Ford GT

2018 Rolex 24 GTLM Preview

The GTLM class is arguably the most competitive of all classes in the IMSA WeatherTech championship, and 2018 should again see no quarter given as nine cars from five factory supported manufactures will do battle. Last year saw Ford claim the spoils, with seven cars finishing on the lead lap showing how competitive this class is. This year see’s renewed input from BMW and Porsche, with choosing a winner for this class virtually impossible. If you have missed my first two prototype class previews, you can find them here. Part 1  Part 2

Let’s look at the class field, which may lack in numbers but certainly not in overall quality.

#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Antonio Garcia/Jan Magnussen/Mike Rockenfeller

The defending GTLM class champions return with an unchanged line-up this year, unsurprisingly. The Pratt & Miller run Corvette racing programme are one of the slickest operations in the IMSA paddock, and have been a competitive factory GT outfit since the turn of the millennium.

Three wins last year, including the Sebring 12 Hours, secured the GTLM title for this #3 crew, something they will look to repeat this year. Both Garcia and Magnussen are vastly experienced in the C7.R and and have the pace to challenge at the front in the class. Audi DTM racer Mike Rockenfeller returns once again after joining the team last year, and provides added pace to an already strong line-up.  Fifth in the pre-race test for Antonio Garcia does not indicate strong pace, but Corvette racing should recover come race week.

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#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Marcel Fassler

2017 was a down year for this always successful #4 crew. Full season drivers Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner only secured one class win, but should bounce back in 2018. Their previous success has meant GM has retained the duo for this year, with Swiss Audi factory driver Marcel Fassler returning once again to bolster the endurance line-up.

Gavin looked impressive in the pre-race Roar test, securing the second fastest time, 0.3s quicker than their team mates. Both the Corvette Racing entries are formidable opponents for their rivals, and their consistently strong results year after year show this team is one of the best in business.

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#24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: Jesse Krohn/John Edwards/Nicky Catsburg/Augusto Farfus

BMW have a much increased involvement in GTE class racing with a new M8 GTE car for this year. They have expanded into the WEC for this year, alongside their long running IMSA GT factory programme. The team have encountered some expected new car troubles, but the team will not be using that as an excuse during the race.

John Edwards has been a long-term BMW factory IMSA driver, and for the full season is joined by Jesse Krohn, who has impressed in the GTD class in recent years. Joining them for Daytona are WEC racers Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus. All four are very quick drivers, the only question mark for this team in a highly competitive class is their new M8 car.

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#25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: Alex Sims/Conor de Phillippi/Bill Auberlen/Philipp Eng

The second of the factory BMW entries has another all-star cast of factory drivers, with Alex Sims joined by new signing Conor de Phillippi for the full season. Sims was very quick in the old M6 last year and Phillippi was a standout in the GTD class in an Audi R8.

Long term factory pilot Bill Auberlen has stepped back into an endurance-only role this season, and Philipp Eng has proved very quick with various customer teams in the GT3 spec M6. As with their other entry their result will depend on the new M8 GTE and its reliability. Ford hit the ground running with their GT several years ago, so anything will be possible for the German marque.

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#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE: James Calado/Toni Vilander/Alessandro Pier Guidi/Davide Rigon

This family run factory supported team return for a partial campaign this year, after an abrupt end to their 2017 season after the Le Mans 24 Hours. They return to Daytona after finishing a close third in the Rolex 24 last year.

On the driving front the team have 2017 WEC GTE Pro champions James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, with fellow factory drivers Toni Vilander and Davide Rigon  completing the line-up. Rigon was a late addition and missed the pre-race test, but he has enough experience of the GTE spec Ferrari.   This is a seriously strong line-up of Ferrari GT talent, although they did appear to struggle for ultimate pace at the test. The fact this is a one-car team may hinder them against their well stocked factory opponents, but this team will be pushing them all the way in the race.

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#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Sebastien Bourdais/Joey Hand/Dirk Muller

The factory Ford GT programme enters its third year, but already has claimed some major honours. This #66 car claimed GTE Pro victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours in its debut year, and claimed the GTLM Rolex 24 class victory last year.

The team retain an unchanged line-up, of full season drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Muller, with Indycar racer Sebastien Bourdais joining them for the endurance rounds. All three are very quick in this Ford GT, and with Bourdais having firmly put his severe Indy 500 practice accident behind him, the team will be hoping their good form can extend into a third year. A fastest time at the Roar test is a good omen for this #66 team.

