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Le Mans

Le Mans 2018: GTE Preview

Le Mans 2018 GTE Preview

While the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours may be packed with story-lines across all four classes, this year’s GTE battle looks more likely than ever to deliver the best racing in the field. Both GTE Pro and Am have numbers, quality teams and drivers, new cars and some of the best engine notes. They may not have the glamour of the LMP1 field, which features the likes of Fernando Alonso on his ‘triple crown run’ and Jenson Button making his LMP debut, or the sheer numbers that LMP2 has, but it does have 17 factory entries, and 13 further privateer outfits set to do battle, door-to-door, for 24 hours.

GTE Pro is, as it has been for the past few years, made up of pure factory teams. Manufacturers are taking the GTE Pro class increasingly seriously now, and that’s evident in the size of some of these efforts. Porsche and Ford are bringing four cars each to Le Mans and Ferrari is bringing three, while Aston Martin and BMW are debuting their new cars and Corvette is putting a huge amount of resources into what could well be the final run for its hugely popular C.7R.

It is near-impossible to call a winner, even this close to the big race, with so many cars and no weak driver crews. This really is, the most stacked GTE Pro field we’ve ever seen. The question is, who has the edge? Back for a third year, with a quartet of cars, Ford would like to think it has as good a chance as any. After dominating the field during its debut year in 2016, somewhat controversially, and finishing a surprise second in 2017 after the chaotic ending to the race, the ‘Blue Oval’ is back for a third crack at winning on the hallowed French ground.

Ford at Le Mans

It is incredible to think that the Ford GT is the second oldest car in the field at this point, only the C7 in its current form has a longer history. It still looks arguably the most modern of the six cars in the class and just keeps on earning silverware wherever it goes. Once again Chip Ganassi’s UK team will join forces with the US outfit at Le Mans, creating what is one of the strongest GT crews in the world. The car’s ability is obviously a major factor, but a big part of Ford’s successes stem from the perfect blend of experienced drivers such as three-time World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx and multiple Champ Car winner Sebastien Bourdais, as well as younger talent like Billy Johnson and former LMP2 Le Mans class winner Harry Tincknell. There is no weak link in the team’s 12-driver stable, and the car continues to be almost bulletproof. If the Balance of Performance is as solid as it was last year, and all the marques are in with a shout, expect Ford to be right there, and ready to take a second Le Mans win.

Le Mans

Porsche on the other hand, is searching for its first Le Mans class win since 2013 in GTE Pro, a result which the brand feels is long overdue, especially considering the successes at the top end of the field in LMP1 in recent years. The current 911 RSR though is an absolute monster, which is ready to win, and win now. If Porsche can break through, it may prove to be a very popular victory with fans, as the mid-engined, four-litre, flat-six in the car houses is a screamer. With four entered in Pro (two running retro liveries, that look stunning), Porsche, to celebrate its 70th anniversary, are going for the ‘loud and proud’ approach. To boost its chances of a win, the two additional cars re from its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship programme, which bolsters its already spectacular driver line up from the FIA WEC, with the likes of overall Le Mans winners Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber, Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard.

AF Corse meanwhile, has adopted a similar strategy to Porsche, but instead just adding one extra Ferrari 488 GTE. All three running with the 2018 Evo kit. Ferrari is another brand starved of Le Mans wins in recent years, it’s last coming in 2014. It will be hoping that its championship-winning form from last year’s FIA WEC campaign carries over into this year’s race, which is coincidentally the second round of the 2018/19 season.

Corvette Racing, the last of the brands using tried and tested machinery, has its trusty pair of IMSA C7.Rs entered. In what could well be the swan-song for the car, Pratt and Miller’s experienced outfit will be gunning for its ninth class win at Le Mans this year, and, as you’d expect, it has a real chance. The past couple of seasons, the C7.R has won races and titles in the USA, but fallen short on French soil. In 2016, the team were unable to unlock the pace of the car due to the Balance of Performance situation and last year, a titanic battle in the final laps with the winning Aston Martin ended in tears, with the leading ‘Vette limping across the line after multiple offs and tyre troubles when Aston Martin Racing’s Jonny Adam made his move. This time around, they’ll hope it can be different. Don’t count them out!

Le Mans

So that leaves BMW and Aston Martin; two brands that have a long, history in sports car racing. Both head to Le Mans with high expectations this year, and new cars that during their pre-season development work already look like race winners. BMW’s M8 may well have the advantage off the bat, after running at both the Rolex 24 and Sebring prior to Le Mans with its parallel IMSA programme. The car, which sounds great in the flesh, and is built like a tank, is likely to capture the imagination of the fans trackside. The brand, which let’s not forget hasn’t had a big result at Le Mans since the turn of this century, comes with an experienced team running its factory operation – MTEK – and a set of drivers more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the GTE Pro regulars. In amongst its crew, watch out for DTM champion and Martin Tomczyk and Spa 24 Hours winners Alex Sims and Philipp Eng; they know how to win big races.

In a class like this though, a driver is only as good as its car. But BMW has ensured that the M8 was put to the test, with multiple runs at a variety of circuits, and in a variety of conditions. So far it appears to be both reliable and fast, almost winning at Sebring in only its second race start. While it remains to be seen whether the Bavarian brand, this early in its programme, can take a big win against such stiff competition, they certainly can’t be counted out.

