ELMS

2017 Le Mans 24 Hours GTE Am Preview Part 2

This is part two of my preview looking at the upcoming Le Mans 24 Hours, one of the centre piece races on the motorsport calendar. To view part one of the preview click here . Let’s take a look at the second half of the 16-car GTE Am class entry for this years race.

#83 DH Racing Ferrari 488 GTE: Tracy Krohn/Nic Jonsson/Andrea Bertolini

DH Racing earned their invite to the worlds greatest sportscar race by winning in the Asian Le Mans series, and with AF Corse supporting their entry they could spring a surprise during the race week.

On the driving front they bring a familiar colour scheme back to Le Mans, with the distinctive green and blue Krohn livery indicating long time driving partners Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson make up two thirds of this entry.

Both are experienced and this will ensure they should stay out of trouble during their stints, the first basic aim for every sportscar driver. Completing the line-up is Italian Andrea Bertolini, someone is a proven commodity at this level. He is very quick in Ferrari GT cars and won this class in 2015, showing he can provide an edge for this team. Whilst it may be difficult on pure pace don’t count this team out for a chance of a podium.

#83

DH Racing have an outside chance of a podium if they can keep a consistent pace throughout the race. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE: Rob Smith/Will Stevens/Dries Vanthoor

The popular JMW team returns to Le Mans after a years absence, as they transition from their faithful Ferrari 458 Italia to the newer 488 GTE car for this race. This could potentially prove problematic for the team, but with the package already proven internationally they could find themselves on the podium Sunday afternoon.

Am driver Rob Smith has been solid so far in the European Le Mans Series, which is all you can ask from your bronze rated driver. Alongside him are two very capable GT racers, former F1 racer Will Stevens and young Belgian Dries Vanthoor.

Both have come on very well this year with the WRT team in the Blancpain GT series, with the only slight question mark being how quickly they find the limit with the step up to the GTE spec racer. Expect both of these two to impress and produce consistently quick times which could put them into contention for the podium as the race wears on.

#84

JMW are outsiders for a podium, depending on how quickly they get to grips with the new Ferrari 488. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR: Mike Wainwright/Ben Barker/Nick Foster

Gulf Racing come into Le Mans having flown slightly under the radar in the WEC this season. The team have been compromised by having to run a 2015 spec Porsche 911 as opposed to their rivals in 2016 cars.

The team will be led by Ben Barker, a driver who has proved he can be very quick at this level. Australian Nick Foster has showed plenty of speed even though he is still adjusting to the series, with am driver Mike Wainwright improving with his consistency over stints even if he does seem to last a tenth or two compared to some of the quickest am drivers.

For this team a top six in this highly competitive class would be a massive achievement for them, and something that would greatly bolster their WEC campaign. The team will need to have a clean and consistent run, but this is well within their reach.

#86

The iconic Gulf livery once again graces Le Mans, so can Gulf Racing do the colours proud? Photo: LAT Images.

 

#88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR: Klaus Bachler/Khaled Al Qubaisi/Stephane Lemeret

Proton competition are a very experienced team at this GT level, and despite having two year old Porsche’s they are still in with an outside shot of a podium, such is their quality.

Proven Porsche specialist Klaus Bachler was a late addition to the team, although he is already well known to the team from previous years. Partnering him is former team mate Khaled Al Qubaisi, who returns for this one-off race after taking the year off because of business commitments. He has proven himself as a very capable driver and should pick up right where he finished last season.

Completing the trio is Le Mans rookie Stephane Lemeret. He’s proven his pace by winning the GT class of the Asian Le Mans Series with DH  Racing, and if he can adapt quickly to Le Mans and the jump in standard expect this team to be in outside contention for a podium.

#88

This Proton entry has the potential for a class podium despite the two year-old 911. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage: Euan Hankey/Rob Bell/Salih Yoluc

This young British team have taken the GTE class by storm in the ELMS this season, leading the class after the first two rounds. This is despite the team being novices at this level.

The team have already have a proven competitive package with the 2016 spec Aston Martin Vantage claiming the GTE Pro WEC class title. Whilst the team will not a trio of professional drivers at their disposal, they do have a very good line-up for this pro-am class.

Euan Hankey and Salih Yoluc have proven an increasingly potent partnership in recent seasons, with Hankey continuing to mentor Yoluc. Completing the trio is McLaren factory GT driver Rob Bell, a very quick GT driver who claimed the class pole last year when with Clearwater Racing. This team have the potential to fight for the class win and should not be taken lightly as contenders in this competitive class.

#90

TF Sport are the rising team in the GTE ranks, can they continue their good form with a Le Mans class win? Photo: LAT Images.

 

#93 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR: Patrick Long/Mike Hedlund/Abdelaziz Turki Al Faisal

The third and final Proton entry numerically speaking perfectly fits the pro-am format of this class. The team will be undoubtedly be led by Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, who is a very quick professional driver of whom very few racers could get more out of a GTE spec Porsche 911 than him.

Alongside him are drivers Mike Hedlund and Abdelaziz Turki Al Faisal. Hedlund makes his debut at the race and will provide some consistency for this entry. Abdelaziz Turki Al Faisal is an experienced and solid driver, the kind of driver who is pivotal to any teams chance of victory in these pro-am classes. For this team the name of the game appears to be consistency, which can prove the key to a class podium in this class.

#93

This #93 entry will rely on the pace of Porsche factory Pat Long, how far will this take them? Photo: LAT Images.

 

#98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage: Paul Dalla Lana/Mathias Lauda/Pedro Lamy

This #98 Aston Martin racing entry will likely enter the race as favourites for the class victory, with bad luck seeming to be the only reason why the team have not previously won this class.

The team are currently leading the class in the WEC and with the might of the factory Aston Martin team behind them they have a great chance of victory. With the 2016 spec Aston Martin Vantage already a proven reliable and very quick car, it really seems like nothing but misfortune can stop this team.

The trio of Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana are a proven package and can be argued to be the highest quality line-up in this class. The team are very well prepared and it is hard to bet against this team finally winning the GTE Am class after years of misfortune.

