LE MANS GTE REVIEW: Quiet day for the Brits after Ford falls foul of penalty

After the madness of the Le Mans weekend we have had time to rest, recuperate and digest the events of the race. We have our LMP review coming up soon but for now it is the turn of the uber-competitive GTE categories to fall under the microscope. We tasked the midnight oil-burner, Pat Wotton, with analysing the British performances in the Pro and Am categories.

GTE Pro

The entry list promised a great race. Qualifying times and Balance of Performance adjustments threatened a Porsche walkover. The truth turned out to be somewhere in between.

In qualifying Porsche pushed the set up making the cars edgy to drive but fast, they dialled that back for the race, trading speed for stability. That brought the Fords into play and they got stronger as the race wore on. Ferrari, BMW and Corvette race pace was a little closer to that of Ford and Porsche than was the case in qualifying.

We saw good racing between Porsche and Ford for the podium and also further down the order where we saw long trains of GTE cars passing and repassing. To that extent the BoP worked in that it brought various cars together. It gave a slight advantage to the best cars and kept others close enough that they could capitalise, such as when the Porsche North America cars faltered. It wasn’t quite enough for Ferrari or Corvette to compete fully – more work needed.

In the first quarter of the race the Safety Car procedures separated the eventual winner (92 Porsche GT Team) from the rest of the class, giving it an advantage it would never lose. It helped that the lead Porsches had no troubles and almost everyone else did.

At the flag the top-finishing GTE Brits were Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Tony Kanaan in the no. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car, 4th in class, 1 lap down to the winner, and two minutes behind the second-placed no. 68 Ford of Muller, Hand and Bourdais. Unfortunately, FCGR failed to calculate Tony Kanaan’s drive time correctly, he was 44 minutes short. This was converted to an equivalent time penalty so the car was penalised 11 laps dropping to 12th in class.

Finishing 7th after the Ford penalty, the no. 51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado suffered a puncture after just 2 hours 30 minutes. Further delays left them five laps down. The actual race pace demonstrated by the three Ferraris proved a fault-free run would’ve left the team at least around 4th and beating the top Corvette.

In 9th and a lap behind Calado’s car was the other full-time AF Corse Ferrari, no. 71 of Sam Bird. This car took a 3-minute stop and hold penalty for jumping the red light at the end of the pitlane during a Safety Car period. I did hear this light was operated too slowly, or for not long enough, which made it easy to attract a penalty.

Finishing between the Ferraris was the brand new 2018 no. 95 Aston Martin Vantage, Darren Turner finishing 8th at 5 laps down. This car was just a week old! The original chassis was destroyed at Test Day so Prodrive had to scramble to get this together in 6 days. Remarkable work. They qualified behind four Am-class runners, despatched those in the first hour and were solid afterwards, though not fast. The team admitted they didn’t have the set up this week and are still developing the car. Prodrive plays the long game, this car will have a long life, I expect by the time we reach Le Mans 2019 the story will be very different.

The sister no. 97 Aston of Alex Lynn and Jonny Adam had a worse day, it dropped 45 minutes after losing oil pressure but made it home 13th.

Nick Tandy and the no. 93 Porsche crew ran near the front for a long time, including running in a team 1-2-3 after 8 hours. Just an hour later it went into the pits with electrical problems, losing half an hour. They finished 11th.

Richard Westbrook and the no. 69 Ford was among those racing up front. It spent a long time in pits near the end of the race with electrical problems then got hit with a 2 lap penalty for drive time infringements, though that didn’t change their 14th position.

The no. 64 Corvette of Oliver Gavin suffered broken suspension and lost at least 4 laps very early on. They kept plugging away after that but eventually retired with about 5 hours remaining. The sister car was in the mix to pick up pieces, running with the Ferraris and BMWs, and when others fell out or were penalised inherited 4th.

And finally the no. 82 BMW of Alexander Sims was also racing the Ferraris and Corvettes, making up places and even racing some Fords, proving the car is suited to Le Mans. Sims was in the car at 8 1/2 hours remaining when it spun into the wall to retirement with suspension failure.

GTE Am

Porsche again with the advantage, again in the race the relative pace between cars seemed closer. The Am BoP was better for Ferrari, perhaps because they were not running the Evo spec. Although no. 77 Dempsey Racing Porsche led much of the race, the no. 54 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella finished on the same lap and inside 2 minutes.

The top British team and driver at the flag was the no. 84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Liam Griffin. The car ran in the top three after quickly climbing from 9th, just as I tipped in my preview! Sadly Jeff Segal lost the car into the gravel, dropping it back to 9th, but they recovered to finish 5th, 3 laps down and just 2.8 seconds ahead of the Ebimotors Porsche of Christina Nielsen.

Another top British team, the No. 86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche, started second and took the lead in the first hour. Ben Barker was fast all race and bronze driver Mike Wainwright held up his end of things well. That was until Wainwright found the barrier at Indianapolis. Repairs cost the team 5 laps. They would eventually lose 52 laps to the Am class winner with various problems. They would wind up 10th in class, 43rd overall and last car running – but they did at least stick with it to cross the line and record a finish.

The no. 90 TF Sport Aston Martin wheeled by Euan Hankey seemed to have a nice quiet run – exactly what you want – until the morning when it wound up in the gravel which broke a driveshaft. The car is recorded as a DNF. Tom Ferrier’s team will surely be back.

And finally, with no British drivers but AMR being a fan-favourite British team, the no. 98 Aston Martin failed to finish after it spun out after 5 hours at the Porsche Curves. Fans trackside reported Paul Dalla Lana trying and trying to fix it and get it back to the pits, to no avail. He has already ordered a 2018-spec Vantage.

Pat Wotton can be followed on Twitter @toomuchracing. Our thanks too to Rebecca Jones for pointing us in the direction of some images – courtesy of BMW.

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