The beginning of June means only one thing in the sports car calendar, the Le Mans 24 Hours. The center piece for both the World Endurance Championship and sports car racing itself see’s hundreds of thousands of fans flock worldwide to the Circuit de la Sarthe in Northern France every second week of June.
The build up began in earnest with the warm up test day last Sunday, 31st May, therefore it seems the perfect time to begin my preview series looking at every entry and their chances of success next weekend. Today’s first instalment looks at the GTE Am category. Enjoy.
#50 Larbre Competition Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Gianluca Roda/Paolo Ruberti/Kristian Poulsen The French Larbre competition team return to GTE Am this year, after a year in the LMP2 class. They return with the new Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, which has proved very competitive in the American Tudor United Sportscar Championship over the past year and a half. With a quick and reliable Corvette C7.R, along with a team as well versed in sportscar racing as Larbre are, this entry will be a front runner in the highly competitive GTE Am class.
On the driving front, the team also excels with the fast Dane Kristian Poulsen hoping he can repeat his GTE Am class victory from last year. Paolo Ruberti is a very quick ex-F3000 racer, with his fellow Italian Gianluca Roda completing the trio. All three can provide a wealth of sportscar experience, along with a turn of pace that make this entry a very real contender for a class victory, which would be Larbre’s first since their consecutive triumphs in 2011 and 2012. #53 Riley Motorsports-TI Auto Dodge Viper SRT GTS-R: Jeroen Bleekemolen/Ben Keating/Marc Miller The #53 Riley motorsports entry see’s a return to Le Mans for the Dodge Viper, after their initial effort in 2013 with the new SRT Viper. The disappointing withdrawal of the factory team late last year has left this Riley team to uphold Viper honour in the highly competitive GTE Am class.
The team has taken on a lot of the crew from the works Viper team, which pulled out at the end of last year, and therefore is well versed with the SRT Viper. The team has proven itself to be a front runner in the Tudor United Sportscar Championship, and will now look to bring their competitiveness over to Le Mans.
On the driving front, the very quick Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen will lead the line up with his pace and experience. Ben Keating is improving with every race in the Viper, and was part of the crew that took the GTD class victory in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in late January.
Completing the line up is Marc Miller, who steps up to this level after competing in the American Continental Tires GT series. He has experience racing GT3 level machinery, and will be hoping for a smooth transition to the GTE Viper along with the enormous Le Mans circuit itself. For this team, a podium is a definite possibility should they remain relatively trouble free during the race. #55 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia GTE: Duncan Cameron/Matt Griffin/Alex Mortimer The first of three AF Corse entries in the GTE Am class is this #55 car, which has shown well so far in the opening rounds of the European Le Mans Series. The AF Corse team are world renowned as arguably the best Ferrari GT team in the world, and will be hoping their extensive knowledge of the Ferrari F458 Italia and sportscar racing in general will help produce a good result for the team.
The regular season driver pairing of the improving amateur Duncan Cameron and rapid Irish racer Matt Griffin is a good one, as they continue their rise up the sportscar ranks after spending the last few years in the International GT Open series. Completing their line up for Le Mans is the ex-British GT champion Alex Mortimer, who should provide a consistently fast stint whenever he’s at the wheel.
In overall terms this entry may struggle to compete for serious class honours, although you can never underestimate an AF Corse prepared Ferrari. Matt Griffin will fly in this car, and with Duncan Cameron bringing improved pace and consistency the only slight question mark on this entry is what will Alex Mortimer be able to do in the car. If he’s his usual self this car will challenge for a class podium or top five at least, barring any dramas during the race. #61 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia GTE: Peter Mann/Raffaele Gianmaria/Matteo Cressoni The second AF Corse entry in this class is the #61 car, which may well spring a surprise during the race this year. AF Corse is a byword for quality Ferrari GT cars, and the driving talent ensure this entry cannot be discounted for a top five in class.
Whilst the amateur driver Peter Mann may struggle to post the consistently fast lap times needed to contend these days at Le Mans, the two Italians he’s sharing with can easily do this during their stints. Both Gianmaria and Cressoni have single seater experience from F3000 and the Renault World Series, before switching their attentions to sportscar racing.