#98

This #98 Aston Martin Racing entry is undoubtedly the class favourite, will they finally end their misfortune at this race? Photo: LAT Images. 

 

#99 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage: Ross Gunn/Andrew Howard/Oliver Bryant

Beechdean AMR have established themselves at this level after winning the 2016 GTE Am class of the ELMS. Over the winter a lot has changed for this team however, with the team now badged as Beechdean AMR as opposed to a full factory Aston Martin Racing entry.

On the driving front the team have once again built a very good line-up this year. Team boss Andrew Howard is an ever improving am driver and will likely prove one of the faster am’s in this class. Aston Martin factory driver Ross Gunn is improving with every year and appears to be being groomed for a future role with the factory GTE Pro class effort.

Oliver Bryant completes the trio and is a quick GT driver who could prove to be the teams secret weapon. The team have a proven Aston Martin package and with this quality line-up the team could well prove enough to secure a class podium.

#99

Beechdean could spring a surprise with a class podium in only their second Le Mans 24 Hours. Photo: LAT Images.

 

This wraps up the second part of my look at the GTE Am class for the Le Mans 24 Hours. This 16 car class is increasing in quality every year and with such a competitive class any number of a half dozen entries can realistically win.

I would like to thank LAT Images and Dailysportscar.com for their high quality images and research which greatly helped with this article. Finally I would like to everyone for reading this you can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Next up I will preview the GTE Pro class, which should be posted very soon.

2017 Le Mans 24 Hours GTE AM Preview Part 1

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.

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Larbre will catch the attention of the crowd with their thundering Corvette and distinctive art car livery. Photo: LAT Images.

#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.

#54

Spirit of Race have a chance of a class podium in their debut Le Mans, with Ferrari factory driver Olivier Beretta spear heading their entry. Photo: LAT Images.

#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.

#55

This gorgeous #55 Spirit of Race entry will be led by Marco Cioci, but Aaron Scott could prove their secret weapon. Photo: LAT Images.

#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.

#60

Clearwater Racing are an ever improving team and is a testament to the growth of the Asian Le Mans Series.  Photo: LAT Images.

#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.

#61

Don’t discount the Clearwater team, who are improving rapidly at the highest level of GT racing. Photo: LAT Images.

#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.

#62

This Scuderia Corsa entry is one of the favourites going into the race, looking for a second consecutive class win. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#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.

#65

Scuderia Corsa has a great chance to secure class victory with two very high quality entries this year. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#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.

#77

Despite having a two year-old car, this team still has a chance of victory, such is the strength of the team and its drivers. Photo: LAT Images.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview

The 2017 international motorsport season begins in earnest with the 55th running of the Rolex 24 Hours from the Daytona International Speedway. This years running marks a new era for the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar championship, with wide scale changes to the premier prototype division thanks to a new combined rulebook aligning the previous LMP2 and Daytona Prototype cars.

With the new DPI regulations they should ensure greater equality between the previous LMP2 and Daytona Prototype entries. Whilst there will be inevitable balance of performance issues to iron out in the build up to the race, one thing that can be guaranteed is the overall quality and competitiveness in the prototype category. Every car in the premier class has a chance of victory, should they have a good run and be blessed with that all important luck needed to win such a prestigious 24 hour race.

Last years victors Extreme Speed Motorsport return to the IMSA series full time this year after two years in the World Endurance Championship, but they will have plenty of competition for the victory once again this time out. Let’s take a look at the entries and assess their chances of victory.

#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier-Nissan DPI: Ryan Dalziel/Scott Sharp/Pipo Derani

Tequila Patron and the Extreme Speed team have returned stateside after a mixed two years in the WEC, and despite a new range of prototype entries expect them to pick up exactly where they left off in this series. This is the crew that came out victorious in last years Rolex 24, therefore the target will be on their back all weekend as they aim to do something very difficult and retain their trophies from a year ago.

Despite being the reigning champions a lot has changed for this crew from last year. Most notably is the new Ligier-Nissan DPI package that they have chosen to use. With such a new set of regulations its currently unclear which package will prove most suitable for the Daytona track, with the Roar not giving away too much as teams don’t want to show their hands too early.

On the driving front the team also has some changes, with the team switching across Ryan Dalziel and Johannes Van Overbeek for this year. With the talented Scot Dalziel now partnering Sharp and Pipo Derani this team has a great mix of speed and experience in this lineup.  Derani in particular stole the show last year with his consistently fast driving, and if he can repeat those feats this year, backed up by Sharp and Dalziel this team has every chance of victory if their new DPI package can stay reliable.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing  Dallara Cadillac DPI: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque

The Action Express team have established themselves as one of the premier prototype teams in the IMSA series over the past three to four year, largely based on the results of this number five entry.  With back to back titles in 2014 and 2015, this entry was beaten only by its teammates in last years championship.

The team always run strongly at Daytona and last year once again challenged for the overall victory until the final hours. They have remained with General Motors, although this years new DPI is badged as a Cadillac rather than a Chevrolet. Aside from the new DPI car the team have stuck with a driver line up that has produced major success for them.

Both Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi are hugely experienced whilst retaining their speed, something Audi factory driver Filipe Albuquerque does not lack. He showed well with the team last year and this year will be hoping they can remain in the lead fight right up until the chequered flag. Along with the #2 Extreme Speed motorsport entry this is one of half a dozen cars who have a very good chance of victory. Expect to see this car at the front for large portions in the race if they can run cleanly.

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#10 Konica Minolta Dallara Cadillac DPI: Jordan Taylor/Ricky Taylor/Max Angelelli/Jeff Gordon

The battles between the Action Express and Wayne Taylor racing teams have gone down in this championships short history, with the two of them separating themselves from the rest of the full season entries in the past three years. This year their battle for victory will be renewed beginning with the Rolex 24, a race that has not been kind to this team in recent years.

The team have always found trouble late on when in contention for victory, something the team will be hoping a new set of regulations may help with. They have decided to also stick with what they know and the GM brand, and have retained three quarters of their driver line up from a year ago.

