We welcome Pat Wotton to the Brit Pack Drivers stable, as he previews two quality GTE categories at the Le Mans 24 Hour race this weekend. As always, we give you the inside line on all of the British racers participating.
The GTE Pro class is arguably the most open this year with so many cars. And if you think GTE Am is an afterthought to check in on once every few hours, think again! If LMP1 is a procession and LMP2 strings out, you’ll have time to watch GTE and I recommend you do.
A stacked field of 17 cars and some of the best drivers in the world, not just the fastest GT drivers but also LMP winners, IndyCar champions and Formula E contenders.
The elephant in the room is Balance of Performance. A notoriously tricky process, the hard part is the mix of very old cars and brand new ones under development.
British interest comes from the following cars. On speed, the race is between Porsche and Ford, who brought four cars each. Unfortunately the cars with Brits didn’t qualify as well as their team-mates.
93 Porsche GT Team – Porsche 911 RSR
Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber (NZL), Patrick Pilet (FRA)
Tandy and Bamber the overall race winners in 2015 along with Nico Hulkenberg, arguably won by Tandy’s stints. Joined this year by talented Porsche stalwart Pilet this car and line-up races full time in IMSA, run by CORE Autosport. In March they won the 12 Hours of Sebring in the GTLM class.
Two Manthey WEC cars (91 and 92) and two CORE IMSA cars (here as 93 and 94) and frankly any of the four can win.
67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK – Ford GT
Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell, Tony Kanaan (BRA)
69 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team USA – Ford GT
Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe (AUS), Scott Dixon (NZL)
Chip also sends four cars, the two UK-based WEC cars (66 and 67) and the two US-based IMSA cars (here as 68 and 69). Again any could win.
Westbrook, Briscoe and Dixon won the GTLM class of the 24 Hours of Daytona in January. Dixon since became the outright 3rd most successful IndyCar driver in history based on race wins. Westbrook knows how to throw a car around and learned from the other two how to ‘make fuel’ to extend a stint.
Priaulx, multiple touring car champion, is collecting an array of sports car wins. Tincknell, managed by Allan McNish, won the LMP2 class at Le Mans in 2014 with Jota and seems to have settled into GT nicely. He’s also racing prototype in IMSA – Multimatic builds both the Ford GT and the Mazda DPi.
51 AF Corse – Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
James Calado, Daniel Serra (BRA), Alessandro Pier Guidi (ITA)
71 AF Corse – Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Sam Bird, Davide Rigon (ITA), Miguel Molina (ESP)
The two WEC Ferraris contain a Brit each. Calado and Pier Guidi are the 2017 WEC GTE Pro champions. Calado’s best LM24 result is 2nd in GTE.
Sam Bird competed at Le Mans both in LMP2 and GTE whilst concurrently winning in Formula E. His best result at Le Mans is 3rd in LMP2 in 2015 (the year they won the WEC title), but he also has two DNFs from four starts.
The Ferraris are slightly behind the Porsches and Fords but will definitely make their presence felt – a clean run will cut through the octet of faster cars.
64 Corvette Racing – Chevrolet Corvette C7.R
Oliver Gavin, Marcel Fässler (SUI), Tommy Milner (USA)
An ever-present at Corvette since 2002, Olly has won everything worth winning in GT racing, or so it seems! This includes class wins at Le Mans a brilliant five times and the 2016 IMSA GTLM title.
Corvette really don’t have the pace this year. Amazing to think this car is now 5 years old, the oldest car in the field is uncompetitive against the newer breed, but it will be reliable and that helped massively last year. The sister car starts 9th.
82 BMW Team MTEK – BMW M8 GTE
Alexander Sims, Antonio Felix da Costa (POR), Augusto Farfus (BRA)
Sims is running as the ‘endurance’ driver, he usually competes in IMSA with the M8 for Rahal Letterman. He makes a big deal of his green credentials, is chairman of the Zero Carbon World charity, so I’d honestly be amazed if he doesn’t switch to Formula E when BMW enter.
A new car, with the benefit of having competed in the US at Daytona and Sebring so they’ve ironed out the early bugs. Le Mans may suit their car but they still early in the development cycle, for that reason I’ve placed Corvette ahead of them.
