It’s the time of year when the motorsport world turns it’s attention to the centre-piece Sportscar race of the year, the fabled Le Mans 24 Hours. The race has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years as Sportscar racing proves more popular with fans, who prefer the flat out nature of Sportscar races in comparison with the conservation races that Formula One have become.
The GTE Am class may be struggling for numbers in the World Endurance Championship, for Le Mans the class has returned to a far more healthy number of entries with 16 cars set to battle it out for class honours. The class enjoys a truly worldwide entry with teams and drivers who compete in the WEC, IMSA WeatherTech and Asian Le Mans series all competing against each other.
The overall quality of the entries in this class improves with every passing year and this edition is no different. Just like with every other class winning is very tough with every team needing to have a faultless run along with a helping hand from lady luck to prevail over the 24 hours. Let’s take a look at the first half of the class entry for this year.
#50 Larbre Competition Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Fernando Rees/Romain Brandela/Christian Philippon
The French Larbre team are always a welcome addition to the GTE Am class over the last few years, as they return this year after a failed attempt to move into the GTE Pro class of the WEC for this year after Chevrolet factory backing couldn’t be agreed.
The team will definitely stand out this year, and not simply because they are the only team fielding a Corvette in the class. This year the team have a striking art car livery, done by French street artist Ramzi Adek. It appears to have come about thanks to driver Romain Brandela through his connections as BMW France public events manager, the manufacture being known for its art cars.
On track the team may struggle slightly to match the front running pace as the team are one of the few teams in class to have two bronze drivers. Completing the trio is former factory Aston Martin driver Fernando Rees, someone who is both blindingly fast and is well known to the team having driven for them before he joined AMR. With him behind the wheel the car will fly, however they will struggle to maintain this pace once the other two drivers get in.
#54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE: Thomas Flohr/Francesco Castellacci/Olivier Beretta
This Spirit of Race entry is run by the Ferrari GT specialist AF Corse team, who return to Le Mans with an arsenal of entries across the two GT classes. The team have showed flashes of promise in their first season at this level, with gentleman driver and team backer Thomas Flohr improving under the tutelage of his pro team mates.
AF Corse is the perfect team to run their entry, making their debut at the race that much easier. Flohr is the teams bronze rated driver and has improved already this year, with help from his full season team mate Francesco Castellacci, an Italian who has found a full season drive after bouncing around partial seasons with the likes of Aston Martin and AF Corse over the past five years. He is a talented driver who will prove the surprise for this entry over the course of the race.
Completing the line-up for Le Mans is Ferrari factory driver Olivier Beretta, who replaces fellow factory driver Miguel Molina who is being called up to the factory Ferrari GTE Pro entry. Beretta is a proven winner at Le Mans with six class wins along with five further podiums across his Le Mans career. Adding such a high calibre factory driver vastly improves this entry and should put them in contention for the class podium with a clean run. The only potential worry will be how quickly Flohr adapts to the circuit across the week.
#55 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE: Duncan Cameron/Aaron Scott/Marco Cioci
Spirit of Race have two entries in this years race and this #55 entry is their regular European Le Mans Series entry. It’s been a rough start to the season for the team in the ELMS but they have the potential to bounce back with a great result at this blue riband event.
Regular driver pairing Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott a good driver pairing. Cameron has improved greatly as a bronze rated driver and has plenty of experience at this level in recent seasons. Team mate Aaron Scott has put in good performances in the opening rounds of the season and will be the teams hidden gem come race week, much like Castellacci in the teams other entry.
Completing the entry is the teams hired gun Marco Cioci, a very quick Italian who is vastly experienced with Ferrari GT cars. He has proven himself at this level with several GTE Am podiums in his racing career, with the only potential question mark for this team going into the week being their tyre choice. They have been running on spec Dunlop rubber all year yet for this race have switched to Michelin tyres. What effect will this have on their pace throughout the week.
#60 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE: Richard Wee/Hiroki Katoh/Alvaro Parente
Clearwater racing have grabbed headlines previously with their striking chrome livery, yet with a years experience they are returning to Le Mans with hopes of a class podium. This is their one-off second entry for the race, and with AF Corse providing assistance they have everything in place.