Le Mans

It is much the same story for Aston Martin Racing, which starts 2018 with far more factory support from Aston Martin and a brand new, stunning-looking Vantage. The new Vantage, replacing the previous model which remarkably, raced for 13 years, helps usher in the new era for the brand in motorsport. Aerodynamically it’s far more aggressive, the new turbo-charged Mercedes engine is touted as a revelation in drivability terms and just about every other system in the car is new and upgraded too. The driver-crew has seen a refresh also, with former BMW driver Maxime Martin, and all round rapid Britain Alex Lynn joining the team. The big issue here is that so far this season, the Vantages have struggled mightily. In both pace and reliability, it’s been way off, and at the Test Day, Marco Sorensen has forced the team to build up a brand-new chassis for the race after a heavy impact on the run down to Indianapolis during the morning session. Even with the other car managing a full day of running, the signs aren’t good; the No. 97 was just under five seconds off the pace. Now, this is GTE Pro, and things can change quickly, so don’t count them out just yet.

So far, it looks as if Porsche and Ford have the upper hand. At the Paul Ricard Prologue, the season opener at Spa, and the Le Mans Test Day, both marques have looked to have the pace required to win Le Mans. In a Balance of Performance world, and with the politics that come with it, it may be a smokescreen. There are rumours that only Porsche and Ford have shown their true hand thus far, though it’s impossible to know. Let’s hope that means next week we’ll see a close race, with the other marques able to go toe-to-toe, rather than a lop-sided affair.

In GTE Am meanwhile, there’s a few notable additions and omissions. The class, as in recent years, is hotly-contested and oozing talent. While we do have the addition of the new Porsche 911 RSR to the mix, what’s not on the entry are any Corvettes, meaning the entire class is made up of Ferrari 488s, Aston Martin Vantages and Porsche 911 RSRs. There is still variety, but maybe not as much as we’re used to. Nevertheless, with a wide array of top pro drivers, budding young talents and well-versed gentlemen drivers, GTE Am promises to be worth following throughout the 24 hours.

Who are the favourites? Despite having its running cut short due to engine damage, the 2017 WEC GTE Am championship-winning No.98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda is both in-form after winning Spa and due some good luck at Le Mans after falling short so many times. The old Vantage, let’s not forget, won the GTE Pro race overall last year, so still has life in it.

Le Mans
The three Dempsey Proton Porsches too should be considered contenders, the 911 RSR is likely the chassis to have, and all three sets of drivers entered containing a mix of experienced drivers and young hot-shoes. Watch out for Matteo Cairoli (last year’s surprise package), Julien Andlauer (fastest at the test) and the ageless Pat Long, the foundation of this ambitious three-car effort.

Another contender comes in the form of the the Clearwater Racing team, which surprised everyone back in 2017, winning on its debut in the FIA WEC. Matt Griffin, Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok work so well as a team, and the crew behind the scenes always turn out an immaculate (chrome liveried!) Ferrari. TF Sport too, could well prove to be a force. The British team, stepping up from a successful 2017 spent in the European Le Mans Series, almost won at Spa in its first-ever appearance; Euan Hankey, Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc combining for a near-perfect drive in the Ardennes. TF Sport has won both big races and championships before, and all three drivers are more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the best in the class. Watch this space!

Le Mans
Last year’s Le Mans winner JMW Motorsport meanwhile, may have a bit of a struggle this time, in its quest to repeat its 2018 feat. This year, its driver line-up isn’t quite as star-studded, though Cooper MacNeil and Jeff Segal both have plenty of Le Mans experience to draw from. That’s not to say after 24 hours, it couldn’t be at the head of the field, but this time around there’s no expectation of a run like last year.

So both GTE Pro and Am promise much for next week’s Le Mans 24 Hours. Close racing and stories throughout each field will unroll before our hours as the clock ticks by. The best place to be is track-side with Travel Destinations so you don’t miss any of the action!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

FIA WEC

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps review

Five things we learned from the FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps

1. Alonso already looks impressive
While there wasn’t an enormous amount of wheel-to-wheel racing in LMP1, or a true battle for the overall lead, it was still nevertheless pleasing to see two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso get up to speed so quickly in his debut race in the FIA WEC. The Spaniard, along with teammates Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend, and went on to win. Alonso, during his stints was nothing short of impressive, multiple times he was shown clearly pushing hard through traffic, and at the end of the race when the car suffered a gearbox temperature issue he managed his pace well, ensuring it made the finish.

FIA WEC
Despite the fact that team orders were clearly at play, preventing the No.7 Toyota, which came from a lap down at the start to within striking distance of the No.8 towards the end, this was still a significant moment. Alonso is up to speed, already, and will head to Le Mans confident. If he wins that, not only is it a global story, but a very strong start to what could be a World Championship-winning season.

2. BMW & Aston’s cars look reliable
The two new GTE cars for this year also had an impressive showing at Spa, not in speed, but far more importantly, in reliability.  The M8 GTEs and Vantage GTEs spent the entire weekend far off the pace of the front-running Fords and Porsches. But at this stage, that means little, partly because Balance of Performance can turn the fortunes of a manufacturer quickly, and even if BoP wasn’t to blame, it’s more than likely that political game-playing was.

FIA WEC
The key here is that all four cars finished their debut FIA WEC races, and without any notable niggles; a far cry from the debuts of some GT cars of old. The extensive pre-season testing programmes have paid off, because both MTEK and Aston Martin Racing will head to Le Mans full of confidence. Both can be in the mix, and like Ford in 2016, have a chance to win at La Sarthe in the first year of the car’s life. We just need to hope now, that the race organisers don’t mess up the Balance of Performance for Le Mans, because if it’s anything like Le Mans 2016, it will leave a sour taste in the mouths of everyone track-side and at home watching.