Owner Wayne Taylor’s sons Jordan and Ricky return and will be right on the pace all weekend, ably supported by the vastly experienced Max Angelelli in his final race before retirement. Angelelli has been a huge asset to this team since his days partnering Wayne and will be hoping he can end his career on a high note. For their final driver the team have caused a stir by signing retired Nascar legend Jeff Gordon. Whilst he has limited Sportscar experience, he has plenty of pace and is a good addition to this already formidable lineup. This is another entry to look out for throughout the 24 hours.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2017-10-wayne-taylor-racing-cadillac-dpi-ricky-taylor-jordan

#13 Rebellion Oreca 07-Gibson:  Sebastien Buemi/Nick Heidfeld/Neel Jani/Stephane Sarrazin

The Rebellion team embark on their first season in the LMP2 category after being mainstays of the LMP1 privateer class. Along with their WEC programme is a crack at the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, consisting of the premier races on the IMSA calendar.

With a stable Oreca-Gibson chassis/engine combination the highly experienced team have put together an all star line-up for the Rolex 24. LMP1 factory drivers Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin (Toyota) and current WEC champion and Le Mans 24 Hours winner Neel Jani (Porsche) are joined by regular driver and ex-F1 mainstay Nick Heidfeld.

The team having previous experience from their 2013 successful foray into the American Sportscar scene, are will be looking for a debut victory this time out. If the team can have a clean run, this entry is a very serious contender for the overall win. With such a competitive class and the 24 hour race duration anything can happen, although if I was forced into choosing a pre-race favourite, I would likely back this Rebellion racing entry.

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#22 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier-Nissan DPI: Ed Brown/Johannes Van Overbeek/Bruno Senna/Brendon Hartley 

The other Extreme Speed motorsport entry is not going to play second fiddle to the teams other car. This entry still has a very good chance of victory, given the professionalism and quality of this team, along with a great driver line up.

Porsche LMP1 factory driver and former WEC champion Brendon Hartley is an excellent signing for this team, one of the genuinely fastest guys on the sportscar scene at the moment. Former F1 driver Bruno Senna has also joined this lineup, showing his talents with a excellent adaption to prototype racing in the LMP2 class of the WEC last season.

Full season drivers Johannes Van Overbeek and Tequila Patron CEO Ed Brown complete the lineup. Van Overbeek has a wealth of experience and speed, forming an excellent working relationship with long term co-driver Brown. The only slight question mark surrounding this entry may be Brown.

He is one of the few true amateur drivers in the class, and whilst he has excelled and improved rapidly in sportscar racing, he may struggle to match the consistent ultimate pace of the world class professional drivers he will be competing with. Do not count this entry out as you may regret it, although they may need a little extra help if they want to be wheeled into victory lane come Sunday afternoon.

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#31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Racing Dallara Cadillac DPI: Dane Cameron/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Seb Morris

The defending WeatherTech IMSA champions return for a crack at the Rolex 24. the jewel in the IMSA season crown. This entry stepped out of the shadows of their illustrious team mates last season to win the title, and will be hoping they can repeat this result this season, despite the major changes in the prototype class.

It’s unclear as to the ultimate pace of the new Cadillac DPI entries, having not topped the times at the pre-race Roar before the 24 test several weeks ago. Were they sandbagging, or are they genuinely short on pace compared to their rivals? Only the teams themselves know.

On the driving front the full season lineup of the very fast Dane Cameron and Eric Curran are joined by Brits Mike Conway and Seb Morris. Conway is a Toyota factory prototype driver and is an excellent signing for this team. Morris is a slightly different story, having won the Sunoco challenge, which rewards the best overall driver in British national racing with a drive in the Rolex 24. Such alumni of this prize include F1 driver Felipe Nasr, so do not discount Morris. He was a very quick single seater driver before switching his attention to GT racing, having shown similar pace in British GT last year.

With Conway leading the lineup this entry may lack that blistering ultimate pace of their rivals over the course of a stint, but do not think they are simply here to make up the numbers. They are the reigning champions and that alone will mean no other team counts them out.

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#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Ligier JSP2-Gibson: Tom Kimber-Smith/Jose Gutierrez/Mike Guasch/RC Enerson 

The PR1/Mathiasen have been front runners in the prototype challenge class for the past several years in the IMSA series, tasting some success with class victory in the 2015 Rolex 24. With the widespread change in the prototype class regulations, the team have made the step up for this season.

Given pre-season testing choosing the Ligier JSP2 package seems a smart move at this moment, and the team have stuck with a lot of their PC class drivers. With familiarity and experience needed with the move up this is a smart move by the team. The vastly experienced Tom Kimber-Smith will likely lead this team, having plentiful experience at this level from the past few years.

Jose Gutierrez showed himself well last season in his sportscar debut, having made the jump across from the Pro Mazda single seater series. Although he didn’t complete the entire season, a year of adapting to the series will put him in good stead for this season. Mike Guasch is a quick amateur driver for this team, and has spent a large portion of his recent career with the team. After winning the LMP3 class in the European Le Mans Series, he will be hoping his good form can continue into 2017.

Completing the lineup is the young American single seater racer RC Enerson, who makes his sportscar debut this weekend. He has progressed up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder right up to Indycar last season, although his lack of experience will sportscar may hamper him during the week. He is tremendously fast and once he adapts to the car and the level of traffic, expect him to flash some seriously fast times during the race.

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#55 SpeedSource Riley Mazda DPI: Jonathan Bomarito/Tristan Nunez/Spencer Pigot 

The works backed SpeedSource Mazda team return to the IMSA series in 2017 having shown promise throughout the 2016 season. With a new Mazda badged Riley DPI, which in my opinion is the best looking car in this class, will be hoping they can finally deliver on their long running promise.

The team is highly talented and this extends to the driver line up. Former single seater convert Jonathan Bomarito has now added experience to his speed and is well versed with the team having spent the past few years with them. He will provide the most experience, although both young team mates Tristan Nunez and Spencer Pigot have also raced this entry last year.