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#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook/Scott Dixon

This #67 crew have been forced to watch on as their teams other entry has claimed major successes across the world for the past two years. They seem to have attracted the majority of the teams bad luck in that time, because in a straight fight they are evenly matched with their intra-team rivals.

Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook are a very talented pairing, with multiple Indycar champion Scott Dixon a very strong third addition to the team. Ryan Briscoe set the third fastest time at the test, and with the top six cars separated by only a second this class battle will be on for the entire 24 hours.

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#911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Frederic Makowiecki/Patrick Pilet/Nick Tandy

This CORE Autosport led factory Porsche GT outfit enter the second year of their new mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR car. With their withdrawal from the LMP1 class Porsche have put renewed investment into their GT racing across the world, something that is shown with their IMSA programme.

Patrick Pilet returns, but has a new team mate this year with LMP1 racer Nick Tandy moving across to replace Dirk Werner, who likely moves across to the WEC. Joining them for the long distance rounds is WEC GT racer Frederic Makowiecki. Last year this team were the closest challengers to the winning #66 Ford entry this year, and with a renewed emphasis on GT racing can they go one step further this time around.

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#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Earl Bamber/Laurens Vanthoor/Gianmaria Bruni 

The #912 car in the hands of Earl Bamber was the fastest of the two Porsche’s at the pre-race test, showing they are definite contenders for victory. The #912 crew struggled last year, with only two class podiums and no wins across the year.

The team retain the very quick Belgian Laurens Vanthoor for his second season with the team, with former LMP1 factory driver Earl Bamber coming across to IMSA as his new full season team mate. Italian Gianmaria Bruni rejoins the team for Daytona after a truncated 2017 season.

That wraps up my preview looking at the fiercely competitive GTLM class. It’s not an exaggeration to say that any one of the nine entries could win this class, and expect the class lead battle to go on for the entirety of the race.

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I want to say a massive thank you for anyone who has read this article and I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, feel free to comment, like or share. I have to say a final massive thank you to Motorsport.com for their high quality photos which grace this page. For all the latest motorsport news please visit their website.  You can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Coming up next is a two-part preview of the GTD class. Stay tuned!

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2016 Sebring 12 Hours GTLM Preview

After looking at the two prototype classes in the past few days, now it’s the turn of the GT classes to be previewed with the iconic Sebring 12 Hours coming up very soon on Saturday. This GTLM class is arguably the most competitive class in the field, filled with factory run efforts piloted by some of the best GT drivers in the world.  But can anyone distance themselves from the pack? Let’s look at the contenders in this class.

#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Antonio Garcia/Mike Rockenfeller/Jan Magnussen

The #3 Corvette racing were merely inches away from being the winners of their intra-Corvette battle at the Rolex 24. After 24 hours of flat out racing this must of been heart breaking for the #3 team, but than can be confident that the Chevrolet Corvette is the stand out car in this class, based on their showing at Daytona.

This weekend however, is a very different prospect as the Sebring circuit is very different from Daytona. This airfield circuit favors aerodynamic grip over outright straight line speed, although this is unlikely to serious worry the Corvette racing team.

They have over a decade’s worth of experience of racing here, and will know every secret and tip which are needed to win. Predicting a winner is this class is impossible, but if you had to choose you would be hard pressed to find a better contender than the Corvette racing team.

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#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Marcel Fassler/Tommy Milner

The #4 car ended it’s previous barren spell with the closest possible victory after 24 hours of racing at Daytona, and will be hoping to continue their good form this weekend.

No one in this class has more experience than this Corvette racing team, and both cars have the highest quality drivers in both cars. The team pulled off a huge fillip with the loaning of Audi factory drivers Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler for these opening two long distance races. The #4 team has a slight advantage going into the weekend thanks to their victory last time out, although it’s unlikely that advantage will last long.

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#25 IHG Rewards Club BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM: Bill Auberlen/Bruno Spengler/Dirk Werner

The BMW team had a solid if not spectacular debut with their new M6 GTLM contender, with this #25 having the better of the reliability issues within the team.  The car was a contender for most of the race but ultimately slipped away in the final hours.

For this weekend the team may be slightly concerned with the usual reliability issues associated with this hugely demanding race. They have plenty of testing miles with the much larger M6 however, and also have everything gained from racing at Daytona to help them. The M6 will likely suit Sebring better than Daytona, therefore this team may well spring a surprise and end up standing on the top step of the podium come Saturday evening.