3. GTE Am didn’t disappoint
Going into round 1, looking at the entry list it was easy to come to the conclusion that the expanded nine-car GTE Am category could produce the best racing in the FIA WEC. At Spa, despite a few silly driver errors, it produced the goods, especially at the end after the last safety car. New teams Project 1 Racing and TF Sport impressed mightily. The former had its hopes dashed by an off from Egidio Perfetti, but when the team’s 911 RSR was kept between the white lines, it was competitive, and was odds on for a podium.

FIA WEC
TF Sport, which many UK fans may know from its championship-winning form in the British GT Championship, also produced the goods. Euan Hankey, on his WEC debut was the star here, battling reigning champion Pedro Lamy all the way to the flag for the class lead in the final hour. He didn’t score the team a historic win in its first race, but he did, along with Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc showed off that Tom Ferrier’s team mean business this year, and that its ambition to win the world title in the ‘Super Season’ is not unrealistic. The only issue may turn out to be the Porsche 911 RSRs in the class, as so far, on pace they’ve been head and shoulders above the Ferrari and Aston teams. Porsche’s customers could have dominated at Spa, but due to a cocktail of poor luck and driver error none of the four found the podium. Le Mans is therefore going to be very interesting indeed!

4. LMP2 looks open
This year’s LMP2 field in the FIA WEC has a fresh look about it, with new teams, new drivers, new chassis and a tyre war. The racing, while far from thrilling for most of the race at Spa, did show some really positive signs. The main signal for positivity, was just how open this year’s title race is. DragonSpeed, Jackie Chan DC Racing, G-Drive Racing and Alpine all look capable of winning races this year and challenging for the title. Even Racing Team Nederland’s Dallara, with its 2018 Joker package, looked pacey too, and could make waves later in the year when hot-shoe Nyck DeVries steps into the car’s third seat.

FIA WEC
Michelin’s tyres also appear to be capable of going toe-to-toe with Dunlop, so it could be interesting to see if anyone else makes a switch mid-season to gain an edge, as in raw pace, the French rubber does look to have an advantage at this stage.

5. Shaky start for the non-hybrids
Spa provided fans with their first chance to see the new LMP1 non-hybird challengers, though it was a somewhat fractured showing from the eight-car group, only five of which started the race. CEFC TRSM Racing’s weekend unfortunately never got going, financial issues preventing Ginetta from releasing its G60-LT-P1s for the race. DragonSpeed’s BR1 meanwhile, had a monster shunt at Eau Rouge, Pietro Fittipaldi going straight on into the tyres at full-speed, fracturing both his legs, and ending his chances of an Indy 500 birth just a month out from the race.

The cars that did take the start however, did put on a bit of a show, ByKolles CLM, SMP Racing’s BR1s and Rebellions pair of R-13s did all enjoy some thrilling on-track battles, giving us a glimpse into what could be a very competitive race for third place each weekend during the season.

FIA WEC

There were two issues though, one being that SMP Racing’s No.17 BR1 failed to finish after a big shunt at Raidillon, and that other that none of the Privateers came even remotely close to challenging the Toyotas in pace or efficiency, the whole field getting lapped, not just by the eventual winners in the #8, but by the No.7 crew, which started a lap down.  That’s not very encouraging, especially given the promises made to the privateers that they would have a chance should they run a perfect race. Rebellion’s No.3 R-13, which finished third, did indeed enjoy a perfect race debut, and wasn’t even in with a slim chance of securing second or first.

Equivalence of Technology, is crushingly difficult to understand and indeed work out if you’re a rule-maker. But so far, it’s not hard to spot that it appears to be skewed very much in the favour of Toyota, which could mean it goes one of two days at Le Mans: either the EoT swings back the other way – or Toyota run away with the French classic.  The only saving grace here, is that there are rumblings in the paddock that due to the what’s capable for the non-hybrids in terms of top speed, could mean that they are far closer to the Toyotas in June. A number of the cars, are perfectly capable of blowing by the Toyotas on top speed, once the Hybrid cars’ superiority under acceleration peters out. The wide open spaces at Mulsanne and the run down to Indianapolis could prove to be happy hunting grounds for a well sorted and well driven non-hybrid LMP1.

We’ll have to wait and see…

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Le Mans 2018; The GTE Pro Battle

Whilst much of the chatter around the prospects for Le Mans 2018 endurance racing season has focused on the heavily revised FIA WEC calendar, and the comings and goings in the prototype marketplace, there’s an underlying story that deserves every race-goers full attention even before we find out who will be racing for the overall win.

GTE Pro is set to be a barnstormer!  New cars, star drivers, new teams and much more besides.

Le Mans 2018

For Le Mans 2018 there’ll be two new factory backed cars to add to the already established Ferrari 488 GTE and Ford GT, both of which still feel like the new kids on the block, by next season, in Pro, they’ll be the oldest cars from the FIA WEC ranks and only the Corvette C7.R is older. The first newcomer is the brand new Aston Martin Vantage GTE. The British marque gave its current car the best send-off possible this year by winning GTE Pro at La Sarthe after a dramatic finish. The new car, which has yet to be formally unveiled, has been out testing over the past month with some of Aston Martin Racing’s factory driver stable. It’ll look very aggressive with hints of the über-Aston Vulcan, sound aggressive thanks to its Mercedes turbo-charged V8 engine, and should be in immediate contention for a good finish at Le Mans if the scale of the upgrades reported by those who have driven it, are to be believed.