Nunez has adapted well having progressed through the Cooper Tyres IMSA lights series, having been nurtured by this team he gets better with every passing season and is now established as a prominent IMSA sportscar driver, despite being only 21. Pigot is a single seater who flashed promise in Indycar last season, and returns to Daytona looking to improve upon last years frustrating race where mechanical issues forced them out. If the Mazda DPI proves quick expect this team to be taking full advantage of it, and maybe they can achieve a rare and long overdue podium come Sunday afternoon.

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#70 SpeedSource Riley Mazda DPI: Tom Long/Joel Miller/James Hinchcliffe

The other Mazda factory entry is this #70 car, both of which have shown well at the pre-race Roar before the 24. Whilst it was the #55 car that set the headline times at the test, this entry has just as much a chance of victory or class podium. The SpeedSource team are highly professional and have plenty of experience in this race, plus the might of Mazda North America supporting their efforts.

The team remains largely unchanged on the driving front, with long time Mazda drivers Tom Long and Joel Miller providing a wealth of experience for this entry. Both are also capable of produce a very fast average pace across a stint, especially former single seater convert Miller. Completing the trio is Indycar star James Hinchcliffe, who reunites with the SpeedSource team for Daytona after taking last year out. He will be the star turn and if he can adapt to the new Mazda DPI car quickly, he will likely be the one setting the cars fastest times. So much in unknown going into this race, but if the testing pace proves to be an accurate reflection of outright speed, expect this car to be on the podium if it can keep clean and reliable.

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#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson: Loic Duval/Ben Hanley/Henrik Hedman/Nicolas Lapierre

The very young DragonSpeed racing team make their Rolex 24 debut with one goal in mind this weekend, to claim overall victory in this prestigious race. The team are racing their Oreca 05 from last season, updated to new 07 spec, and have impressed so far.

The team debuted at the Sebring 12 hours last season and again have returned stateside before taking on the European Le Mans Series this year. What the team lack in sportscar experience they more than make up for with their driver line up. Amateur Swedish racer Henrik Hedman has plenty of sportscar experience however he will likely to struggle to match the pace of the professional drivers simply because he is an amateur doing this for fun, do not think that will mean he is slow and he will be a very good and consistent driver for the team.

Joining him is Brit former single seater Ben Hanley, who like a shooting star rose to prominence very quickly before seemingly disappearing just as quickly. He is still a very quick racing driver who seems to have finally found a home with this DragonSpeed team. Completing the lineup are sportscar royalty, Audi factory driver Loic Duval and LMP2 WEC champion Nicolas Lapierre. Both have plenty of top line sportscar experience and will provide blistering pace for this car when they are at the wheel.

Having topped the pre-race test this team are looking good if they can keep this pace up consistently across the week culminating in the race. If they can be reliable this team has every chance of a class podium, despite the seeming disadvantage of an amateur driver, such is the overall quality of the team and the rest of the lineup.

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#85 JDC/Miller Motorsport Oreca 07-Gibson: Mikhail Goikhberg/Stephen Simpson/Chris Miller/Mathias Beche 

The second team to step up from the Prototype Challenge class is this JDC/Miller motorsport entry, and they will have fond memories of this race from last year. They survived a race of attrition in this class to secure an unexpected victory, something that carried across to the rest of the season as they finished third in class.

The team have chosen the Oreca 07-Gibson as their weapon of choice, with the DragonSpeed team showing the potential of the car in the re-race test. If this team can get to grips with the car and extract similar pace they will definitely be contenders for yet another upset victory this year.

The team has gone with familiarity for this year, having retained Stephen Simpson and Mikhail Goikhberg for this year. Both excelled last year and a resurgent Simpson reminded people why he was a formerly highly rated A1GP and Indy Lights driver. He has not lost any of his previous pace, he has simply now added experience to his sportscar armory. Goikhberg adapted well after winning the 2014 Mazda Prototype Lights series, he has found a home with the JDC/Miller team and rewarded them with an excellent season last year.

Chris Miller also returns this year after partial IMSA seasons with the team over the past several years. He has struggled with attaining a full season drive for several years now, which only makes his performances for this team even more impressive, considering his lack of experience. He is an underrated driver deserving of a full season IMSA drive, and so far he will be joining the team for the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events. Completing the lineup is Swiss racer Mathias Beche, a driver who has firmly established himself as a promising sportscar talent. He has impressed in recent years with the Thiriet by TDS and Rebellion racing teams, and is currently being rumoured to be joining the Toyota factory LMP1 programme this year. He will be hotshoe in this car and will lead the team as far as they can go in this race.

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#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Riley Mk30-Gibson: Renger Van Der Zande/Marc Goossens/Rene Rast

Long time IMSA entrants VisitFlorida.com racing return having gone a slightly different route to their traditional rivals. Whilst the likes of Action Express and Wayne Taylor racing have gone with the DPI route, this team have instead gone for a more European twist with their new LMP2 spec Riley Mk30. The team have made no secret of their desire to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours in the coming years, with their’s the only traditional Riley on the grid this year.

After an overhaul with their previous driver line up this year seems more stability, with the vastly experienced and very quick Belgian Marc Goossens remaining with the team for this year. He will have a new team mate in Dutchman Renger van der Zande, with Ryan Dalziel returning to the Tequila Patron ESM team. Van der Zande has long been one of the fastest drivers in the PC class, and is long overdue this promotion to the Prototype class.

This lineup is completed with Audi factory driver Rene Rast, someone who has solidified his success at this race in the GTD class in years prior. With plenty of Audi LMP1 experience he should find the adjustment to the Riley relatively easy, and he will be very fast throughout the week no doubt. This locally based team have never had much luck in this race, and could a new car bring a change in their fortunes? Based on testing times they may struggle, but many expect the order to have significantly change come the race.

