After previewing the first half of a vast 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours GTE Am class, this is the second and final instalment of my Le Mans reviews from each class. Like I mentioned before, the GTE Am class was one of the closest fought battles in the race and the vast entry shows it’s popularity with the drivers and teams. Long may it continue.
#70 Ferrari F458 Italia: Shinji Nakano/Martin Rich/Pierre Ehret
The Japanese based Team Taisan returned to the Le Mans 24 Hours after a long absence, hoping for a similar result to it’s first debut where the team scored a GT class victory in 2000. Unfortunately for the team, the level of competition in GTE Am is much improved in 2014 and a repeat class victory didn’t look likely.
The team suffered a poor qualifying yet the quality in their driver line-up meant they were unlikely to stay in the lower places once the race got underway. From here the team drove a steady and reliable race as they marched up the GTE Am field to an eventual 8th place finish in class by the finish, and 28th overall. For this team that can be viewed as a success on their return after some years away, with many hoping they’ll make a return visit in 2015.
#72 Ferrari F458 Italia: Andrea Bertolini/Victor Shaitar/Aleksey Basov
For this newly formed Russian SMP Racing team their link up with experienced Ferrari GT team AF Corse must have proved invaluable on this, their first Le Mans 24 Hours. Whilst the two Oreca LMP2 cars they fielded struggled during session leading into the race, their GTE Am Ferrari qualified a superb 5th in a highly competitive class.
During the race the SMP Ferrari consolidated it’s position at the head of the midfield, just within reach of podium contention. All 3 drivers were driving well, especially the two Russian rookies considering it was their first Le Mans, until the rug was whipped out from underneath the team just as the began to dream of a top 5 position in class. They were forced out during the night after completing 196 laps, and whilst the team can be disappointed they retired, they can take a lot of heart from their performance up to that point. The team looks likely to return in 2015, and watch out for them to be contenders for GTE Am honours.
#75 Porsche 911 997 RSR: Francois Perrodo/Emmanuel Collard/Markus Palttala
This #75 Prospeed Porsche was a car I tipped for the GTE Am podium as they contained a driver line-up that could match anyone in the class. Unfortunately the team suffered a poor build up to the 24 Hours and qualified well down from their expected front running position.
The team and drivers were vastly experienced however and it wasn’t long before they began their rise through the GTE Am field. The team was staying out of trouble and making up positions until unfortunately the team was forced into retirement in the middle of the night, having completed 194 laps. This was galling for the team as they looked on course to challenge for a top 5 finish in class, although we remain hopeful the team will return next year and deliver on the potential they showed in this year’s 24 Hours.
IMSA Performance Matmut:
#76 Porsche 911 997 RSR: Nicolas Armindo/Raymond Narac/David Hallyday
The second IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche was another, like the #58 Sofrev ASP Ferrari, to garner plenty of French press attention, as this driver line up contained French pop star David Hallyday, who is a regular at the 24 Hours. This experienced team was given a boost with rapid young French GT driver Nicolas Armindo in the line up, although the #76 car failed to show it’s true pace in qualifying.
Come race day, the car was running well during the early hours, before a plethora of small problems hobbled the team from here on out. The drivers drove well to try make up as much time as possible yet by the finish the problems had relegated the team to a lowly 11th in class at the flag. Although this is hugely disappointing for a team that was probably hoping for a top 5 finish in class, they’ll be hoping their luck improves in time for next year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.
#77 Porsche 911 991 RSR: Patrick Dempsey/Joe Foster/Patrick Long
Undoubtedly the car with the most attention throughout the race week was the #77 Dempsey racing Porsche. Well known American actor and avid racer Patrick Dempsey returned for his third Le Mans, and second with his own team. After a heart breaking run that came so close to GTE Am honours last year, they were hoping to better that this year. After a midfield qualifying run the team looked set for a good race as Porsche factory driver Patrick Long was soon challenging for higher places in the opening few hours.
From here the steady hands of Dempsey and business partner Joe Foster kept the car in the hunt, although tragically for the team misfortune soon derailed their challenge. This mechanical problem dropped them down the order, and whilst they tried to make up the lost ground, they were able to get back to a close 5th in class. Although this team might feel slightly disappointed, to have such a strong Le Mans two years in a row suggests if this team has a relatively reliable run, they be challenging for GTE Am honours next year.
#88 Porsche 911 991 RSR: Christian Reid/Klaus Bachler/Khaled Al Qubaisi
The second of the Proton Porsche’s carried a lot less hype surrounding it than the sister #77 entry, therefore leaving the car to fly under the race during race week. A quiet qualifying was carried over into the race as the car and three drivers ran faultlessly throughout the 24 Hours, whilst the lacked the all round scintillating pace that can be overcome in the race. Their reliability soon had them creeping up the order until they found themselves 2nd in class with only a few hours to go.
