After previewing the LMP1 and LMP2 prototype classes now it’s time to switch my focus onto the GT classes. First up is the GTE Pro series, which this year is mostly the domain of factory teams. This year see’s 4 manufactures take each other on in what should be a very tense battle, as they fight for the all important class victory.
#51 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Gianmaria Bruni/Toni Vilander/Giancarlo Fisichella
The #51 AF Corse entry has been a winner so far in the World Endurance Championship in 2014, yet the team could struggle with the Ferrari at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Indeed, last year’s race for Ferrari may just end up repeating itself as all GTE Pro cars were frozen in 2013 spec before the start of this season. This therefore doesn’t bode well for AF Corse as they struggled to match the pace of Aston Martin and Porsche.
AF Corse can never be discounted however, especially this #51 entry which comprises the same line-up that won this class in 2012. Ex-F1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella joins Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander. These 3 are very quick in GT Ferrari’s and expect them to still challenge the pacesetters in the class, despite a car that most likely will be the third best car around the Circuit de la Sarthe.
#71 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Davide Rigon/James Calado/Olivier Beretta
The second of the factory supported AF Corse entries is the #71 entry, which blends experience with youth for Le Mans with Olivier Beretta bringing his vast GT racing experience to complement young chargers Davide Rigon and in particular James Calado. Although Calado and Rigon have little GT experience expect both of them to fly during the race. As I mentioned above the Ferrari’s don’t appear to suit the Le Mans circuit, meaning the most likely route to victory for AF Corse will be a reliable and trouble free run, rather than on outright pace alone.
#52 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Matt Griffin/Alvaro Parente/Federico Leo
For the RAM Racing team, 2014 promised so much for this plucky privateer team, yet so far it has delivered little as the team have struggled through the year with financial issues. These issues have severely hampered their Le Mans 24 Hours efforts as they were forced to miss the last WEC race at Spa to be confident of making the 24 Hours. Funding has also affected their driver line-up with experienced racer Ben Collins being replaced by the ex-single seater driver Federico Leo in the run up to the event.
For the only privateer team in the GTE Pro class things were always going to be tough against the might of factory Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin entries, as they fight an uphill battle to challenge the factory outfits in GTE Pro. Luckily for RAM racing they have three very quick GT drivers to share the car, including on-loan McLaren GT factory driver Alvaro Parente. Expect this car to shine in their hands but for this team a top 5 result in GTE Pro would be good but they’ll need a reliable run to achieve this.
#73 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Jordan Taylor
The enormously successful Corvette racing team returns to Le Mans after a bruising 2013 24 Hours where there were far behind the leading pace of Aston Martin and Porsche. This year they aim to rectify this with a brand new C7.R model Corvette, which has so far proved very competitive in the American Tudor United Sportscar Championship, with arguably the most competitive GT class in the world right now.
If the C7.R can adapt to Le Mans quickly expect this team to be right at the front all race long. Certainly they have the driving talent to be at the front with the #73 being crewed by vastly experienced racers Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia, perfectly complementing the outright pace of youngster Jordan Taylor. Although he’s had little running in the new C7.R, if he can adapt quickly to the car and track, expect this car to fight for the class win.
#74 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Richard Westbrook
The second of the factory Corvette entries is again piloted by an impressive line-up of Corvette racing stalwart Oliver Gavin alongside Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook. This line-up is as strong as any in this class and most importantly if the new C7.R can prove reliable over 24 Hours they will certainly be fighting for the class victory.
The reliability of this new car is very important as the team suffered reliability problems in it’s racing debut at the Rolex 24, something they’ll hope will have been rectified by this time next week. Their performances in the race will be one’s to watch out for in the hotly contested GTE Pro category.
Porsche Team Manthey:
#91 Porsche 911 997 GT3-RSR: Patrick Pilet/Jorg Bergmeister/Nick Tandy
The Manthey Porsche team will be hoping for a repeat of their 2013 class win at the Le Mans 24 Hours, with continuity being the name of the game with Porsche as they keep the same band of drivers,car and team for their 2014 campaign. Although there have been Balance of Performance tweaks since last year’s 24 Hours, the Porsche 911 appears to still be the car to beat going into the 2014 edition.
The only relative difference for this #91 entry for 2014, is the promotion of Porsche factory driver Nick Tandy to the factory team, after spending the last few years impressing on assignment with various Porsche customer teams. Alongside fellow factory drivers Patrick Pilet and Jorg Bergmeister both Porsche entries must surely go into the event as pre-race favouries in the GTE Pro category.
#92 Porsche 911 997 GT3-RSR: Marco Holzer/Frederic Makowiecki/Richard Leitz
The second of the factory Manthey Porsche’s is piloted by a stellar line-up of factory drivers in Marco Holzer, new signing Frederic Makowiecki and Richard Leitz. Both Porsche entries have proved fast and reliable so far in 2014, and whilst the headlines have been taken by their return to the LMP1 category for this year, the team is adamant the GT racing group is entirely separate from the prototype division. This should ensure the team are in the perfect position to replicate their class victory from a year ago. Anything can happen at Le Mans however.
Aston Martin Racing:
#97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Darren Turner/Stefan Mucke/Bruno Senna
Similarly to Porsche, Aston Martin returns to Le Mans in 2014 with mostly the same group that gave Porsche an almighty challenge for class honours last year. The factory team brings two entries this year and so far both have struggled in the WEC with Balance of Performance tweaks, which the team feel have blunted their challenge in an unfair manner. Some in the paddock question however is Aston Martin have simply been sandbagging before Le Mans, the truth will only appears once qualifying for the 24 Hours starts on Wednesday.
On the driving front the #97 entry will lead the way with GT stalwarts Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke partnering Bruno Senna for Aston. Whilst Senna may appear a slight weak link with the little running he’s done in the car this year, expect all 3 drivers to be right on the pace throughout the race. Reliability should not be a problem in this well proven car therefore it will be down to the drivers to make the difference needed for class victory.
#99 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Alex MacDowall/Darryl O’Young/Fernando Rees
The second of the works Aston Martin entries this year is a collaborative effort between the works Aston team and the Asian based team Craft-Bamboo. This link-up explains the driver line-up of Bamboo linked drivers Alex MacDowall and Darryl O’Young to partner experienced Brazilian Fernando Rees.
Whilst the driver line-up may slightly hamper this car in a class full of factory GT drivers, if the pace Aston showed last year has remained intact and the car can stay reliable, expect this team to provide glimpses of promise in the race with a top 5 result a real possibility.
That’s it for the GTE Pro class, although the entry is relatively small the 4 factory outfits will be fighting right until the end for the class victory. This is exactly why anyone watching the race should always keep an eye on the GTE Pro fight as the race develops. Once again massive thanks must go to http://www.motorsport.com/#!/lemans for their amazing photos once again all the latest Le Mans 24 Hours news can be seen on the link above. Keep posted for the GTE-Am preview in the next few days. Enjoy!