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That wraps up my preview of the Prototype class for this years 2017 Rolex 24. The class seems rejuvenated this year with plenty of intrigue as genuinely you could not call a winner for this race. I will be one of the many sportscar eagerly glued to the race this weekend, excited to see the outcome. I have to say thank you for reading this and I hoped you liked it, any comments would be greatly appreciated. I have to also give a final thanks to Motorsport.com for their high quality photos which grace this page, I urge everyone to visit their site for the latest news and high quality pictures from across the motorsport world. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

 

 

Antonio Giovinazzi deserving place in F1

Antonio Giovinazzi. The 22 year old Italian has taken the GP2 series by storm in his rookie season, but he still doesn’t seem to have been placed with the tag of an up and coming talent. Some of the rivals he has previously beaten are being linked with Formula One drives for next year, so why is Giovinazzi not yet being considered for the step up to F1?

The Italian has a stellar junior racing CV, winning at every category he has raced at. From the very beginning Antonio has not followed the traditional path, something that has served him incredibly well to this point. Beginning racing in the Formula Pilota China series in 2012, was a double edged sword for Giovinazzi. He dominated the series with 13 podiums from 18 races, however racing so far away from Europe kept him out of the spotlight.

Giovinazzi moved back to Europe for 2013, but found the running difficult in the ultra competitive FIA European F3 championship. Driving with the Double R team he struggled with no podiums in thirty races, finishing the year 17th overall. In a truncated British F3 campaign he was more successful, with two wins he finished second overall in a small yet high quality field.

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Giovinazzi in action during his dominant title winning Formula Pilota China campaign in 2012. Photo copyright Formula Pilota China.

After a year learning the circuits and adjusting to the step up in standard, he joined front running team Carlin for 2014. Helping him was support from Jagonya Ayam, the Indonesian KFC franchise. With sizeable long term support Giovinazzi was free to focus on racing. His sophomore campaign was far more successful, with two wins and five further podiums from 33 races. 6th overall was his reward and was seen as one of the top contenders for the following campaign, with the drivers ahead of him all moving up the single seater ladder.

Returning to European F3 for a third year was a risky move for the Italian, with anything other than fighting for the title would seriously halter his career momentum. Staying with Carlin for another year proved fruitful, with six wins propelling him into a title fight with the experienced Swede Felix Rosenqvist. Giovinazzi ultimately finished second, but a win in the one-off F3 Masters at Zandvoort and 4th in the Macau GP showed he was a name to watch.

Not content with having a break during the off-season, he teamed up with fellow Jagonya Ayam backed driver Sean Gelael for two rounds of the Asian Le Mans Series. Winning both rounds kept them both sharp as they prepared for the step up to GP2.

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Giovinazzi in the opening round of the 2015 FIA European F3 championship at Silverstone. 2015 would be the year he solidified himself as an up and coming driver. Photo copyright FIA F3/TSphoto.

Giovinazzi joined the Prema team for both parties first season in the premier feeder series to Formula One. Whilst both had showed well in F3, expectations were kept low with both being newcomers to the series.  Even with expectations kept low for his rookie season, he will have been disappointed with his start to the season.

With a best finish of 11th from the opening four races, any slim chance of a title challenge seemed to have vanished.So what happened at the next meeting shocked everyone in the paddock. At the all new Baku city circuit in Azerbaijan he proved the class of the field, winning both races whilst others around him struggled to adapt to the challenging street circuit. The two wins propelled him into title contention, as he sat in third position, only eight points behind title leader Artem Markelov. Winning both races of the same meeting had not previously been done since Davide Valsecchi in 2012.

Over the course of the season consistent points scoring kept him in the title chase, as one of the most evenly contested title fights for years played out. With several drivers all vying for the decisive advantage, wins for Giovinazzi in Belgium and Italy were the perfect shot in the arm for his title bid.

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Antonio celebrating his double victory in Baku. He was the first driver to do the double since 2012, and the two wins thrust him right into title contention after a poor start to the year. Photo copyright GP2series.com .

His strong finish to the season continued at the penultimate round supporting the Malaysian Grand Prix. A win in the longer feature race was backed up with a fourth in the sprint race, these results proving enough to propel him into the title lead for the first time all year.

With a month to wait until the title deciding final round in Abu Dhabi, the pressure is on for everyone involved. In theory Raffaele Marciello is still in mathematical contention, but being 39 points behind with 48 available, it will be extremely tough for him to come out as champion.

Realistically, the title is going to come down to Giovinazzi and Frenchman Pierre Gasly. Giovinazzi is seven points ahead of the latest Red Bull prodigy, and although its a cliche to say its all to play for, it really is.

Despite Giovinazzi bidding to become the series first rookie champion since Nico Hulkenberg in 2009, he has yet to receive much attention from Formula One. In September it was announced he would be joining Ferrari to conduct simulator work, but this is so far his only link to F1.

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Giovinazzi has also dabbled in sports cars over the past year, and could provide another avenue to becoming a professional driver should he be inexplicably overlooked by the F1 paddock. Photo copyright Motorsport.com . 

From the outside it seems a strange move, with such a remarkable debut GP2 campaign and the budget he can bring from his sponsors, the fact he’s not even being linked with any of the remaining available F1 seats seems very strange indeed. Whether the F1 paddock knows something the fans don’t is unknown, but this is a pivotal time in his career.

If the F1 community for some reason discards him, he will still have plenty of options left open to him. He could continue in single seaters and follow the path of 2015 champion Stoffel Vandoorne. He switched the the highly competitive Super Formula series before attempting the move back to F1.

He could similarly change tack and join the burgeoning sports car ranks. The World Endurance Championship and other affiliated series are enjoying a renaissance in the past half decade, with plenty of young drivers moving across from single seaters to the dream of  professional deal with a sports car manufacture.

Whatever happens in Abu Dhabi, Giovinazzi has already proved any remaining doubters wrong this season. His performances have proved he’s a very talented young racing driver who will likely succeed in whatever aspect of racing he competes in over the coming years. Watch out for Antonio Giovinazzi, this is not the last we will hear of him.

What are your thoughts on Antonio Giovinazzi? Please feel free to share your opinion below, I would hugely appreciate it. Thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

 

End Of An Era With Audi Departing Departing Sportscar Racing

Nobody would have predicted when Audi first went to Le Mans in June 1999 with their two experimental R8R and R8C cars, that they would leave a legacy that would arguably be the most dominant in the sports history. This era has begrudgingly now come to an end with today’s announcement that Audi are to end their sports car effort  at the end of the season. But just how did the Audi brand become synonymous with Le Mans victory?

