferrari Challenge in 2022. But he took to it quickly, and moved to GT3 with Conquest in GT World Challenge America, so he had experience with the 296 GT3, as did Costa. But many of these tracks are new to them, and as the only full-season Ferrari entrant in the WeatherTech Championship, there’s not a lot of data on for the 296 on many of the sprint tracks. The learning curve has had to be pretty steep.

“I’m feeling very confident every race I’m always coming, knowing that I have a strong package behind my back,” says Costa. “For a driver, this is very important — that you feel confident that you have the right team on your side, and you’re going to have the good car during the weekend. Of course, as a new team, new drivers in this championship, we still need to learn and to fix many, many things. But this is part of the process — that is part of the game. We are doing the right movement, going forward. So yeah, the best is coming, you will see, but we just need to learn from each other and grow.”

Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Eric Bachelart’s Conquest Racing team has been competing in Ferrari Challenge for several years, adding other programs as the opportunity presented itself, and found success quickly with wins for Franco and Balzan in their GT World Challenge America debut at Sebring. Bachelart feels that its foray into GT3 racing has been promising.

“I’m thrilled with what we’ve been doing so far this year,” he says. “Honestly, I think that we’re a bit ahead of where I thought we would be. Clearly the expectation for this year has been learning, and then you look for the wins for next year. Looking at it now, I think we’re getting a bit more ambitious than maybe we were early on. Working with Manny and be able to graduate from Ferrari Challenge here to IMSA, it’s been great. I think that we have assembled a very good team with a good chemistry.”

Pressure to win from outside, or high internal expectations aside, Franco’s not surprised at the strong showings so far. In fact, he believes that some of their results should have been better.

“We knew coming into the season, just from our pace in GT World Challenge, we knew that the we had pace as a team and adding Costa just made it a better package,” Franco said. “In truth, I think that right now we’re under-delivering. We knew we were going to be top five in the championship just based off of driver performances and the team setting, and we’ve had a couple unlucky moments. As Costa said, the best is still yet to be shown. And that’s something that we see as a team and we know as a team, it’s just revealing it to everybody else.”

Story originally appeared on Racer