Le Mans 2018

BMW meanwhile, brings the other new bit of kit to Le Mans 2018, its M8 GTE, which sees the Bavarian marque return to the French endurance classic for the first time since 2011. Last time round, the world-famous Schnitzer team ran the programme – which saw two M3 GT2s take on the race – this time, it’s MTEK, who move over from DTM competition to take on the full WEC, and of course Le Mans 24 Hours.  The team has been practicing – hard! MTEK have had a full pit set-up to play with, with constant pit-stop and problem solving drills, for months, months before receiving their first M8! The new M8 is a looker, and under the hood is set to stun! It features a c.500bhp twin-turbo four-litre V8, with a cylinder block and cylinder head identical to the road going 8 series engine. It’s a light car too, weighing in at just under 2,700 pounds, the reduction in weight achieved through the extensive use of ultra-light CFRP components. BMW has never won at Le Mans in the GTE era, in fact the last BMW to win a class at the race was back when it won overall in 1999! The MTEK crew will be looking to right that in 2018.

Having BMW along for the ride at Le Mans 2018 means that at the very least, GTE Pro is slated to feature two car factory teams from Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ford, Corvette and BMW, that’s without the potential for Ford to bring its other two IMSA-regular GTs, a third Porsche 911 RSR joining the fight plus the likelihood of a third Ferrari from the IMSA ranks too.

Le Mans 2018

Of the current crop of runners, there’s plenty to look forward to also. The 2017 Porsche 911 RSR is back for its second season; its screaming engine note, the team’s selection of world class drivers and year of running under its belt could well see the German team take its first GTE Pro win since 2013. Gianmaria Bruni will surely feature, a key signing from Ferrari last season alongside established GT racing superstar Laurens Vanthoor – with a number of the marque’s LMP1 refugees also likely to be involved including Britain’s Nick Tandy. Ferrari’s rapid Brits will be on hand too with James Calado and Sam Bird both on race winning form in the super rapid turbocharged 488 GTEs.

Le Mans 2018

Then there’s Corvette Racing, the Pratt and Miller-run American crew, which are always a fan-favourite, will race with the C7.R for the final time. The new car is quietly in development, and could well be a radical change for the American manufacturer. Fans will be urged to enjoy the C7.R one last time though, the attention firmly on its Le Mans and IMSA-winning GTE monster, which will be gunning for its second GTE Pro class title.

Being confident beforehand though, will be hard. This year’s new ‘Automated Balance of Performance’, with Le Mans-specific balancing proved a raging success, with a close race up and down the field in the GTE ranks, all the marques able to gun for podium spots. Gone it seems, are the days when the BoP ruined teams’ chances before the on-track action started on the Wednesday, and behind us, is the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours, where Ford dominated the field after revealing its true hand in Qualifying.

And all of that is before we look to GTE Am where a gaggle of new cars are set to feature, the 2017 Porsche 911 RSR, and the Ford GT are now eligible for the Pro-Am class in 2018 with Porsche sales already confirmed.

Le Mans 2018 will be loud, it’ll be close and it should be thrilling for 24 straight hours. The GTE Pro race at Le Mans in 2018 could be one of those ‘I was there’ contests, which will be looked at as one of classic bouts in a golden era for sportscars.

Book here to be at Le Mans 2018

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Le Mans 2017

Le Mans 2017: Sunshine & shocks

The 85th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours may be most remembered for sunshine and shocks; the race was completed under clear skies and daytime temperatures in excess of 30 degrees centigrade, and shock results as most of the factory team cars fell by the wayside allowing two LMP2 cars on to the overall Le Mans 2017 podium.

Le Mans 2017
LMP1
Although the Le Mans 2017 had a relatively low attrition rate, that could not be said of the top LMP1 class. In the end, no car avoided lengthy time in the garage & only two cars actually completed the distance. The writing was perhaps on the wall early when a Toyota sustained damage in the early laps, causing debris to hit the ByKolles Racing team car. Despite it limping back to the pit lane, the car was never going to return. With the numeric disadvantage of only 2 cars, Porsche suffered a blow when the No. 2 car dropped out of the top 50 cars, after having to spend an hour in the garage for a rebuilt front axle.

Toyota looked to dominate the first period of the race. They secured a 1-2 for much of this time with the lone Porsche never far behind. The No. 7 Toyota leading the way and looking particularly fast in the early stages. However it was all going to go wrong for Toyota as darkness fell and the demons arrived. One by one, they experienced power problems. Only the No. 8 car managed to return to the race, but after losing more than 2 hours in the garage, they were never in contention for the overall win, despite setting the race’s fastest lap.

The demise of Toyota’s challenge left the No.1 Porsche with a free run at the chequered flag. They managed to survive the night and most of the morning, until, with just four hours to go, oil pressure problems left them limping with just electric power down the Mulsanne straight. Despite Andre Lotterer’s best efforts the car ground to a halt and could not get going again.

The demise of the No. 1 Porsche briefly opened the window for an LMP2 win, as No.38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-07 Gibson, inherited the lead. However, their hopes were dashed, with the flying return of the No. 2 Porsche. Despite their early delay in the garage, the No. 2 Porsche came flying back through the field. Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber & in particular Timo Bernhard got the best out of the car, and managed to avoid and pass the traffic with ease. They took the lead with almost exactly an hour to go and didn’t look back, eventually crossing the finish line more than half a lap of the second placed car. A remarkable turnaround then from the No.2 Porsche team, who were not even in the top 50 cars after their technical woes.