Expectations were low despite a huge four car entry comprising both the Audi R8R open cockpit car and the R8C coupe. Third and fourth overall in their first running showed their potential, yet very few people would have predicted what came in store next.

A new millennium came and with it was an era of complete Audi dominance in the sport. Returning with their revised R8 model,  a car that would go down in sports car racing as one of those revolutionary cars that change the sport, such as the Ford GT40 and the Porsche 956/962.

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The Porsche 962 taking its customary place at the front of the field, circa Le Mans 1987. Photo copyright Porsche.

Despite manufactures such as BMW, Mercedes and Nissan all pulling out of the end of 1999, nobody questioned the dominance of their victory. They cruised to a 1-2-3 podium lock out, with a winning margin of 24 four laps over their closest competitors.

The 2001 edition would be a lot tougher victory, with extreme weather conditions and the loss of driver Michele Alboreto only months before the race made it an emotional one for the team. From here it was on wards and upwards, with another victory for the #1 driver line up of Frank Biela, Emmanuele Pirro and Tom Kristensen cementing their place in history as the first driver line up to win the race three years in a row.

The factory team pulled out after 2002, paving the way for sister marque Bentley to win comfortably in 2003. After this small hiccup the R8 returned to the winners circle in 2004 and 2005 in the hands of the privateer Japanese Team Goh and America’s Champion Racing.

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Tom Kristensen celebrating his seventh win and the final victory for the iconic Audi R8, 2005, the end of an era. Photo copyright AudiWorld.

The R8 will not go down in history as simply a fast car, it was designed to make mechanical issues a lot quicker to fix. It was the first sports car to have this design philosophy and therefore it always had a huge advantage over the rest, because of how little time they would spend in the pit lane.

2006 would herald a new chapter in the Audi story, with the factory returning to Le Mans with an brand new diesel powered R10 TDI. It was the first of its type and would become the first ever diesel powered car to win Le Mans. This was a feat they managed to repeat in both 2007 and 2008, despite opposition from a strong Peugeot manufacture presence.

2009 woulds prove that Audi were human when their new R15 TDI proved uncompetitive at Le Mans thanks to issues with it’s radiators. 2010 and 2011 would provide epic battles with Peugeot as Audi introduced first the R15 Plus and then the R18 TDI, their first closed cockpit car since the initial R8C in 1999.

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Audi achieving yet another mile stone, becoming the first overall winner with hybrid power. Photo copyright F1fanatic.co.uk

2012-2014 would bring a further string of victories as they introduced hybrid power into their prototypes. The return of sports car legend Porsche in 2014 provided a mouth watering prospect for everyone involved, but unfortunately it would not be able to live up to high expectations.

Both Audi and Porsche would never both be truly competitive over the three years, with Porsche winning the mini-battle 2-1 in terms of Le Mans wins. Audi this season have proved to be fast but fragile, not a usual characteristic of theirs. Rumours have persisted for most of the season questioning whether they would return in 2017, and today we had the answer.

Whilst I’ve looked back at the success of Audi between 1999 and this year, just looking at their 13 Le Mans 24 Hours victories doesn’t accurately judge their dominance. They had an unbroken podium streak every year they competed at Le Mans, but it wasn’t just in La Sarthe where they ruled the roost. Both the Audi factory programme in the American Le Mans Series and with privateers in the European series, they were to prove dominant for over a decade.

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Audi’s final Le Mans challenger went out with a whimper. A fortuitous third place doesn’t represent their era in sports car racing, but for now this is the last we will see a factory Audi at the worlds greatest motor race. Photo copyright Motorsport.com 

They have won every significant prototype race on the planet multiple times, and with success as far as the notorious Sebring 12 Hours in Florida right up to their victory in the ALMS Race of Two Worlds at Adelaide in 2000. To try and put into words the level of dominance Audi have had on sports car racing since 1999 is impossible to put into words.

Looking at simply their results doesn’t do them justice. To speak to everyone past and present in the paddock during their period in the sport, would help to tell you one thing. They would all likely say, quite simply, Audi completely changed sports car racing as we know it. Their level of dominance is one that will live in history and will likely prove unmatched for a very long time.

Thank you Audi for an incredible 17 years in the sport, sports car racing owes a lot to their commitment to the category. Quite simply, Le Mans 2017 will be plain weird without them there.

Any thoughts on Audi’s dominance of sportscar racing? Feel free to share your comments below, I would hugely appreciate it. Thank you for reading.

 

Sebring 12 Hours Prototype Preview

After the scintillating opening Rolex 24 in late January, now this week see’s the WeatherTech Sportscar championship roar back into life with another premiere event, the Mobil 1 Sebring 12 Hours from Florida. The event is one of the historic sportscar classics and this year promises to be a stunning race.

If Daytona is anything to go by the 12 hours will be filled with intense and close fought racing that should keep the fans on the edge of their seats for the entire race. In the first of my previews of the event I’ll take a look at the Prototype class entry list, which features 12 cars filled with some of the biggest sportscar drivers in the world. Let’s take a look at the contenders.

#0 Panoz DeltaWing Racing DeltaWing DWC13: Katherine Legge/Andy Meyrick/Sean Rayhall

The DeltaWing team will be looking for a return on the tremendous promise they showed in the early running of the Rolex 24 in January. The car led the race for a period on genuine pace alone and was running highly when it tripped over a Prototype Challenge car in the middle of the evening.

If the team can replicate it’s pace at Sebring this week and stay out of trouble they could very well challenge for the podium at least if not win the race. The Panoz team are highly experienced and their driver line up of Katherine Legge, Andy Meyrick and Sean Rayhall are more than quick enough to keep this car at the front of the race throughout the 12 hours.

