The final part of my Le Mans 24 Hours preview is dedicated to the GTE Am class. Although the class will be the slowest cars on track, it does contain some seriously quick GT drivers amongst the majority amateur drivers in the class. New rules for 2014 have both ensured that at least one amateur driver has to be in each car, alongside this GTE Am teams are limited to one pro rated driver in each car. These subtle changes will mean a much close race for class honours than 2013, with a high quality field full of factory drivers and some seriously quick amateur drivers too. Like every other class, the GTE Am field will provide plenty of action over the 24 Hours. Let’s look at the second half of the entry.
#70 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: James Rossiter/Pierre Ehret/Martin Rich
The fabled Team Taisan returns to Le Mans for the first time in a while, this time with a Ferrari instead of their usual Porsche 911. This team won on it’s debut to the 24 Hours in 2000, although this time around a class win may seem unlikely. This team is as well prepared as anyone in the highly competitive Asian GT scene,something that should be highlighted this week. The team’s driver line-up is solid with the very quick Asian based racer James Rossiter leading the line-up, ably backed up by silver rated amateur drivers Pierre Ehret and Martin Rich. Ehret is highly experienced at Le Mans and Rich should provide some solid driving. This team will have to rely on Rossiter to be bang on the pace of the leading contenders, as well as solid driving from Ehret and Rich if this entry is going to make a similar return to their debut in 2000.
#72 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Andrea Bertolini/Victor Shaitar/Aleksey Basov
Alongside their 2 car entry in LMP2, the relatively new SMP racing team has also enters it’s GTE spec Ferrari F458, after some impressive showings in the opening two European Le Mans series rounds. This start-up team out of Russia have shown immediate promise and results since it entered European GT racing last year. The team benefits from a collaboration between them and the AF Corse team, which ensures this team always has one of the best prepared Ferrari GT cars in Europe.
The biggest question mark surrounding this entry will be their relatively inexperienced driver line-up, which includes two Russian’s who are rookie’s to the Le Mans 24 Hours. Both Victor Shaitar and Aleksey Basov have shown pace so far in this car, especially Shaitar, and how they perform will mostly define how well this car performs during the race. The team can count on experienced racer Andrea Bertolini, who will put this car in the mix for class honours for sure, it’s up to the Russians to keep the team there.
#75 Porsche 911 997 GT3-RSR: Francois Perrodo/Emmanuel Collard/Markus Palttala
The vastly experienced Porsche GT outfit Prospeed competition returns to the Le Mans 24 Hours again this year, with their strongest 2 car entry for a long time. Although the team has chosen not to update it’s older 997 spec 911’s to the new 991 shape, the team has showed their older model can still prove effective in the ELMS so far this year. The team contains a wealth of Le Mans experience and it appears fairly likely the team will have a reliable run, bar any unforeseen drama’s for them.
The first of their 2 entries has arguably one of the strongest GTE Am line-up’s in the class, with seriously quick GT racer Emmanuel Collard leading the way for this entry. Markus Palttala has proved a excellent pickup to replaced the injured rookie Matthieu Vaxiviere, and amateur driver Francois Perrodo is far from the slowest Am in the class. If this team has had a trouble free run going into the final few hours, expect this entry to be fighting for class honours.
IMSA Performance Matmut:
#76 Porsche 911 997 GT3-RSR: Raymond Narac/Nicolas Armindo/David Hallyday
The #76 entry is the second from the long standing Porsche entrant IMSA Performance Matmut. This most French of teams always has a knack of pulling off a good result in the 24 Hours and this year should see more of the same. The team is highly experienced and the driver line-up reflects this. Renowned Porsche racer Nicolas Armindo will set a blistering pace in the older spec Porsche, something that will be hard for amateur drivers Raymond Narac and French pop star David Hallyday to get close too.
Alongside the two Prospeed entries this #76 entry should prove to be fighting for at least podium honours, of course dependent on a clean run for the team. Something this team will be guaranteed this week however, is the award for the best GTE livery, the classic IMSA Matmut French colours look magnificent on their Porsche.
#77 Porsche 911 991 RSR: Patrick Dempsey/Joe Foster/Patrick Long
Very much like 2013, the most high profile GTE Am entry again goes to the Dempsey racing-Proton entry, which will looking for a repeat of their strong 2013 run, although this time without the late heartache of a collision which ruined their chances of a class victory with only a few hours left to run. The high profile nature of this entry is entirely related to team owner and driver Patrick Dempsey, renowned Grey’s Anatomy star, who is also seriously passionate about his motor racing.
After several years racing in the American Sportscar scene, he finally made returned at the world’s most famous Sportscar race last year, after making his debut in 2009.. Alongside good friend and business partner Joe Foster, they surprised massively last year with their pace and awareness. With Porsche factory racer Patrick Long completing the line-up, this entry is a serious contender for victory if they can have a largely trouble free run again. The fact their one of the few teams to update their Porsche to 2013 spec also helps, expect them to challenge for the class victory from the start.
#79 Porsche 911 997 GT3-RSR: Cooper MacNeil/Bret Curtis/Jeroen Bleekemolen
The second of the Prospeed Porsche entries appears just as formidable a challenger for class honours as it’s sister #75 entry. Like I’ve mentioned before, the Belgian Prospeed team are highly experienced Porsche and Le Mans racer’s, and their older 997 spec Porsche 911 GT3-RSR’s should prove to be bullet proof for the 24 Hours,barring any contact or driver error. These should be kept to a minimum with the driving talent this entry has behind the wheel. Both Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil are known as serious fast Porsche drivers in their respective racing circles, meanwhile Bret Curtis is a perfectly able amateur driver. Expect fireworks from Bleekemolen and MacNeil, as this team should be fighting for a top 3 finish in class if they can stay out of trouble during the race.