Enlisting McLaren factory GT driver Alvaro Parente is a smart move from the team, as he has established himself as one of the fastest GT3 drivers in the world, and has Le Mans experience. Hiroki Katoh is a vastly experienced Super GT racer who is another great addition to the team, with am driver Richard Wee completing the line-up. He has Blancpain GT Asia experience and will have two very quick team mates to learn from over the course of the week.
The team has a great line-up for the race and with the team gaining experience at this level rapidly, they could be in with a chance of victory. In the hands of Parente and Katoh this car will be very quick, but as with every GTE Am entry the pace of the amateur bronze rated driver will dictate the cars chances of class honours.
#61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE: Weng Sun Mok/Keita Sawa/Matt Griffin
This #61 entry is the teams designated full season WEC entry, and this team keeps consistently surprising people with their pace. They claimed pole on their debut in the race last year and finished an impressive fourth in class. This year they claimed a debut victory in the opening round of the WEC at Silverstone several months ago, and will be an outside contender for victory if they have a good race.
This driver line-up may not necessarily be as highly rated as some others in this class, however they are definitely worthy of high praise. Led by experienced Irishman Matt Griffin, a very fast and consistent GT driver, along with team mates Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok.
Sawa is a very quick silver driver who is the reigning Asian Le Mans Series GT champion, with Weng Sun Mok another reliable bronze driver who has built up a good relationship with Sawa through the ALMS. The team could prove surprise winners as they have consistently exceeded expectations at this level.
#62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE: Cooper MacNeil/Townsend Bell/Bill Sweedler
This #62 entry is definitely one of the favourites in this class, with last years Am class winners Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler returning with the team they claimed victory with. For this entry the mantra of what isn’t broke doesn’t need fixing is prevailing, with the only major change for the team being the addition of silver driver Cooper MacNeil, who will likely be one of the quickest silvers in the class.
Bill Sweedler is a very quick bronze rated driver and has a great working relationship with Townsend Bell, himself a very quick and experienced GT racer. This team has been very successful both at Le Mans and in the IMSA WeatherTech series, with able support from renowned Ferrari specialists Kessel Racing.
This entry has to be one of the top favourites for this class considering the high quality driver line-up which could be seen as the best in the class by some. After last years success it would be unwise to bet against this team repeating a class win this year.
#65 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE: Christina Nielsen/Alessandro Balzan/Bret Curtis
Scuderia Corsa has two strong entries this year, doubling their chances of a podium place come Sunday afternoon.
Reigning IMSA GTD class champions Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan are together once again, and with such a successful partnership expect them both to lead this car in terms of pace.
Completing the line-up is bronze rated driver Bret Curtis, who is an experienced racer who will anchor this car and with such a competitive class the class contending cars will be the ones with the best bronze rated drivers. This team is highly professional and with a clean run they can easily compete for a podium place, however they may lack the last tenth or two compared to their sister car simply because of how strong Sweedler is as a am driver.
#77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR: Christian Reid/Matteo Cairoli/Marvin Dienst
Dempsey Proton have established themselves as mainstays of this class recently and have a three car entry this year, beginning with this #77 car.
The team have had a good start to the WEC season, despite this car being two years old now. Competing against more modern machinery is going to prove extremely difficult, and the team may need to rely on misfortune or adverse weather to secure a top result this year.
On the driving front the team have a very good line-up with the experienced Christian Reid a good solid am driver and will be very consistent. He’s partnered with Porsche junior driver Matteo Cairoli, who has impressed massively so far with his consistently quick performances. Completing the trio is former single seater racer Marvin Dienst, 2015 German F4 champion and someone who will likely impress all week.
That sums up Part One of my preview for the GTE Am class at this years Le Mans 24 Hours. I would like to thank LAT Images and Motorsport.com for the high quality images and Dailysportscar.com for their expert knowledge, some of which helped when sourcing info for this article. I would lastly like to thank everyone who reads this blog as this is what I write for. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and Part two will be posted in the next few days!