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#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier JSP2-Honda: Scott Sharp/Johannes van Overbeek/Ed Brown/Luis ‘Pipo’ Derani

The Tequila Patron ESM team will be still on a high from their momentous victory in the Rolex 24 six weeks ago. The team drove the perfect race and the Ligier LMP2 prototype proved itself to be the fastest car on the grid for the majority of the race.

Now at Sebring they will be looking for a repeat result, but the notoriously bumpy Sebring circuit is vastly different from Daytona. Overall downforce is more important here and that should favour the LMP2 cars, such as the ESM Ligier.

On the driving front Pipo Derani announced himself as one of the best young prototype racers in the world with his performance at Daytona. He will once again be ably supported by experienced team mates Ed Brown, Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek. This car will be considered one of the favourites for victory in this weeks build up to the race.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque

The Action Express team will be hoping to bounce back with their #5 entry after a disappointing Rolex 24 by their standards. The #5 Mustang Sampling car finished fourth after some late car issues in the final portion of the race.

This time around the team will be hoping they can return to winning ways, as they look to get themselves off to the best possible start in the championship. The teams driver line up of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque is one of the best line up’s in the class, something the team will look to exploit as they go in search of at least a podium place this weekend.

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#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP: Ricky Taylor/Jordan Taylor/Max Angelelli/Rubens Barrichello 

For the Wayne Taylor team, the Rolex 24 was once again a case of close, but no cigar as they took up their almost customary position now of a close second at Daytona.  The team were the fastest Daytona Prototype entry and were one of the few DP teams who looked to be able to take the fight to the ESM team.

This weekend they will be looking to go one better, although another podium place would set them up perfectly for a good championship run in 2016. On the driving front the team have retained Rubens Barrichello after his late call up in Daytona, as Jordan Taylor still looks to recover fully from a nasty illness that has plagued his off-season preparation. Anything is possible for this team, as they look to avenge their Rolex defeat here at Sebring.

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#24 Insync Alegra Motorsport Riley-BMW DP: Dominik Farnbacher/Daniel Morad/Carlos de Quesada/Cameron Lawrence

The Alegra motorsport team make their WeatherTech debut this weekend at Sebring, with their older style Riley-BMW DP. They are an ambitious team and have been testing at the circuit to build their knowledge, although the team lacks significant experience compared to their competition.

The team have employed Dominik Farnbacher, Daniel Morad, Carlos de Quesada and Cameron Lawrence to pilot the car, although the biggest knock on them is their lack of prototype racing experience.

All four have extensive GT racing experience and have showed pace at that level, but with so many unknowns surrounding the team and the drivers lack of prototype experience predicting a result for this team is impossible. Anything more than a finish in the top ten would be a bonus and if the car and team can show potential that will be surely considered a good result for this team.

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#31 Whelen Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Dane Cameron/Eric Curran/Scott Pruett

The second Action Express racing entry was, much like it’s sister #5 entry, similarly affected by reliability issues late on in the Rolex 24.  For the second round the #31 car will be looking to deliver on the pace they showed in Daytona. The team have their Corvette DP’s well sorted and will be hoping to show this in the end result.

A podium would be a good result for the car championship wise, although at any chance of a win this car will be giving it everything. The huge experienced winner Scott Pruett joins this #31 car after racing for the #5 car at the Rolex 24, and this addition will only enhance their chance of victory come Saturday evening.

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#50 Highway to Help Fifty Plus Racing Riley-BMW DP: Jim Pace/David Hinton/Byron DeFoor/Dorsey Schroeder

The popular fifty plus racing team return after good showing at the opening Rolex 24. The team are never challenging for race victories, but that isn’t the main objective for this team. Their primary initive is to raise money for the Highway to Help charity, and once again they were able to raise awareness and money.

The drivers will all be looking forward to running on the iconic Sebring circuit,as they focus more on enjoying themselves and raising money rather than focusing on going for an all out victory. If the attrition rate is high they have a chance of a good result, although they struggle to match the ultimate pace up front with the age of their Riley DP and their driver line up.

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#55 SpeedSource Mazda Motorsport Lola-Mazda: Jonathan Bomarito/Spencer Pigot/Tristan Nunez

The SpeedSource Mazda factory team struggled mightily in Daytona with engine reliability issues, attributed to their switch from Skyactiv diesel to a petrol engine. Both their two cars were retirements by the the halfway point.

After this disappointing display the team will be hoping they can really test themselves at Sebring, a renowned car breaker of a circuit. The team and driver line up showed glimpses of potential when they ran at Daytona, and if they can stay reliable this entry has the real potential for a shock result. Once the reliability issues have been sorted, this team and their drivers have the top level quality to a win a prestigious race such as the Sebring 12 Hours.

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#60 Tire Kingdom/CURB Agajanian Michael Shank Racing Ligier JSP2-Honda: John Pew/Ozz Negri Jr/Olivier Pla

For Mike Shank, the Rolex 24 was a huge disappointment as they looked to be a serious challenger for victory when the engine failed on Saturday night. This time around at Sebring they will be hoping they can retain their pace from Daytona, and iron out the reliability issue with the new 3.5 litre Honda HPD engine.

The Ligier-Honda combination will likely remain to be the fastest combination at Sebring, therefore Mike Shank racing will be looking to even up the honours after the ESM team won out at Daytona. Retaining Olivier Pla for Sebring is a huge step by the team and they have secured one of the fastest Ligier drivers on the planet to help their regular drivers John Pew and Ozz Negri Jr. This team will likely join the ESM team as being co-favourites before the start of the race.

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#70 SpeedSource Mazda Motorsport Lola-Mazda: Tom Long/Ben Devlin/Joel Miller/Keiko Ihara

Much like with the #55 car, the #70 Lola-Mazda struggled mightily with reliability issues in Daytona. With six week to further test and develop the car the team will head into this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours feeling more confident about the overall reliability of their package.

This driver line up is high on experience and has a solid base with the majority of the drivers having a lot of experience with this Lola-Mazda. Completing the line up is the Japanese lady racer Keiko Ihara, who will bring some good sportscar experience to the SpeedSource team. She may need some time to adjust to both Sebring and the Lola-Mazda prototype, and this will ultimately be what decides if this entry can match it’s sister #55 car in terms of pace come race day.

