After reviewing the two prototype class at the Le Mans 24 Hours this year, now it’s time to focus some attention on the two GT classes that competed in the 24 Hours. First up is the GTE Pro category, a class aimed at professional drivers and manufactures, something this class contained in abundance.
#51 Ferrari F458 Italia: Gianmaria Bruni/Toni Vilander/Giancarlo Fisichella
After a difficult 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours for Ferrari, some Balance of Performance breaks and renewed commitment to re-claim their 2012 GTE Pro category win conspired to ensure both AF Corse factory assisted entries were competitive from the moment the green lights switched on to start free practice on Wednesday.The team gave a statement of intent with class pole for this #51 entry, and from the start of the race they proved difficult to move from the top spot.
All 3 drivers drove like the experienced, professional and seriously quick GT drivers that they all are, therefore based on their qualifying pace it appeared only driver error or mechanical problems were going to stop this team claiming the GTE Pro honours. The team experienced a relatively clear run throughout the race, as they sauntered to a one lap victory over the #73 factory Corvette entry. This team had a truly outstanding race and will be hoping the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours is as comfortable as this victory.
#71 Ferrari F458 Italia: Davide Rigon/Olivier Beretta/Pierre Kaffer/James Calado
For the other AF Corse entry, things didn’t quite go as smoothly for them as their sister #51 entry as they were forced to overcome a big drama before the 24 Hours had even begun on Saturday. In the Thursday evening qualifying session Le Mans rookie James Calado suffered a big accident, with the impact enough to give him concussion and force him out of the race. Therefore the team set to work with building a new car and drafted in experienced Ferrari GT racer Pierre Kaffer to replace Calado.
From here their lowly qualifying position mattered little to the team, as they hoped a clean run in the 24 Hours would bring them back into contention. Alas, this car’s bad luck continued into the race as it unfortunately became and early retirement after only completing 28 laps. This team was understandably gutted that they couldn’t show their tremendous potential in the race and will be keen to show their pace in the remaining round of the World Endurance Championship this year.
#52 Ferrari F458 Italia:Matt Griffin/Alvaro Parente/Federico Leo
This team was hoping to inflict a shock in the GTE Pro class as they hoped to score a decent result against the hordes of factory GT teams and drivers. Their privateer Ferrari had an all star cast of drivers to help with this and in qualifying they almost showed their potential as McLaren factory GT driver Alvaro Parente was on course for the 2nd fastest time in GTE Pro in Thursday evening’s qualifying session, before he spun off and struck the wall at the first Ford Chicane.
The car was extensively damaged and whilst they sat out the rest of qualifying, the car was ready for the race. The team was making good progress with the Ferrari in the opening few hours, and appeared on course for a comfortable top 6 finish in class as they emerged unscathed from the opening few hours of the race. Things were not to last for the team however as they were forced to retire after completing 140 laps. For this team they showed potential during the week, yet will need much better luck in 2015 if they are to seriously challenge the factory entries in this GTE Pro class.
#73 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Jordan Taylor
For both factory Chevrolet Corvette entries, the Le Mans 24 Hours week got better as it went along, as the Corvette’s looked off the pace slightly on the opening day on Wednesday. Come Thursday they began to show their speed with this entry claiming 2nd in class once qualifying was completed on Thursday night. From it’s 2nd grid spot the #73 entry then proved the most consistent challenger to the leading #51 Ferrari, despite the #92 Porsche holding 2nd in class for a while.
Yet the Ferrari always seemed to have the a slight edge on speed over the rest of the class, therefore despite the Corvette cars throwing everything at Ferrari they had to eventually settle for 2nd in class and 16th overall, a lap behind the victorious AF Corse Ferrari #51 entry. Nevertheless, a close 2nd in class in the new shape Corvette C7.R’S first Le Mans 24 Hours is very promising and you can never discount the factory Corvette entries at Le Mans.
#74 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Richard Westbrook
For the #74 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, they proved very evenly matched with the #73 entry in terms of pace, yet the #74 entry seemed to suffer slightly more issues during the 24 Hours than it’s sister entry, which explains their 4th place in class and 20th overall once the chequered flag came out on Sunday afternoon.
For the all star line up of drivers for the #74 car the result must of been slightly disappointing considering the pace this car had, although the team will be hoping to fully show their pace in the remaining United Sportscar Championship rounds, and will be hoping to come back much stronger to Le Mans in 2015.