Le Mans 2017

LMP2
Whilst the top class suffered with a very high attrition rate, the opposite could be said of the biggest field in the race; LMP2. Only four of the twenty-five cars in this class failed to finish. This is all the more remarkable considering there were new regulations for this class this year, and none of the contenders had completed a race of this distance. Despite many expert predictions to the contrary the LMP2 class not only showed the necessary endurance, but also very nearly pulled of the overall win.

For the majority of the race the two cars from Vaillante Rebellion showed their experience and stayed at the front of the pack. Having raced LMP1 cars over the last few year, the Rebellion team clearly know a thing or two about how to race at Le Mans. The G-Drive and CEFC Manor TRS Racing teams, also showed strong performances, but ultimately the story of this class enfolded late on. Having watched the LMP1 cars disappear in front, and finding themselves more than 10 laps behind the leaders, the LMP2 cars started to climb the leader-board as the manufacturer LMP1s began to retire. When the leading No.1 came to a halt on the track, it was the No. 38 Jacki Chan DC Racing car that caught up and inherited the lead of the race. They managed to defend that position from other LMP2 challenges, and for 2 hours they continued at the front. It would have been the most remarkable story. A David vs Goliath type victory, however it was not to be. Despite the best efforts of Thomas Laurent, Oliver Jarvis and ultimately Ho-Pin Tung, behind the wheel, they were unable to compete with the superior speed of the Porsche No. 2 car that reeled them in; hunting them down shark-like and then passing them with only an hour of the race to go.

Despite this the all involved with the No. 38 car should be immensely proud of what they achieved; not only winning the LMP2 class, but finishing second overall at Le Man. The No. 13 Vaillante Rebellion ended second in class, so took the third step on the overall podium which was just reward for the excellent Rebellion team.

Le Mans 2017

GTE Pro
There had been much criticism before the race about the rule makers and the changes made under the balance of performance regulations. It is a complex thing trying to make all cars competitive and in the past, this has been hugely unsuccessful. However, credit where credit is due, they definitely got it right this time and they provided the spectators with a remarkable race. In fact had Hollywood script writers come up with the story they would have probably rejected the idea under grounds of lack of reality.

No one manufacturer was able to dominate this class. Even Ford’s numeric advantage didn’t help them get ahead. Hour after hour, often minute after minute, the lead changed hands. The racing was so close, that as cars peeled off to complete their pit stops, the next car would inherit the lead. Once that car pitted the baton was passed on. And do it went on throughout the race.

Quite unbelievably going in to the last hour of the 24, each manufacturer had a car on the lead lap. Corvette, Aston Martin, Ford, Porsche and Ferrari all had a chance to win. Nobody was able to pull away and seconds separated all five cars. In the end it came down to pit lane strategy and a bit of luck as to when the race was actually going to finish. Aston Martin were leading, but had to have an extra stop for fuel. This opened the door for Corvette. With the other three cars fast catching, Corvette with Jordan Taylor at the wheel, left the pit lane with Aston Martin and Jonny Adam filling its mirrors. It was going to go right down to the wire. The two cars continued to lap just seconds apart as Jonny Adam looked for a place to attack. It looked as though Jordan Taylor had done enough to keep ahead and take the win, when the Aston Martin braked late at Mulsanne and tried to pass. Quite legitimately the Corvette closed the door as they exited and the corner, but there was contact between the two.

The two cars continued around for one more lap, but suddenly the Corvette had an issue and cut one of the chicanes on the Mulsanne straight, skidding across the gravel, but retaining the lead. However, Jonny Adam could sense he might get one more opportunity. It came literally at the start of their last lap. Coming through the Ford chicane on to the start finish straight, the Aston Martin took advantage of the damaged Corvette and powered past. Despite the great skills of Jordan Taylor there was nothing he could do to protect the lead. As the Aston Martin disappeared to take the win, salt was rubbed in to Corvette’s wounds as the No. 67 Ford managed to catch the limping Corvette and demote them to third in Class. Nevertheless all teams involved should take great credit for their efforts. This was a very hard fault battle that really entertained the fans, and should be remembered for a very long time.

Le Mans 2017

GTE Am
The battle in GTE Am was not as close as the Pro class. In the early running, it appeared that the No. 98 Aston Martin would run away with it. However, technical issues dragged them back. The speed shown by the Larbre Competition Corvette in qualifying never reappeared, and it was left to the Ferraris to dominate the class. The No. 84 yellow and black, JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE took the lead in the darkness and was not in the mood to relinquish the position once daylight returned. For hours they remained at the front of the class, often mixing with the back markers of the GTE Pro field. They managed to spend the minimum of time in the pit lane and came home to be quite comfortable winners in the end. The other class podium slots were also filled by Ferraris, clearly the car to have in this class, with Spirit of the Race and Scuderia Corsa coming home second and third.

Overall this was an excellent race, and one that will be much talked about around the trackside barbecues tonight. Porsche were the outright winners, but the plaudits will be taken elsewhere in the classes below. Le Mans 2017 will be remembered for the hot temperatures around the circuit and the amazing racing that took place on it. Roll on Le Mans 2018.

If you enjoyed the Le Mans 24 Hours this year, why not join us trackside at Le Mans 2018? Travel Destinations is an official ticket agency for Le Mans, and we have a large number of different options available for the Le Mans 24 Hours 2018 and the Le Mans Classic 2018. You can book this week with a small deposit and secure your place at Le Mans 2018. Call us on 0844 873 0203 to reserve your place.