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#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 05-Nissan:Henrik Hedman/Nicolas Minassian/Nicolas Lapierre

DragonSpeed make their debut in the WeatherTech series this weekend after missing the opening Rolex 24. The team has previous experience from racing in European GT categories such as the Blancpain Endurance Series.

The team run by former racer Elton Julian have built a formidable line up with the very quick Frenchmen Nicolas Minassian and Nicolas Lapierre joining Henrik Hedman. The also have the only Oreca-Nissan package in the class, one which has proved very competitive both in the World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans Series.

Although the team have tested at the circuit in the build up to the race, a lot is unknown surrounding this car as they have not run competitively in the series yet and it’s not known how the Oreca-Nissan package will compare with the benchmark Ligier-Honda teams.

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#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP: Marc Goossens/Ryan Hunter-Reay/Ryan Dalziel

The VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona racing team were another of the front running Daytona Prototype teams at the Rolex 24, finishing third and on the same lap as the winning ESM Ligier. They had a trouble free run at Daytona, they just lacked the last little edge in pace compared to the winning car.

The team will be hoping they can at least get close to the leading Ligier entries this weekend, but if they can retain their reliability from the Rolex 24 they will be in with a chance of victory as they have enough quality with this driver line up and will have years of experience of how to perfectly set up their Corvette DP to absorb the bumps of Sebring. If any DP can topple the seeming Ligier dominance, this is one of the most likely teams to achieve this.

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That wraps up my Prototype class preview of this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours, next up will be a look at the Prototype Challenge class. I would also like to say a huge thanks to IMSA.com and Motorsport.com for their invaluable help with the information and photographs that grace this article. I hope you enjoyed reading this preview and any comments would be greatly appreciated. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95

 

 

 

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours GTE Pro Preview Part 2

After part 1 previewing the GTE Pro class at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, part 2 looks at the remaining contenders in this fiercely competitive GTE Pro class. With four manufactures and their hord of professional factory drivers set to compete flat out for 24 Hours, their battle for class victory will be scintillating to watch throughout the race.

#92 Porsche Team Manthey Porsche 911 991 RSR: Patrick Pilet/Frederic Makowiecki/Wolf Henzler The second Porsche Team Manthey entry is much like every other GTE Pro car in that it has a great chance at a class victory, with a top line Porsche factory team and a full line up of factory drivers in this car.

This entry has been fighting with Aston Martin and Ferrari all season so far in the World Endurance Championship, and will be looking to continue this fight at Le Mans. On the driving front this entry has one of the best GT drivers in the world in Frenchman Frederic Makowiecki. Partnering him are long time Porsche factory drivers Patrick Pilet and Wolf Henzler, with all three highly professional drivers who will be delivering consistently quick stints throughout the race.

Amongst the very close GTE Pro field, separating a favourite is too hard to predict. Therefore the winner of this class will be the one who can keep out of trouble during the race, as every entry has the potential to be contending for class honours in the final hours of the race. #95 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Marco Sorensen/Nicki Thiim/Christoffer Nygaard

The all-Danish “Dane train” Aston Martin which dominated the GTE Am class last year, has this year stepped up to the cut and thrust of the GTE Pro field. So far the team has shown it can handle the step up, with solid top six placings in the opening two WEC rounds.

Nicki Thiim is the only driver who remains from the Danish trio from last year, with new team mates Marco Sorensen and Christoffer Nygaard for this year. Nygaard has moved across from the sister #98 entry for this year, with the young Dane and GP2 racer Marco Sorensen completing the line up.

Thiim and Nygaard will provide good pace and experience behind the wheel, with the young charger Sorensen balancing his GP2 season with a switch to GT racing. All three will be looking to impress at Le Mans, although in this hugely competitive class, it may be difficult for this team to move up to GTE Pro and win Le Mans in their first year. A class podium would be a great result for the “Dane Train 2.0”. 

#97 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Darren Turner/Stefan Mucke/Rob Bell

This number 97 Aston Martin will be the one that stands out throughout the race week, as this car will have a very distinctive ‘art car’ livery by artists Tobias Rehberger. As well as standing out for it’s art car livery, it will also stand out as this car will likely be the one that leads the Aston Martin charge for class victory in the race.

The Aston Martin team are regulars now in the highest level of GT racing, and have come very close to winning the GTE Pro class the past two years. This year the team will be aiming for a class victory, and this car is the one most likely to deliver it.

Experience is the name of the game with this driver line up, with Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke and Rob Bell all being long term factory drivers for Aston Martin. Their speed and experience will be a potent combination in the race, and if the team can avoid misfortune this car will be fighting for victory going into the final hours of the race for sure.

#99 Aston Martin Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Fernando Rees/Alex MacDowall/Richie Stanaway

The third and final works Aston Martin racing entry at Le Mans is the Number 99 car, which goes into the 24 hours on great form after taking the class win at the most recent WEC round at Spa a month ago. This car is very much in the hunt for the WEC drivers title after two rounds, and with Le Mans being a double points round this weekend will have a big outcome on the championship.

Both Fernando Rees and Alex MacDowall will be hoping for much better luck this year, after a huge practice crash for Rees last year forced the team to withdraw from the race on the opening day of running. This year they both have a new team mate in young New Zealand hotshot Richie Stanaway. He has shown well in GP3 and especially GP2 this season, and his fresh injection of pace will only add further strength to this car’s chances of a class win.

If all three drivers have a close to perfect race, their talent and this Aston Martin Vantage will have more than enough pace to take an unexpected GTE Pro class win, although if the car suffers any misfortune in the race it will be difficult to see them being able recover enough to claim the victory. A podium will be a very good result for this team, although a class win is a definite possibility.

That wraps up my look at a very competitive GTE Pro class, hope you enjoy this article and any comments would be appreciate both good and bad. I have to add thanks to Motorsport.com for their amazing, high quality photos which you see in this article. I urge you to go and visit their website http://www.Motorsport.com for all the latest news and photos from the motorsport world. Next up will be a preview of the LMP2 class.