97 Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Alex Lynn, Jonathan Adam, Maxime Martin (BEL)
95 Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Darren Turner, Nicki Thiim (DEN), Marco Sørensen (DEN)
Turner, like Gavin, has won it all including three class wins at Le Mans in a long stint with Prodrive going back to 2003 when they ran Ferraris! And the two Danes are rapid.
2014 GP3 champ Lynn is new to GT racing having made the ‘Sam Bird’ switch from LMP2 to take the manufacturer salary – and why wouldn’t you? Last year he popped into IMSA to race a Cadillac and won Sebring overall, then won in his LMP2 at WEC Spa.
Coming from the other career direction, 2-time British GT champion Jonny Adam won Le Mans last year with Turner.
Unfortunately the brand new Aston isn’t there yet, having done a lot of testing but not much racing. In qualifying they were 2-3 seconds off. Give it time though, the old car ran for 7 years and was still winning. AMR know the long game.
Consider the likes of Sebastien Bourdais, Jan Magnussen, Mike Rockenfeller, Nicky Catsburg, Pipo Derani, Toni Vilander, Gimmi Bruni, Laurens Vanthoor, Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas. All highlights from IndyCar racing, GTE racing, GT3 racing, LMP racing, touring cars and more. All these scattered among the field in sister cars to the Brits.
Distil it down to Porsches and Fords – and probably at least one Ferrari if not two. That’s 10 cars. Then throw a dart at it to pick your winner!
The Pro/Am class with GTE cars which must be at least one season old. This means the Aston Martins are the old model V8s – so we get to enjoy the noise for at least one more year! The Balance of Performance is different to the Pro class, so the Ferraris are more competitive.
Just three cars with Brits. In the Am class the limiting factor is the speed of the Amateur driver and the ability to stay on the track – though even Pro drivers were caught out by the slippery track in Qualifying.
86 Gulf Racing UK – Porsche 911 RSR
Ben Barker, Michael Wainwright, Alex Davison (AUS)
Barker is very, very fast. The livery makes it a fan favourite and if it keeps running they could score a podium. A Porsche is the thing to have in terms of speed and this team know how to use it. I think the Proton cars have the edge over a long run, but Gulf start 2nd so have early track position.
84 JMW Motorsport – Ferrari 488 GTE
Liam Griffin, Cooper MacNeil (USA), Jeff Segal (USA)
Griffin, former BTCC driver, is on the management team at taxi firm Addison Lee (make your own cabbie jokes!). The normally yellow car is now running the white and black of Weathertech, thanks to Cooper MacNeil and IMSA driving partner, the rapid Jeff Segal.
JMW won this class last year and has ELMS titles to their name. MacNeil scored 3rd here with another team. A real contender for the win, JMW also won this year’s ELMS season opener with Griffin, Alex MacDowall and Miguel Molina (who was called up to Pro). Somehow they start only 9th but expect them to work forwards quickly.
90 TF Sport – Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Euan Hankey, Charlie Eastwood (IRE), Salih Yoluç (TUR)
Hankey has the speed and the others are pretty good too. Charlie Eastwood hails from Belfast and has a BRDC Rising Star, he’s racing under the flag of the Republic of Ireland. Yoluc has improved leaps and bounds in the last two years and brings the car into contention for a top 5 or perhaps a podium.
Other British Teams
The 98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage run by Prodrive. No British drivers, but with the familiar crew of Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy. Despite a lot of time up front over the years they’ve yet to win at Le Mans. Others look more favourable this year with better BoP, but never count them out.
The 54 Ferrari with Giancarlo Fisichella is an impressive crew, as are all three Dempsey-Proton Porsches. The 85 Keating Motorsport Ferrari has a lot of input from the crack IMSA team Risi Competizione.
Special mention to the 61 Clearwater Ferrari because of that fantastic chrome livery plus fast Irishman Matt Griffin.
My pick is the Fisichella car, but I wouldn’t be surprised if JMW come from behind.
Pat can be followed on Twitter @toomuchracing.