Written by Richard Webb
Photography by Dailysportscar

 

Le Mans 2017

Le Mans 2017: GTE Preview

With just days left before the Le Mans 24 Hours 2017, we take a closer look at the GTE entrants at Le Mans 2017 & what we should expect from them with our man in the stands; Stephen Kilbey.

GTE Am; The Second Battle of the Brands
While GTE Pro may feature full factory-backed GT entries, GTE Am’s grid this year, will be just as fiercely competitive, with almost as much variety. There’s something for everyone, with a smattering of Aston Martins, including a factory-supported Aston Martin Racing effort, lots of brand new Ferrari 488s, some Porsche 911s and as usual, a single Larbre Corvette. The driver talent is also high in the Am class, with plenty of factory talent placed in among the teams to assist the amateurs; and they’ll be the difference. When the world-class drivers are out of the cars, and its down to the more inexperienced gentlemen drivers, that’s when the race will be won. It’ll be fascinating, it’ll be unpredictable, and well worth keeping an eye on all week at Le Mans 2017.

Le Mans 2017

Tyre Wars
There’s a tyre war in GTE Pro and GTE Am. Michelin vs Dunlop. The Pro class Aston Martins and the Am class Astons and Porsches wearing the Dunlops. The Fords, Corvettes (Pro and Am), Pro Porsches and all of the Ferraris are with Michelin. Last season saw the Dunlops in Pro come on strong for Aston Martin (the weather at Le Mans 2017 could be another curve ball in this battle). Pace in the dry might not be the only story! Commercial success here will be measured by the colour of the caps on the podium on Sunday afternoon!

Porsche’s New Weapon
Porsche have followed Ford into the new era of GTE Pro racing by utilizing the more open rule-book to produce the fabulous looking 2017 spec 911 RSR. As is well known, the car now features a mid-mounted (ahead of the rear axle) flat six, and the car looks and sounds fabulous, particularly in the cauldron of the pit straight at Le Mans. With Porsche foregoing the opportunity for a turbo power plant the race long performance might be one to watch, certainly in wet running so far there’s no sign that Porsche have lost their wet-weather traction edge!

Le Mans 2017

Corvette
Fastest at the Test Day on the full circuit in the Pro Class, with the solo Am ‘Vette right at the sharp end too. Things look good for the 5.5 litre V8 bellowing Chevys. The soundtrack of the Corvettes is a highlight at Le Mans for many and a top pit crew, top quality and highly international driving squad and, by the look of things, a Balance of performance that should see the ‘Vettes back in the leading group should mean that ‘America’s SportsCar’ is back at the sharp end.

Le Mans 24 Hours

With Marcel Fässler back at Corvette for the first time since 2009 (after his Audi adventure) there’s even more depth of talent beyond the long-stay talents of Oliver ‘The Tall One’ Gavin, Antonio ‘The little Spanish One’ Garcia, Tommy ‘Don’t Call Me Junior’ Milner and Jan’ Kevin’s Dad’ Magnussen – Jordan ‘the Wacky One from Social Media’ is the other third man for this one.

Colours
Not the LA Gang turf war colours, instead the ‘give Andy Blackmore a nightmare by producing intricate liveries to stand out’ sort. From variations on the traditional Porsche white, Ferrari red (this year the Pro cars are in a gorgeous deeper shade), Aston Martin green and Corvette yellow, through the Gulf liveried Porsche in Am, the tricky to tell apart Fords, Duncan Cameron’s dark green Ferrari in Am and the oh so simple, but oh so very effective Risi red Ferrari.

Le Mans 2017

There’s also JMW’s new yellow Am Ferrari 488, Clearwater Racing’s pair of contrasting dragon liveried Ferraris (one chrome-based the other matt grey based) and the Art Car for this year, the gloriously bonkers comic book themed ‘Human’ Larbre Corvette – this grid of 29 GTE cars has something for everyone’s visual tastes!

Who’s The Daddy?
With the FIA WEC qualifying format not used at Le Mans its all about raw speed in qualifying. With such a depth of talent on tap it’s a tough call on who will be setting pole in GTE Pro. Nicki Thiim has been the pace man at Aston Martin, ably assisted by Darren Turner. Fred Mako and Patrick Pilet are amongst Porsche’s usual picks, Harry Tincknell has Andy Priaulx edging him on at Ford UK whilst Joey Hand has always been quick here too. Brit pair James Calado and Sam Bird look set to do battle for Ferrari, Toni Vilander for Risi, and at Corvette Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen just seem to forget that advancing years should take the edge off by producing stellar times.

Balance of Performance
A system designed to ensure close competition has become an annual battle of who can befuddle the rule makers by more than the opposition! Last year it was Ford, ‘finding’ a huge amount of pace between the Test Day and race week much to the irritation of the race organisers, and their competition! This year Ford were again off the pace at the Test Day after a turbo boost restriction was enforced as part of their BoP – the values can be amended at any point before the race – but will they be, and if they are what will be the response to another Ford win at Le Mans 2017?

Le Mans 2017

Aston Martin meanwhile have a car which is in its last season as the Factory weapon, up against cars that, for the most part, are no more than a season old. For them BoP is an important part of staying in the game, can they – or will a brand new Porsche, cutting edge Ferrari and four car Ford effort relegate them to minor placings at Le Mans 2017?