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#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE: Giancarlo Fisichella/Davide Rigon/Toni Vilander

Ferrari are another manufacture with a new car for this year, and the new 488 GTE showed plenty of potential at Daytona. The car lacked significant testing but was battling at the front of the class when reliability issues struck around halfway through and derailed their race.

The car was still able to finish however, and this amazing result is one they will look to improve on this weekend. With some more testing of the car the factory backed Risi team will be understanding this car better with every passing day, and this will bring them to the front of the class on a consistent basis this year.

With a driver line up of all Ferrari factory drivers, this team is a formidable proposition and it appears only reliability issues can hinder this team from being right in the mix for the class victory throughout the 12 Hours.

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#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Joey Hand/Sebastien Bourdais/Dirk Muller

The new factory Ford GT race programmed suffered a baptism of fire in Daytona, where both cars struggled with reliability issues at various points across the 24 hours. After extensive pre-race testing this was something the team hoped to avoid.

When running the car showed it has the pace to match their competitors. This is encouraging for everyone connected with the Chip Ganassi racing effort, and with further testing the team can feel more confident going into this weekend. The rough nature of the track will be a stern test for the new GT, and if this car can survive Sebring it can survive any race.

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#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Ryan Briscoe/Scott Dixon/Richard Westbrook

The #67 car was similarly afflicted with reliability issues at Daytona, although this was no great surprise considering it was the cars debut. The ferocious GTLM pace would have also played a factor.

Everyone on this programme will have been working hard since Daytona to improve the car for this weekend’s race. It will be a very tough test for both cars, but with the experience and talent around this team don’t expect this team to be struggling for long. Once this car is fully sorted expect this team to be fighting right at the front of this highly competitive class.

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#68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE: Alessandro Pier Guidi/Andrea Bertolini/Daniel Serra

The only non-factory effort in this class is this #68 Scuderia Corsa entry. The team ordered the new 488 GTE and stepped up from the GTD class for this year, and were impressive on their debut at Daytona.

The team were fighting for the class victory almost until the end, and put everyone in no doubt they can hold their own against the multitude of works entries. They have assembled a very good driver line up with two very experienced GT racers in Pier Guidi and Bertolini, who will looking to mix it at the front of the class once again this weekend.

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#100 IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM: John Edwards/Kuno Wittmer/Lucas Luhr

The #100 suffered from a spectacular exit at the Rolex 24, when brake failure heading into turn one plunged the car into the wall and out of the race during the night. Until this moment the new M6 GTLM was in contention for victory, and this is potential is something the team will be hoping to fully realise this weekend.

On the driving front the team have assembled a factory line up mixed with youth and experience, and who will be very eager to make up for their Daytona retirement and earn some decent points towards their championship campaign. This team will be hoping for at least a class podium this weekend.

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#911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR: Patrick Pilet/Kevin Estre/Nick Tandy

The US  factory Porsche effort is their only works GT programme this year, ensuring they will be 100% focused on this GT effort. The team have quickly established a enviable record in the series, and for this team anything less than a class podium will be considered a disappointment.

Whilst a solid haul of points towards the championship will be a good result, in reality if the team are not fighting for the class victory there will be cause for concern for this team. The driver line up is top notch as always and with the experience Porsche has in sportscar racing they have everything needed to win this class this weekend.

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#912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR: Earl Bamber/Michael Christensen/Frederic Makowiecki 

The #912 car is in a similar position to the #911 entry, in that the team has everything at it’s disposable to succeed in this GTLM class. The team have stand out factory driver Earl Bamber to support his two fellow factory racers.

The team were at the pre-race test and will feel confident with the reliability of their 911 on the notorious bumps of Sebring. Choosing which Porsche is most likely to be fighting for the win is impossible, either one or both could very well find themselves fighting for the class lead in the final hours come Saturday evening. Never discount a factory Porsche effort in sportscar racing.

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That wraps up my preview of this GTLM class. The competition between the different manufactures is ferocious, and will provide an entertaining battle for the lead throughout the entire 12 Hours.  Every car in this class has a realistic chance of victory, the winner will likely only be decided by good strategy and a dose of good luck in this race. It should be thrilling to watch.

As a final comment I would like to give thanks to IMSA.com and Motorsport.com for their information and high quality photos which grace this article. For any information regarding the race I urge everyone to visit both sites. I would like to say a final thank you for reading this preview and any comments would be hugely appreciated. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.