#79 Porsche 911 997 RSR: Jeroen Bleekemolen/Cooper MacNeil/Bret Curtis
This #79 Prospeed entry would have easily won any Ironman award at the 24 Hours if such a thing existed, as they suffered huge misfortune during the week. The team initially entered the GTE Am class, yet in Thursday evening’s qualifying session Am driver Bret Curtis hit the tyres at the Dunlop chicance, and whacked his head on the roll cage, giving himself concussion and ruling himself out of the race. The team frantically searched for an available Am driver, yet the one they lined up was refused by the governing ACO, forcing the team to complete the 24 Hours with only pro drivers Bleekemolen and MacNeil.
Considering these circumstances and their move to the GTE Pro category, the fact the team finished the race is an incredible achievement which in my opinion was highlighted enough post-race. Both drivers must have been satisfied to simply finish and will be hoping next years 24 Hours is a lot less hectic for them. A truly incredible performance.
Porsche Team Manthey:
#91 Porsche 911 991 RSR: Patrick Pilet/Jorg Bergmeister/Nick Tandy
For the two factory Porsche GT entries, they were hoping to continue the success they achieved at the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours, where they took class victory after a hard fought battle. Frustratingly for Porsche it seemed in 2014 the rest of the GTE Pro class had caught up with Porsche as both factory entries were mired in the GTE Pro midfield after qualifying.
From the start of the race the two Porsche’s were hoping to make up ground, yet for this #91 entry this proved very hard as the team was beset by a few problems during the race, which left them well behind the GTE Pro pacesetters. Despite a very impressive line-up of factory Porsche drivers the obstacles were too much to overcome and this car eventually finished 7th in class and 36th overall. The team and especially this #91 entry will be hoping for much better next year.
#92 Porsche 911 991 RSR: Frederic Makowiecki/Marco Holzer/Richard Leitz
Of the two Porsche entries in GTE Pro, it was this #92 car that had the more comfortable run in the 24 Hours as they ran largely problem free until the later stages of the race. The stellar cast of drivers in this car were therefore able to exploit the pace of the Porsche 911 as they held 2nd in class for a long period of the race. Just as the team began to think of a possible 2nd in class however, a engine problem left the team lacking power for the final few hours of the race.
Whilst the car was able to continue running, the reduced pace meant the #73 Corvette was able to pass them in the final few hours, relegating the #92 Porsche to the final GTE Pro podium spot. Whilst anything other than victory at Le Mans for Porsche is a disappointment, the team can at least be satisfied they scored decent points for the WEC and will be hoping to challenge for class honours in the remaining WEC races.
Aston Martin Racing:
#97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Darren Turner/Stefan Mucke/Bruno Senna
Worries from Aston Martin that their poor showings in the two previous WEC races would carry over to Le Mans, proved unfounded as they returned to their usual position in GTE Pro of fighting to class victory. This #97 car qualified 3rd in class and remained in podium and victory contention through the first half of the race. After battling the #51 Ferrari for class honours through the first half of the 24 Hours, their challenge wilted during the night as the car suffered a similar power steering failure to the team’s other entries.
From here the car soldiered on to the final chequered flag, eventually coming home 6th in class in class and 35th overall. For the very quick professional drivers in this car this result is a disappointment, yet the team can take massive positives in the fact they returned to the competitiveness and will be hoping to carry this over into the final round of the WEC.
#99 Aston Martin Vantage GTE: Fernando Rees/Darryl O’Young/Alex MacDowall
For this #99 Craft-Bamboo/Aston Martin team the Le Mans 24 Hours provided the ultimate heart break, as the team’s Aston Martin looked strong in GTE Pro after Wednesday’s qualifying session. In the most cruel fashion however, for the #99 entry this is a far as their race week got after Fernando Rees suffered a big accident at the Porsche curves in Wednesday night’s qualifying session.
The car suffered substantial damage and despite the team trying everything to find a new chassis they were unable to locate one and get it to the track, forcing the team to make a late withdrawal just days before the 24 Hours. For the team and drivers it was the ultimate heart break, although they can take solace from their promising showing on the first day. The team will be hoping to carry over this promise into the final WEC rounds now.
That’s my review of the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours according to the GTE Pro class. Next up is a two part review of the highly competitive GTE Am category, so stay tuned in the next few days. Finally once again huge credit goes to http://www.Motorsport.com for their amazing, high quality photos, they really are worth a look for anyone interested in racing. Enjoy!