WEC

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

FIA Formula 3 European Championship, round 1, Silverstone (GBR)

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

 

 

 

“The Show”Turning Hardcore Fans Off

“The Show”. This term has become as ubiquitous as “falling off the cliff” and “DRS” in the past few years. Formula One has become obsessed with spicing up the entertainment on track, with the introduction of short life tyres, DRS and now a reformed qualifying session. But the real question remains, have all these changes had the desired effect or are they in fact turning fans off the sport?

Well, if you believe the results from a variety of the extensive fan surveys carried out in the past few years, these new rules to spice up “the show” have had the opposite effect. In a survey compiled last Summer with Autosport, Motorsport News and F1 Racing magazines found from their results that 73.9% of fans were against using artificial methods to tighten up the races.

These findings are supported by a separate GPDA survey also revealed last year. From over 200 000 fans took part, with the findings suggesting fans are against the gimmicks in place within the sport. Many of the fans from these survey’s were long time followers of Formula One, but in recent years an increasing number have been switching off.

The majority of fans suggested their favourite decade of the sport was the 1990’s, and as an obsessed F1 fan I can only agree with their assessment. Growing up in this decade my earliest memories of F1 and motorsport in general came from this decade. It was this era of Formula One, with the sculpted beauty of the cars matched with the shrieking V10 engines got me hooked on the sport, something that continues to this day.

It was the ferocious speed and ear splitting sounds that attracted the majority of fans to the sport, captivated with dare devil drivers peddling the fastest racing cars on earth. In the current era this no longer seems to be the case. With the continuing technological advancement in the sport, some of the old magic has been lost.

Whilst the cars are still the fastest racing machines on the planet, it no longer looks or sounds that way to some of the spectators. With the new 1.6 litre turbo engines a big criticism of the technology is the relative lack of sound made from them. Efforts have been made to address this issue, however thankfully the once tested megaphone exhaust idea never caught on.

paphoto4srl_596075Nico Rosberg testing the megaphone exhaust system at Barcelona during the 2014 season. Thankfully the idea never caught on and didn’t have much of an effect. Photo copyright Crash.net . 

The talk in the paddock currently surrounds making these breed of cars significantly faster, with a paddock held target of increasing the lap times of these cars by three seconds for next season. This is an attainable goal and would likely receive a lot of support from both drivers and fans alike.

The ongoing political side of the sport is something that a lot of fans are simply not interested in, as many teams outside the top five struggle to survive in this highly expensive sport. This creates opportunities for relative “pay drivers” to muscle their way into Formula One. This is not something new and has long played a role in the sport, but as a fan it’s frustrating if you do not feel like the grid is filled with absolutely the best drivers in the sport.

For many years the increasing quest for downforce has had a negative effect on the level of entertainment on track. The level of over taking was slowly decreasing through the 2000’s, and for many purist fans the advent of the new “DRS” drag reduction system has gone too much the other way. The sport has seemingly gone from one extreme to the other, as over taking used to be a very difficult task, it has now become ridiculously easy.

Another big talking point for fans is the Pirelli tyres. They are specifically designed to have a short shelf life, forcing a majority of the races to be run at a controlled pace to save the tyres. Whilst this is not Pirelli’s fault, they are only creating the tyres they were asked to, it has left drivers and fans frustrated with the situation in races.

It’s a cliche example but for many fans they will hold up some famous racing from the past to support their argument. Battles such as the one between the Ferrari of Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux at Dijon in 1979. Here is a link to a video of their titanic battle Gilles Villeneuve vs Rene Arnoux battle .

The constant fighting and swapping positions shown in that battle are an increasingly rare sight in modern Formula One, and that is exactly why a lot of fans are struggling to remain devoted to the sport. These fans are not simply giving up on F1, they are simply choosing to explore different forms of motorsport.

Sportscars are becoming increasingly attractive for many fans and drivers, along with GT racing, Indycar and the new Formula E championship. Speaking from a personal perspective again, I find myself increasingly following sportscars rather than F1. After catching up with the Rolex 24 at Daytona last month, the non-stop fighting for victory across the majority of the classes kept me hooked for 24 hours in a manner F1 has failed to do for a number of years.

imsa-daytona-24-2016-4-corvette-racing-chevrolet-corvette-c7-r-oliver-gavin-tommy-milner-mThis is the genuine winning margin for the #4 Chevrolet Corvette in the GTLM class of last month’s Rolex 24. To be seperated by only a matter of feet after 24 hours of racing shows how competitive sportscar racing is currently and why it’s having a resurgence of interest. Photo copyright Motorsport.com .

