After previewing the three other classes racing in the Le Mans 24 Hours this year, the time has come to look at the final class racing this year, the GTE Am class. Similarly to LMP2, the GTE Am class is based on amateur drivers with a minimum of one silver rated amateur driver and a limit of only one pro rated driver. This is aimed to ensure the amateur ethos of this class. The entry this year is huge with 19 entries in the GTE Am class, ensuring a enthralling race is guaranteed for class victory next Sunday afternoon.
#53 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Johnny Mowlem/Mark Patterson/Archie Hamilton
The RAM racing GTE Am entry should have a much higher chance of class victory than their GTE Pro entry, however the team’s funding issues in 2014 have hampered their preparations as the team have been unable to update their Ferrari F458 from 2012 spec, the only team in the class with a 2012 car.
The team’s driver line-up changed late also with Archie Hamilton replacing Ben Collins not long ago. The budget problems have severely hampered the team yet Mowlem is a seriously quick GT driver and if the team has a reliable run expect him to drag the car into contention, of course a lot depends also on how Hamilton and Mark Patterson performance during the race. If those two can perform at their best the team has a good chance for at least a class podium.
#57 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Tracy Krohn/Nic Jonsson/Ben Collins
The Krohn racing team received very little time to prepare for the 24 Hours after their desperately late call up to the race at the end of May. Therefore the link they have with the American Risi Competizione team has been a massive help to their preparations for this race.
The team found RAM racing refugee Ben Collins to partner long time team mates Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson. The team has a long recent history at Le Mans and have claimed 3 class podiums in the last 7 years. Therefore this team can never be discounted however the late entry and the competitive nature of the driving talent this year in GTE Am probably means a top 5 in class would be a good result for the American team.
Team Sofrev ASP:
#58 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Fabien Barthez/Anthony Pons/Soheil Ayari
The Sofrev-ASP team are relatively new to international GT racing, yet the team have performed solidly so far in the opening two European Le Mans Series rounds so far. The team is run by experienced GT racer Jerome Policand, who alongside driver Soheil Ayari will provide a wealth of experience to the other two drivers.
Both French footballing legend Fabien Barthez and Anthony Pons are relatively inexperienced, and will therefore benefit massively from Ayari and Policand. Expect this team to surprise with it’s pace with Ayari behind the wheel yet both Barthez and Pons will have to show pace far beyond their experience for this entry to challenge for a top 5 in class. To finish at all would be a result for this newly formed team and relatively inexperienced line-up.
#60 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Peter Mann/Lorenzo Case/Raffaele Giammaria
The first of AF Corse’s mammoth 4 car entry in GTE Am alone is the #60 for experienced amateur drivers Peter Mann and Lorenzo Case. Pushing this entry forward will be ex-F3000 racer Raffaele Giammaria, who will set the pace for this car. Whilst AF Corse are almost certainly the best Ferrari GT racing team on the planet, the strength of the class this year suggests this entry will struggle to compete for a significant placing once Giammaria steps out the car. A finish will be a result for this team although expect Giammaria to shine.
#61 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Luis Perez Companc/Marco Cioci/Mirko Venturi
This #61 AF Corse entry is the most likely of their 4 GTE Am entries to take class honours as this line-up has already proved successful in the World Endurance Championship this year. The driver line-up of experienced racers Companc and Cioci alongside Mirko Venturi should prove enough to challenge anyone in the class. If the AF Corse team can work their magic and this car has a reliable 24 Hours, expect this #61 entry to be challenging for a podium if not class victory. Definitely one to look out for during the race.
#62 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Yannick Mallegol/Jean-Marc Bachelier/Howard Blank
As I said before relating to the #61 entry being the favourite of the AF Corse entries to claim GTE Am victory, the opposite is true of the #62 which appears to have the least opportunity to claim class honours. Although the car and team are first rate and can match anyone in the class, the driver line-up for the #62 car is well below the level of some other entries in the class.
Yannick Mallegol, Jean-March Bachelier and Howard Blank can all count experience in their favour when it comes to Le Mans, the fact their an all amateur driver line-up severely dampens their chances of a decent result. For this car a reliable run to the finish would be a good result, with any further placing’s being purely a bonus for this all amateur entry. On the plus side this entry could challenge anyone in the class for the honours of best livery.
#81 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Steve Wyatt/Michele Rugolo/Sam Bird
The final of the four entries is the #81 car, which should have the best chance of a decent result for AF Corse outside of the #61 entry. This team has proved competitive so far in the WEC and will be hoping to carry over this form into the Le Mans 24 Hours. The team will produce a first rate car and reliability should be no issue for this well proven car. Therefore a lot like most entries in this class the difference will be between the driver line-up’s of each car.
This favours the #81 car as they boast a solid amateur driver in Steve Wyatt, a fast yet experienced racer in Michele Rugolo and , if he can adapt to the Circuit de la Sarthe quickly, the fastest driver in the class in AMG Mercedes test driver Sam Bird. He’s gained some Sportscar experience in the American United Sportscar Championship so should prove a revelation during the week. If this car can stay out of trouble look for this entry to be right in the fight for victory on Sunday afternoon.
#66 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Abdulaziz Al-Faisal/Seth Neiman/Spencer Pumpelly
2014 has seen a fair amount of change for this plucky privateer as they have been forced to switch to Michelin tyres from Dunlop. Also the team have changed their driver line-up for a so far competitive campaign in the ELMS. Things are not so rosy for Le Mans however as a tie-up with the Flying Lizard American GT team, means the team will field a mostly new line-up for the 24 Hours.
Partnering experienced amateur racer Abdulaziz Al-Faisal are Flying Lizard partners Seth Neiman and Spencer Pumpelly. Neiman is another experienced Am driver, but it will in the hands of Spencer Pumpelly when this car flies. He’s a seriously quick driver in the American GT scene and once his steps out, this team will struggle mightily to keep pace with the rest. A top 6 would be a good result for this team but they’ll need a clean run first.
IMSA Performance Matmut:
#67 Porsche 911 997 GT3-RSR: Erik Maris/Jean Marc-Merlin/Eric Helary
The vastly experienced customer Porsche IMSA Performance Matmut team returns once again to the Le Mans 24 Hours, this year with two older spec Porsche 911 GT3-RSR’s. The first of these is the #67 entry which may well struggle to compete with the ultimate pace in the class this year. Whilst the team is a highly competitive Porsche GT outfit the two amateur driver’s in the line-up will put a wrench in any plans they may have had on a competitive showing.
1993 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Eric Helary will star as always in this entry yet it will be expecting a lot of amateur drivers Erik Maris and Jean Marc-Merlin to even get close to his pace. Therefore a more realistic target for the team will be to have a trouble free race as anything can happen in the 24 Hours. This mostly definitely appears their best chance of attaining a respectable result in class against the wealth of opposition.
That concludes Part 1 of my predictions for the GTE Am category, one that should provide exciting racing throughout the 24 Hours, like every other class racing. A huge thank you to Motorsport.com for their amazing photos again to view them all please visit this link. Enjoy! http://www.motorsport.com/#!/filter/lemans/photos/main-gallery/?sz=2&y=2014&ft=1