Whilst the team started dreaming of a class victory when the leading #95 Aston Martin was pulled into the pits with only a couple of hours left, the team was unable to make up the lap difference before the Aston was fixed and sent back out. Therefore the team cruised from here to take a comfortable 2nd in class, and 21st overall. The team was clearly delighted with this incredible result and will be hoping their good luck continues for another crack at class victory next year.
#90 Ferrari F458 Italia: Frankie Montecalvo/Gianluca Roda/Paolo Ruberti
For the 8Star team things started badly for the 24 Hours as driver Frankie Montecalvo suffered a big accident in the early qualifying sessions. It was feared at one point he would be unable to race, yet the team were delighted to find out in fact he would be well enough to race after the shunt. The crash therefore blunted their qualifying effort, yet the team were confident they could make up ground with a reliable run.
The team’s race plan worked to perfection during the race as they slowly and methodically moved up the GTE Am order as the race wore on, the #90 seemed to slip under the radar until they reached 4th in class by Sunday morning. From here the team tried to catch the #61 AF Corse Ferrari in in 3rd, yet were unable to do this and settled for a 4th in GTE Am, only one lap off the podium.
Whilst the team might feel slightly unlucky with their accident and starting position it seems the team lived up to their expectations after a difficult start, and will be hungry for more next year.
Aston Martin Racing:
#95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Nicki Thiim/Kristian Poulsen/David Heinemeier Hansson
This was arguably the favourite for GTE Am honours pre-race, something the team delivered on in the ultimate manner. From the moment practice began on Wednesday this team seemed to have an edge on speed over the rest in the GTE Am class, as the Aston Martin Vantage returned to competitiveness at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The team expertly converted a 3rd in class after qualifying into an early lead, which the held for the majority of the rest of the race.
It was one of the few Aston Martin’s that didn’t suffer from power steering problems throughout the race, yet it have it share of problems late on, although by this point the car had enough of a lead to retain it’s GTE Am lead. They eventually crossed the line victorious by 2 laps, in what was hugely emotional win for this all Danish crew, after the loss of team mate and popular fellow Dane Allan Simonsen in the early laps of last year’s 24 Hours. This class win was the ultimate dedication to his memory from everyone at Aston Martin racing.
#98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Paul Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy/Christoffer Nygaard
The second of the two factory Aston Martin GTE entries suffered a lot more difficult race as their Aston was the first to suffer power steering problems. Up to this point the team was thrilled as the factory Aston’s ran 1-2 in GTE Am, with the #98 car holding the lead for 86 consecutive laps before surrendering it to the sister #95 entry just after midnight when the power steering problem reared it’s ugly head.
The repairs were extensive and dropped the car well down in the GTE Am class, once repaired the superb driver line up tried to make up as much as possible, yet there was little they could do at this point as the car eventually made the flag 6th in class, 5 laps down on it’s team mate. Although the team will be disappointed with the problem, they can take consolation from the fact they scored points which sets them up well for the remaining rounds of the WEC now.
Garage 56 Entry:
#0 Nissan ZEOD RC: Lucas Ordonez/Wolfgang Reip/Satoshi Motoyama
The final entry for this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours was the greatly experimental Nissan ZEOD RC, which challenged the boundaries for hybrid technology in the world’s greatest motor race. The team set ambitious target and threw the best available talent behind this project. The vastly successful RML team ran the operation, which aimed to travel at 186mph on the Mulsanne straight and complete a full lap on only electric power stored by the hybrid system.
Unsurprisingly the car ran into a lot of problems during the week, yet the team’s targets had already been met before the 24 Hours even started as they completed their objectives in the morning warm up. From here the overall result in the 24 Hours wasn’t of major significance as the team had already completed it’s goals. Despite this, the team must have been disappointed to see the car roll to a halt halfway between Arnage and the Porsche curves early on.
Once the ACO refused the team’s plea to let the car be collected and returned to the pits, their race was sadly over after only 5 laps. On the whole, the team can take great heart from this project and it’s achievement, despite the race result. The team performed excellently during the week, and all 3 drivers have definitely put themselves in the window for the new Nissan LMP1 project next year with their performances this week.
That sadly completes my Le Mans 24 Hours coverage for this year, all keep posted as I try to write about the remaining Sportscar season, which goes relatively quiet now in Europe after Le Mans. It was a truly amazing Le Mans 24 Hours race, which has solidified my decision to go to the race next year for sure. Please feel free to comment on this, all my details are in the contact page of this site.
Finally I must say one more time a huge thank you to http://www.Motorsport.com for their amazing photos throughout the whole Le Mans 24 Hours week. I know I’ve said the same thing in multiple posts but their site really is worth a look for any motorsport fan. Until next time, Enjoy!