The level of competition and the quality of the field’s in modern series such as the World Endurance Championship, WeatherTech Sportscar Championship and Blancpain Endurance Series are converting a lot of fans to the long distance element of the sport. Right now it feels like modern sportscar racing is like F1 in it’s glory days. There is a lot of high quality drivers, teams and manufacturer’s involved, with flat out racing and constant battles to be found on track. It’s refreshing as a contrast to modern F1.

By all means I still love and enjoy Formula One and always will do. I don’t intend for this piece to be a solid bashing of F1 because it has a lot of positive elements going for it currently and is deservedly the top series in world motorsport. I only wanted to express an opinion from one F1 fan that for even the die hard supporters of the pinnacle of motorsport, the increasing politics and gimmicks in the interest of “The Show” are leaving the purists feeling cold on F1.

If someone who has religiously followed F1 since a very early age can feel like this, the problems with the sport run deeper than many people will think. Without the long term F1 fans the sport is left only with casual fans who will be a lot less likely to sustain the sport in the long run. For now I will still watch F1 as much as possible, it’s just now that sportscar racing takes precedent. That shows the current relative merits of both series within the motorsport fan base.

What are your thoughts on this article? Please feel free to share your opinion and let me know. Also a huge thank you for reading this article.

2016 Rolex 24 Prototype Challenge Race Preview

The Prototype Challenge class has been a mainstay of first the previous American Le Mans Series and now the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship since 2010. The series will introduce some subtle tweaks for this year, although the full impact of these will not come in to play until the Sebring 12 Hours in a few months time.

This years Rolex 24 will see eight identical Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet cars take to the grid, with their class battle always providing intrigue with such evenly matched teams and cars. This class is a good introduction to American prototype racing, and it’s down to the drivers and teams to find the advantage they need to secure victory.

For the past few years it has been the CORE Autosport team which have effectively dominated this class, although as they showed in last years Rolex 24, anything can happen in this race and these cars seem to struggle with the demanding nature of the Daytona International Speedway.

#8 Starworks Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Jack Hawksworth/Renger Van Der Zande/Alex Popow/Chris Cumming

The Florida based Starworks motorsport have decided to fully focus on their Prototype Challenge campaign this year after some successful years running Daytona Prototypes. They are running two entries in this class and have assembled driver line up’s that can both easily win this class.

In this #8 entry the team have partnered full season line up Renger Van Der Zande and Alex Popow with Jack Hawksworth and Chris Cumming for the Rolex 24. Van Der Zande is one of the quickest drivers in this class and has been for the past few seasons, whilst Popow is also a very quick driver who has been loyal to the Starworks team for a long time now.

Hawksworth is a very talented British racer who is taking time out of his preparation for the upcoming Indycar season with this drive for Starworks. Finally Cumming joins the team as an experienced and very good amateur racer who is preparing to make the jump from the WeatherTech series to join the Tequila Patron ESM team for the full World Endurance Championship season.

With the talent behind the wheel and this team’s long history with both the series and this race, this entry will likely go into the race as one of the main contenders and favourites for victory.

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#20 BAR1 Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Johnny Mowlem/Marc Drumwright/Tomy Drissi

The BAR1 Motorsport team are the other two car entry in this class this year, and will be hoping to show their pace from last year was not a fluke. The team secured the class pole last year, and ran strongly to a second place overall before being disqualified for one of their amateur drivers not meeting the minimum driving time.

This error cost the team in a huge manner and will not be something they will likely repeat this year. From last years driver line up the experienced Brit Johnny Mowlem returns to the team along with Tomy Drissi, who rejoins the driver line up for this car after a good race last year.

Marc Drumwright is an experienced amateur racer who competed in the series last year so will provide some experience for this team. Whilst the Mercedes DTM driver Lucas Auer produced the car’s best time at the pre-race test, during race week it will likely be either Mowlem or Drissi that are setting this car’s fastest times.

This BAR1 team showed last year they can compete in this closely fought class, and this year will be hoping they can turn their good work into a strong result to start off their season. A repeat of last year’s no-score will put them on the back foot for the championship from the get go, along with continuing their bad luck at one of the premier races in the season. A class podium will be a good result and a class win an outstanding one for this ambitious young team.

