Marcel Fassler

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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-3-corvette-racing-chevrolet-corvette-c7-r-antonio-garcia

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-4-corvette-racing-chevrolet-corvette-c7-r-oliver-gavin-t

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-24-bmw-team-rll-bmw-m8-gtlm-john-edwards-jesse-krohn-nic

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-25-bmw-team-rll-bmw-m8-gtlm-bill-auberlen-alexander-sims

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-62-risi-competizione-ferrari-488-gte-alessandro-pier-gui

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-66-chip-ganassi-racing-ford-gt-gtlm-dirk-muller-joey-han

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-67-chip-ganassi-racing-ford-gt-gtlm-ryan-briscoe-richard

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-911-porsche-team-north-america-porsche-911-rsr-patrick-p

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-912-porsche-team-north-america-porsche-911-rsr-gtlm-gian

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!

Advertisements

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.

12803-web

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.

img_4754sml2

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.

WEC - 24h Le Mans test day 2012

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.

lemans-24-hours-of-le-mans-test-day-2016-8-audi-sport-team-joest-audi-r18-e-tron-quattro-l

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.