Am Dram
Whilst the big budget GT drama surrounds the factory-backed efforts in the Pro class don’t ignore what is likely the strongest GTE Am field in recent years. 16 cars, plenty of variety, and a tyre war there too, should dole out plenty of excitement. Pick a favourite or two and watch their progress. Eight Ferrari 488s (including teams from The UK, mainland Europe, Asia and the USA) four Porsches, including the gorgeous Gulf liveried No.86, three Aston Martins all upgraded to 2016 specification (GTE AM cars MUST be a spec that is at least a year old) and the single Art Car Corvette will entertain for sure. Check the entry list for some very familiar names from national and international racing.

Le Mans 24 Hours

Ford vs Ferrari
A classic confrontation and one which the events of 2016’s 24 Hours of Le mans did little to dissipate. Ironically though whereas back in period it was the Fords taking on the ‘establishment’, this time around it feels almost the opposite. 2016 saw controversy about Balance of Performance, a meltdown by the factory-backed AF Corse pair then a race long battle between the four Fords and a solo Ferrari from the Risi Competizione outfit that took the race to the wire. There is respect, but with a razor edge, to this battle at Le Mans 2017 – don’t miss a moment of it.

Le Mans 2017

Aston Martin vs Corvette
Another classic encounter, and one that is likely to be overlapping with the Ford/Ferrari battles for added spice! Here though whilst the on-track battles are no less more seriously contested, the off-track dynamics are altogether more respectful. It dates back to the old GT1 days, pit crews exchanging banter, an annual near impromptu car pushing race up the grid and much back slapping and bear-hugging depending on the result Green vs Yellow is as much a part of this great race as the factory battles in LMP1 at Le Mans 2017.

Le Mans 2017

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Porsche at Le Mans 2016

Countdown to Le Mans: GTE Pro Preview

10 Things To Watch For In GTE Pro At Le Mans 2016

The 2016 GTE Pro class at Le Mans, consists of a 14 high-quality entries, with a wealth of manufacturer efforts including the return of Ford on the 50th anniversary of its maiden win. Five marques are represented in the field, with the seven full-season WEC entries being joined by two Ford entries from IMSA, two factory Porsches, an IMSA Ferrari from Risi Competitizione the two factory Corvettes.

Make no mistakes about it, this is going to be a dogfight, one we may well remember for a very long time to come. Here’s 10 key storylines to follow in this year’s Pro battle:

1. Ford’s return
It’s becoming ever more clear that Ford is desperate to win this race. The team – run by Chip Ganassi – already stated its intentions last year when it announced it would bring four cars to France, but since then the reception and sheer amount of of exposure of the car from the ‘Blue Oval’ has put this programme on another level. The car has won a race heading into June, after a magnificent fuel-saving run provided a surprise victory from one of its IMSA cars at Laguna Seca, which was a big moment for the programme. Prior to the big race the car has been handed a weight reduction too, which should up its pace on race week. By how much? Few people know, but it could put the Fords into contention after very quiet outings at Silverstone and Spa in the WEC.

Ford GT at Le Mans 2016
2. Balance of performance blues
It’s dull, but sometimes it has to be spoken about. The BoP changes appear to have aided Aston Martin and Ford and kept Ferrari, Corvette and Porsche at bay. The issue isn’t whether or not BoP should be enforced, it’s how it will play out. After receiving a significant weight reduction, the gap from Ferrari and Corvette to Ford was much the same at the Le Mans Test Day, which means Ford were either playing games or are extremely disappointed. It could be a very interesting final qualifying on Thursday night, as the pace of the GTE cars could be off the charts.

3. The champs return!
2015 Le Mans winners Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy, while unable to defend their title, will be in the race with Porsche, and likely eager to make an impression. Both drivers had a rough outing at the Nürburgring 24 Hours last month, with their co-driver Kevin Estre crashing in Top 30 Qualifying and Tandy also having a shunt in the race’s opening laps. The expectation of the 2016 Porsche 911 RSR is unclear because Porsche as a factory has opted to only compete at Le Mans in GTE in order to focus on LMP1 and the development of the 2017 GT challenger. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t count them out, especially with so much brand new machinery and technology in the class.

Porsche at Le Mans 2016
4. Magnussen tooking to bounce back
After his hefty shunt at the Porsche Curves during Qualifying last year, forcing the #63 Corvette to withdraw from the event before the race, Dane Jan Magnussen will be looking to move on and score a good result. A real fan favourite over the years, 2016 is Magnussen’s 18th start. Along with Spaniard Antonio Garcia and Ricky Taylor, he has a real chance to get a fifth class win too. Corvette should never be counted out, and the trio all have enough experience at the circuit and in the car to be right up there.

5. The 488’s grand debut
The Ferrari 488 GTE is the first turbo-charged Ferrari to race at Le Mans since the F40, and it has the potential to do damage in the first year of its development cycle. It’s no secret that the 458 and 430 before it evolved into race-winning machines very quickly, and the 488 GTE looks to be no different. Reliability issues aside the #71 from AF Corse has dominated in the WEC this year, controlling the race at Silverstone and inheriing the win at Spa after the #51 had mechanical issues with 10 mintues remaining. The real worry is reliability here, as the #51 has had issues all year, but the pace of it isn’t. If Davide Rigon, Sam Bird and Allessandro Pier Guidi have a faultless run to the finish, then look out! And if they win, they’ll take a very controlling lead in the WEC points standings too.