#88 Porsche 911 991 RSR: Christian Reid/Klaus Bachler/Khaled Al Qubaisi
The Proton competition team field only one of their own cars this year, after teaming up with Dempsey racing for their other entry. This team is very experienced with this race and the Porsche 911 GT3-RSR,something that will stand them in good stead throughout this week. The team’s driving talent comprises long time Proton driver Christian Reid, alongside young Porsche driver Klaus Bachler, who is quickly making a name for himself in Porsche’s, and finally amateur driver Khalid Al Qubaisi.
This is a solid line-up with Bachler seemingly the most likely to challenge the frontrunner’s during the race. It seems however, that the team may struggle to keep up the leaders pace with this line-up. This leaves them reliant on a trouble free run to compete for the podium,something that is never guaranteed in a race as unique as the Le Mans 24 Hours.
#90 Ferrari F458 Italia GT2: Frankie Montecalvo/Gianluca Roda/Paolo Ruberti
Whilst the 8Star motorsport team are only in their second season of GT racing, they’ve already proved their credential both in the previous American Grand-Am championship, and the World Endurance championship. The fact they’ve proved competitive in both series shows the versatility of the team. The team were unlucky last year as they suffered a problematic Le Mans 24 Hours, which prevented them from finishing higher than 10th in class, something the team should easily improve on this year.
On the driving front the team has a solid if unspectacular line-up of pace setter and ex-F3000 racer Paolo Ruberti, backed up by solid GT racer’s in amateur Gianluca Roda and American Frankie Montecalvo. Whilst it seems this team won’t be able to fight for the podium on pace alone, if they run trouble free don’t be surprised to see them challenging for a top 5 result in the final few hours.
Aston Martin Racing:
#95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Kristian Poulsen/David Heinemeier Hansson/Nicki Thiim
The only factory entries in the GTE Am class this year are the two entries from Aston Martin racing. Whilst some may argue it’s not right for a factory team to have entries in a predominantly amateur based class such GTE Am, the competitiveness of the class means it’s the driving talent that will prove the difference between victory and defeat, and this is an area Aston Martin has not exploited with it’s works entries. This very Danish driver line-up is as competitive as any in the class, with Nicki Thiim expected to set the pace, supported by quick racer’s in Kristian Poulsen and amateur David Heinemeier Hansson. Especially Heinemeier Hansson, who for me is the quickest amateur driver in this class, something that could prove crucial in deciding the GTE Am winner after 24 Hours.
The Aston Martin Vantage GTE appears to have been severely affected by the 2014 Balance of Performance tweaks so far in the World Endurance championship, something that other racers have put down to sandbagging from Aston before Le Mans. If the team can find a way to replicate the pace this car showed here a year ago, expect both works Aston Martin’s to be right in the thick of an intense battle for GTE Am honours throughout the 24 Hours.
#98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Paul Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy/Christoffer Nygaard
The second of the factory Aston Martin entries should be equally paced with it’s sister entry in terms of pace and overall competitiveness in this hotly contested GTE Am class. A lot of the ultimate pace for Aston Martin is dependent on whether the team can replicate the 2013 pace it showed at the circuit de la Sarthe, something that is far from guaranteed based on 2014 WEC showing’s so far. Something Aston Martin can be confident with however are it’s driver line-up’s for both cars.
This #98 teams experienced racer’s in Paul Dalla Lana and Christoffer Nygaard with the supremely fast GT driver Pedro Lamy. All three should prove quick during the race, with the collective experience they share should help keep them out of trouble throughout the race. The key to their potential victory should rest on this trouble free run, something that should give them a fighting chance of making the podium once the dust has settled at 3pm on Sunday afternoon.
Garage 56 entry
#0 Nissan ZEOD RC: Lucas Ordonez/Wolfgang Reip/Satoshi Motoyama
The award for the most interesting entry of the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours most definitely goes to the innovative Nissan ZEOD RC entry.The Nissan team has set lofty ambitions for this highly unconventional hybrid car, with a target of lapping at LMP2 pace, despite have far less power than the class, and will also attempt to complete a full racing lap of Le Mans only on electric power. Whilst this new car is not expected to have a trouble free run based on the high amount of new technologies being used, yet it’s sure to cause a stir this week, and harks back to the very essence of Sportscar racing: innovation.
Completing the Nissan flavor of this entry are the three factory backed drivers for this car, with two coming from another innovative Nissan project, the GT academy. For those of you unaware of the GT academy I urge you to find out about it, as it takes wannabe Playstation racers all the way to Le Mans in the case of inaugural winner Lucas Ordonez and 2012 winner Wolfgang Reip. Completing the line-up is the highly experienced Nissan racer Satoshi Motoyama, mainstay of the company’s Japanese SuperGT team. For this team purely a finish would be seen as a success, as they push the boundaries of new technology on the racing stage. Kudos for Nissan for providing some excitement around Le Mans and for trialling innovate technology.
That’s it from me and my Le Mans 24 Hours previews. Hope you enjoyed reading them and a massive thank you to everyone who has publicized my blog, and for sending my blog’s viewer stats through the roof this weekend. Also huge thanks to Motorsport.com for their amazing photos, I urge you all to visit their website with the link here.http://www.motorsport.com