My latest preview looks at the GTE Pro category, which somehow seems to ramp up in competitiveness every year. This year four manufactures are all going to be fighting for the class victory throughout the 24 hours. The AF Corse Ferrari team will be looking to defend their class victory this year, although the might of Porsche,Chevrolet and Aston Martin will all be determined to knock them from their perch. Let’s profile the entries here.
#51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia GTE: Gianmaria Bruni/Toni Vilander/Giancarlo Fisichella
The AF Corse team return this year, aiming to repeat it’s hard fought class victory from last year. The Ferrari works supported team have proven themselves to be one of the best GT team on the planet, with numerous wins across all sportscar platforms in Europe. The team has taken the World Endurance Championship GTE Pro class by storm since the series inception in 2012, and this year once again leads the drivers standings going into Le Mans.
The team has a stellar driver line up made up of the WEC pairing Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander, both very quick GT drivers. With Gianmaria Bruni in the line up, this team arguably have one of the best GT drivers in the world. Completing the trio is ex-F1 and works Ferrari GT driver Giancarlo Fisichella, who returns to this team after taking class victory with Bruni and Vilander a year ago. He’s a highly experienced driver and has adapted remarkably well to sportscar racing.
Much like for every team in this class they have a chance of winning the class, although surely this AF Corse team have to start the race as slight favourites, only because of their success last year and topping the WEC going into Le Mans. Only misfortune can de-rail this team. #63 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Ryan Briscoe Corvette racing have become as synonymous at Le Mans in recent times as Audi, with a similar record of dominance since the turn of the millennium. After this car narrowly missed out on winning the GTE Pro category last year, this year the factory Pratt @ Miler Corvette team will aim to go one better and claim victory.
The team came to last year with a new C7.R version of their Corvette, and with a year’s further experience with the car they should find an improvement in their overall pace. The team have shown their strength in the Tudor United Sportscar Championship over the past 18 months, and this team can never be discounted at Le Mans.
This car’s driver line up is based on experience, with long term Corvette factory drivers Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia being partnered by sportscar convert Ryan Briscoe. All three are very quick professional drivers, and years of experience with Corvette racing. The only change from last year is Ryan Briscoe switching with Jordan Taylor in this car. Briscoe is an experienced Corvette racing driver, who has primarily raced in the longer distance events for them over the past few years.
This will be his first Le Mans for Corvette racing, although has experience from racing for Level 5 motorsport in 2013. With his experience already in the car, along with his pace as a professional driver, the circuit de la Sarthe should not pose any problems for the Aussie. Corvette racing always go into Le Mans looking for a class win, and this year once again they will be in the hunt for victory right until the end of the race.
#64 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Jordan Taylor
The second of the Corvette racing entries is similarly strong to it’s sister car, with one of the best teams in the paddock in the factory Pratt @ Miller Corvette racing team behind them, only mechanical misfortune or an accident will stop this team from fighting for class victory.
It seems unlikely the Pratt @ Miller team would make a major mistake in the race, and with another year of running in the car the new C7.R model should prove a reliable race car throughout the 24 hours, despite the punishment it will take during the race.
The team’s regular pairing Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner are joined for Le Mans by Jordan Taylor, and all three are capable of producing consistently quick stints for 24 hours straight, coupled with years of experience with Corvette racing. Just like with their sister car, this car will be fighting for the class victory in the final few hours barring any major dramas for this second Corvette racing entry.
#71 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia GTE: Davide Rigon/James Calado/Olivier Beretta
The second of the AF Corse Ferrari factory assisted entries is a strong contender for class podium this year. This entry showed well in the opening World Endurance Championship round at Silverstone with a 3rd place, although the team struggled at Spa.
For this team they will be hoping they can return their form to more like Silverstone rather than Spa, although this may be a difficult task for this car. Whilst the AF Corse preparation will be top notch, the lack of experience from this line up may hinder their progress as the race rumbles on.
Olivier Beretta is the exception on the driving front, as he has countless years experience that only can come from a run where he has started every Le Mans 24 Hours since 1996. His experience will be vital for this team during the week, although the speed which took him all the way to Formula One cannot be discounted either.
Both his two team mates are recent single seater converts, in Davide Rigon and James Calado. The pace of both is unquestioned, with Rigon a former Superleague champion and GP2 racer, whilst Calado was on the cusp of reaching F1 until switching to sports cars last year.
Both made their debut at the 24 Hours last year, and whilst they both impressed greatly with their pace throughout the week, their lack of experience may hinder their chances of claiming a class win or podium. If they can keep out of trouble, this team has the potential to take a class podium at the very least, it’s up to them if they can reach this potential.
#91 Porsche Team Manthey Porsche 911 991 RSR: Richard Lietz/Michael Christensen/Jorg Bergmeister
Porsche are combining their attempts for overall victory with their factory GT programme, which will be fighting just as hard for their potential GTE Pro win as the LMP1 titans. Porsche have a long standing involvement in GT racing, and have once again been a frontrunner so far this season in the WEC.
Lead driver Richard Lietz is only a point behind in the current WEC GTE Pro drivers standings, and with double points here it makes this race the centre point of any potential championship run. Partnering him are the long term Porsche factory driver Jorg Bergmeister, and the young Dane Michael Christensen.
You do not remain a Porsche factory driver for as long as Bergmeister has without having both serious pace and the experience needed to succeed in top line sportscar racing. The Dane Michael Christensen is at the other end of the spectrum as he has only recently become a Porsche factory driver. He has shown well this year since swapping with Bergmeister and joining the WEC, with Bergmeister also showing his pace in the American Tudor United Sportscar series.
For this entry they will be looking to win, although so will every other car in the class. Therefore a minimum expectation will likely be a podium for this team, although if they get a clean run throughout the race, they could take the GTE Pro class win come Sunday afternoon.
That wraps up the first part of my preview of the highly competitive GTE Pro class at Le Mans this year. I hope you enjoy the article and I have to say a big thank you to Motorsport.com for their high quality photos, which you find in this post. Please go and visit their website http://www.Motorsport.com for all the latest news and photos from all forms of motorsport.