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#26 BAR1 Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Adam Merzon/Ryan Eversley/Don Yount/John Falb/Ryan Lewis

The second of the BAR1 entries is this #26 car, which much like the sister #20 entry has a great chance for a good result for this team. Adam Merzon is a good solid driver the only drawback for him is his lack of track time in recent year. He has plenty of both prototype and GT racing experience although his last full season in a top line series such as this was over ten years ago.

Ryan Eversley is a well known name in American sportscar racing, and joins the BAR1 team after spending 2015 in the supporting Pirelli World Challenge series as an Acura factory driver. Eversley has plenty of experience in this race and will be hoping he can lead this team to at least a class podium come the final hour of the race.

Don Yount is a racer who is making the step up to the Prototype Challenge class on a more permanent basis after he dipped into the class at the tail end of last year. Yount is a solid racer who has progressed from Radical’s through the supporting Cooper Tires Prototype Lights category, placing second in the Masters class in 2014. Although his relative lack of experience in this class will hamper him, he is a good enough driver to still run competitive times in this car throughout his stints behind the wheel.

Ryan Lewis is a good driver who has plenty of experience at this level, combined with an impressive junior racing record from series such as British Formula Three in the past. He will likely provide some good solid stints behind the wheel, which will be what this car needs if it is to achieve a good result come the end.

Completing the line up is John Falb, who much like Yount has progressed through junior categories to reach the Rolex 24 in this #26 entry. Falb was the Radical Cup USA champion in 2014 and in his rookie year of the Cooper Tires Prototype Lights class he finished a very respectable 4th overall. Although this will be a step up for Falb, his record shows he is a very good amateur driver who has the potential to become one of the best in this class.

This entry may struggle to match the ultimate pace that it’s sister entry may have for the entire 24 hours, although by no means count this entry out for a class podium as a clean run for them will put them in the hunt. Whilst the #20 car may get a lot of pre-race attention, the #26 team can spring a surprise in this race and with the attrition that usually engulfs this class anything is possible for this team.

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#38 Performance Tech Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: James French/Jim Norman/Josh Norman/Brandon Gdovic 

The Performance Tech team return for yet another season in the Prototype Challenge class this year. The Florida based team have been running in the class almost since it’s inception, and this experience will prove to be a great help for the team during the race.

James French returns to the team after doing the full season for the team last year, and will provide some experience and pace to this entry. Joining French is the father-son duo Jim and Josh Norman. Jim is an experienced racer and doctor, and can count a class win in the GX class of the 2013 Rolex 24. He has extensive experience in GT racing and is now stepping up to the prototype ranks.

His son Josh joins him in the car after they shared a car in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo USA category last year. Norman is combing his racing with his biology studies at the University of Florida, but his inexperience at this level may hinder the team slightly in the race, although likely not by much.

Completing the line up is Brandon Gdovic, who is a young racer with good potential. Gdovic exceeded expectations in 2015 and became the Lamborghini Gallardo world champion at the Italian marque’s end of year finals race meeting. Gdovic has also shown promise in the Nascar Xfinity series, and this adaptability will help him get up to speed with the ORECA prototype. Although this is his first foray into the prototype ranks, he could end up impressing the class paddock with his performance.

Although this team will likely not be considered amongst the absolute elite of this class, should anything unforeseen happen to these contenders this #38 entry will be right there to pick up the pieces and claim a good result to start their season. Watch out for this team as an outside contender to spring a surprise.

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#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Robert Alon/Tom Kimber-Smith/Jose Gutierrez/Nicholas Boulle

The reigning class winners at this race return eager for more success in 2016. Whilst this team benefited from the misfortune of the CORE Autosport last year, the team will want to show they can win this race again in a straight fight.

Leading the line up once again is the expat Brit Tom Kimber-Smith, whose vast experience and pace will likely be the driving force for this team in the race. Partnering Kimber-Smith will be Robert Alon, Jose Gutierrez and Nicholas Boulle. Alon is another driver stepping up from the feeder IMSA Prototype Lights series, with a string of podiums showing his talent despite only having raced cars for two years. If he can get up to speed with both the car and the circuit quickly he could prove a revelation for the team.

Jose Gutierrez is a young up and coming Mexican racer who has shown promise in the Pro Mazda junior category for the past two years. This year see’s him switch from single seaters to sportscars with a Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup campaign with this #52 entry. His pace will be known but will he be able to keep his nose clean and produce consistently quick stints in the race? If he can do this watch out for him.