Their pace and experience will have to be what makes the difference for this #61 entry if they are to have any hope of competing for a top five in class or perhaps even more. Watch out for this car in the hands of Gianmaria and Cressoni, as it will be posting quick lap times. #62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari F458 Italia GTE: Bill Seedler/Townsend Bell/Jeff Segal The #62 entry is from the Italian sounding yet American Scuderia Corsa team, that competes in the Tudor United Sportscar Championship. The team and their regular driver line up of Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler have shown themselves to be a very competitive proposition in the Tudor series in the past 18 months.
Whilst the team may be new to the Le Mans 24 Hours, their experience in GT racing stateside means this will massively help them prepare for the 24 Hours. Barring any dramas during practice and qualifying they should have plenty of time to familiarise themselves with the 8.4 mile Circuit de la Sarthe.
The all-American crew will be headed by the very quick Townsend Bell, who has made a remarkable transition from Indycar racing into GT and sportscar racing. His pace will be vital for this team to achieve a good result in the race, and he will be ably supported by co-drivers Jeff Segal and Bill Sweedler. Segal is a quick and experience GT racer in the States, with Sweedler the third and final cog in this driver trio.
He’s shown well when partnered with Bell in the past, and both will be hoping their good run continues at Le Mans. This team is more of an unknown quantity going into the race week, although if they can run like they do in the Tudor series, a good result is a very realistic target for this ambitious team. #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari F458 Italia GTE: Abdulaziz al Faisal/Kuba Giermaziak/Michael Avenatti
The JMW Motorsport team return to Le Mans once again with their Ferrari F458 Italia, as the experienced British team look for a good result in the GTE Am class. The team remain an anomaly in the class as they are the only team running Dunlop tyres in the class, which may give the team the advantage they need to claim a good result in the 24 Hours.
The JMW team have shown well so far in the opening rounds of the European Le Mans Series, although with a all new driver line up for Le Mans and the big step up in competitiveness for the 24 Hours, the team may struggle to compete for class honours this year. A top five finish would be a great result for this team, with any better result being a bonus for this JMW team.
The team’s all new line up for Le Mans begins with the quick Saudi racer Abdulaziz al Faisal, who is well known to the team and comes with years of 24 Hours experience with this team. Michael Avenatti comes to Le Mans for the first time, after some recent experience in the Tudor United Sportscar Series in America. Avenatti will be looking to acclimitise well to the circuit, especially as his GB Autosport team will be helping run the car with JMW. Completing the line up is another debutante, Avenatti’s GB Autosport team mate Kuba Giermaziak. The very rapid Pole is more of a Porsche expert, although his speed will shine through in this Ferrari F458 Italia,despite it being his debut at the race.
#67 Team AAI Porsche 911 997 RSR: Jun San Chen/Alex Kapadia/Xavier Maassen
Team AAI has entered two Porsche 911 cars after success in the Asian Le Mans Series last year. The team have partnered themselves with the highly professional Belgian Prospeed outfit, which will ensure the team performs well throughout race week.
This #67 entry is the older 997 spec Porsche 911, which will put the team on the back foot against the latest machinery in the class. The team’s driver line up is the better of the two, with Jun San Chen the first of the drivers. He is a solid bronze rated driver, and won the Asian Le Mans Series GT class last year. If he can run semi competitive lap times the team has a chance of a good result with this car.
Alex Kapadia finally makes his Le Mans debut after years spent climbing from the club racing scene to the 24 Hours. He is a very quick driver, who has impressed in LMP2 machinery over the past year. If he can adapt to the Circuit de la Sarthe quickly, he will be the team’s secret weapon. Completing the line up is the experienced Belgian Xavier Maassen. He returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2011, although has can perform a consistently quick stint and has a wealth of GT racing experience.
For this Team AAI, even with the help of a good driver line up and the Prospeed team the team will struggle to compete for a class podium unless something unexpected occurs. For this team a top six in class will prove to be a good result, and possibly a good building block for the team to hopefully return next year.
That’s it for Part 1 of my preview for the GTE Am class, Part 2 will be posted soon. Thanks must also go to Motorsport.com for their incredible photos which you see in this blog. Please go and visit their website http://www.Motorsport.com for the latest news and photos.