Completing the line up is Nicholas Boulle, an accomplished racer who is a good amateur driver. His racing commitments fit around his business and his cycling, of which he is a Texas criterium champion. Although Boulle hasn’t got a lot of experience at this level, he may be able to post competitive times if he is able to fully get comfortable with the powerful ORECA racer.

This team as defending class winners is one of several contenders for victory, although the driver line up is lacking something from last year and this may hurt the team over the course of the race. If their young line up can prove itself they have a great chance at back to back victories in this class.

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#54 CORE Autosport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/Mark Wilkins/Martin Plowman

The CORE Autosport team have dominated this class for the past several years, and will be hoping they can put last year’s accident in the final hours behind them to claim another class victory in this race.

The class benchmarks have returned even stronger in 2016, with the addition of very quick Indycar racer Martin Plowman to their regular line up. Team principal Jon Bennett is a very quick and experienced amateur, and is supported by the charger Colin Braun, who has shown himself as one of the best drivers in this class for the past few years.

Mark Wilkins completes the line up and knows exactly what to do to keep the car competitive and trouble free. This team has the perfect blend of young pace in Braun and Plowman, and experience with Bennett and Wilkins.

For this professional team anything less than a victory will be considered a relative failure, although a class podium and a decent haul of points for their championship campaign would be a welcome consolation.This team has become the benchmark in this class that has set them apart from the rest. Expect to see this team running at the front of the class for the majority of the 24 hours.

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#85 JDC/Miller Motorsports ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Mikhail Goikhberg/Chris Miller/Stephen Simpson/Kenton Koch

The JDC/Miller motorsport team are another mainstay of this class, although they have struggled to find success in the past few years. With the high quality of this class that is no huge bad reflection on the team, it simply reflects the quality of the class.

Stephen Simpson will be the ace professional driver in this entry, and his pace will likely lead the team throughout the race. Mikhail Goikhberg will be another hotshoe in this car, as he has experience in this class now after stepping up to the category last year on the back of his championship year in the IMSA Prototype Lights class in 2014.

Completing the line up are the young driver Kenton Koch and American Chris Miller. Koch replaced Goikhberg as the IMSA Prototype Lights champion and now follows him into this class as his team mate. Miller is an experienced racer who will help this team secure a good result.

For this team their race result will likely be factored on how Goikhberg and Koch perform in their stints. If they can run consistently quick times whilst managing to keep something in reserve this team has a chance of a class podium come the end of the 24 hours, although a lot depends on the reliability of the car and the team’s ability to stay out of trouble.

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#88 Starworks Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Sean Johnston/Mark Kvamme/Maro Engel/Felix Rosenqvist

The second Starworks entry is another that is one of the pre-race contenders for victory, thanks to the team and the high quality driver line up they have assembled for this #88 car.

After being drafted into the line up late on, it was Swede Felix Rosenqvist who produced the fastest time for this car in the pre-race test. This will be an ominous sign for the rest of the field, as his pace may set this car apart from the rest except from possibly the #54 entry. Could a good performance here create some sportscar opportunities for the reigning FIA European F3 champion?

Equally talented is the German Mercedes GT ace Maro Engel, who adds to the quality of this line up. Engel has years of sportscar experience and will likely use his single seater experience to help adjust to the Oreca chassis.

Completing the line up are young American Sean Johnston and the experienced Mark Kvamme. Johnston is one of many racers who started through the Nissan GT academy, and has developed into an accomplished GT racer. He should be a dark horse in this car and may well end up surprising a lot of people with his performance. Completing the line up is Kvamme, who has raced for fun in several GT series over the past few years. He has raced at this level before and will likely only need to adjust to the car rather than learn the circuit.

For this team they have a great chance to claim class victory, although they will likely need to be at their best to beat the CORE Autosport team. Both Starworks entries are contenders and could spring a surprise in the race.

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In this class there are several pre-race favourites, although theoretically three quarters of this class could claim the victory if they have a clean race. Of the top contenders the class victory is most likely to be fought out between the #54 CORE Autosport entry and the two Starworks entries. The #52 PR1 entry is another who will be right up there throughout the race, although if I was a betting person it would be hard to bet against the #54 entry. But the great thing about sportscar and 24 hour racing is that anything can happen.

Finally I have to give credit to Motorsport.com for their amazing high quality pictures which are featured in this article. Please go and visit their website Motorsport.com for all the latest news and pictures from around the motorsport world. I hope you enjoyed the article and I would love to hear your thoughts on both the article and the upcoming race. Thank you for reading.