Ferrari at Le Mans 2016
6. Brits galore!
For all Brits travelling to the race looking to support the locals, look no further than the GTE class, which is packed with drivers sporting union flags on their overalls. All of them are factory drivers too.
Marino Franchitti, Richard Westbrook, Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx are driving a Ford GT, Darren Turner and Jonny Adam are in Astons, James Calado and Sam Bird are piloting Ferraris, and Nick Tandy and Oliver Gavin will be in a Porsche and Corvette respectively.

7. Risi’s return
For the first time since 2010, a red Risi Competizione Ferrari will be competing at the French classic. The American squad is looking for its fourth class win at the race, after most recently winning the with the 430 at the turn of the decade. With ex-F1 star Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari GTE stalwart Toni Vilander and Matteo Mallucelli aboard the car should be quick too. It’s good to see them back!

8. Aero makeover
Anyone standing trackside at the race who hasn’t studied the new crop of GTE machinery could well be in with a shock. The aggressiveness of the cars has been ramped up to 11, with the Ford GT and Aston Vantages in particular looking like birth childs of DTM and LMP1 cars. One glance at the rear of the new Aston will tell you one thing: downforce is key now. Nobody knows just where this class will end up in the future, but right now, if you look over at one and squint your eyes, it’s like we’re back in the GT1 days again.

Aston Martin Racing at Le Mans 2016
9. Factory stars in factory cars
As was eluded to in the British driver paragraphs, the amount of factory drivers in the race is staggering. Every car in the 14-car field is packed with top class factory talent, with only Phillip Eng and the aforementioned Pier Guidi and Malucelli being exceptions; though even they are factory nominees. The quality of teams and drivers has literally never been higher at the top end of GT racing at Le Mans, so soak it in, sit back and enjoy. This is a golden era.

10. Tyre war
It’s been a while since GTE Pro at Le Mans has seen a tyre war, but it looks like competition between rubber manufacturers is back, and here to stay. Aston Martin has signed a technical partnership with Dunlop, and 2016 is the first year. While the tyres being used this year are pretty much an unknown quantity, both Aston and Dunlop will be looking to make the most out of running in mixed conditions – if there is any. Michelin vs Dunlop could be interesting in 2016, especially if the weather becomes a real factor. And it most definitely will in the coming years after further development of bespoke compounds for Prodrive’s machines.

Corvette at Le Mans 2016

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photos by Dailysportscar

FIA WEC Silverstone

Countdown to Le Mans; Part 1

Countdown to Le Mans: Five Post-Silverstone Storylines

The FIA World Endurance Championship – which includes the Le Mans 24 Hours – had its opening race last weekend at Silverstone, and provided a few hints as to what we can expect from this year’s twice-round-the-clock classic at La Sarthe.

Dailysportscar.com’s lead WEC reporter Stephen Kilbey looks back five of the key topics as the dust (& snow) settles on the 6 Hours of Silverstone:

1. Audi is back to winning ways… Well, sort of.

Audi R18

With so many question marks surrounding both Audi and Toyota, who enter the 2016 season with brand new cars, Silverstone was always going to be fascinating from an LMP1 point of view.

While Toyota were once again lacking pace, throughout the weekend, Audi and its brand new R18 looked like it may have the pace to challenge Porsche’s formidable 919 which won both Le Mans and the WEC title last season. Qualifying was held on a drying track after snowfall early Saturday morning, and Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler managed to stick their #7 Audi on pole for the first time since the 2013 6 Hours of Fuji.

In the race, the reigning WEC champion #1 Porsche of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard managed to snatch the lead off the Audi and race off into the distance. Hartley though, crashed out in dramatic fashion just before the halfway mark, almost rolling the prototype after tagging a GTE Porsche running through Farm curve.

The incident handed Audi its lead back, and triple Le Mans champions managed to hold off the other Porsche until the finish. However, a post-race technical check of the winning R18 revealed that the front plank was too worn, and therefore prompted the organisers to disqualify the car from the race. The #2 Porsche of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani therefore claimed the victory.

While it’s way too early to tell if Porsche will win Le Mans again or not this year, all signs point to the 24 Hours being another close-fought affair.

2. The pace of the Hybrid prototypes is still astonishing

Porsche 919 Hybrid

The current era of P1 cars really do need to be seen to be believed. Last year, the factory prototypes took an enormous step in regard to raw performance, especially towards the end of the WEC season when Porsche turned up at the Nürburgring fresh from its 17th Le Mans win with a new aero package.

Going into 2016 the ACO has tried to peg back the top cars, forcing them to use 30% less fuel per lap. But intelligent engineers at Toyota, Porsche and Audi seem to have managed to gain the previous level of performance back that and a little bit more by improving other areas.

At Silverstone the P1 cars were going faster than 2016, producing lap-times comparable to that of a mid-pack Formula One car, but with a weightier chassis and more traffic to deal with. If the form continues on a low-drag circuit like Le Mans, then expect the lap-record to be broken once again in Qualifying if the weather holds out.

3. Ford could well have a good run at Le Mans

Ford GT

There’s a lot of pressure on GM’s finest going into this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, it being the 50th anniversary since Ford’s historic first win. Nevertheless, the new GTE programme continues to impress. The new Ford GT’s first outing at Daytona back in January was problematic, but fast forward a few months and it looks far more capable of a head-turning debut at the big one in eight weeks time.

Both of Ford Performance’s new cars ran faultlessly during the race at Silverstone, finishing up fourth and fifth in the GTE Pro class. On pace they weren’t able to challenge the might of AF Corse’s Ferraris, but the raw speed should come with its new found reliability.

With four factory-entered Fords due to compete at Le Mans, don’t be surprised if the GTE newcomers leave with an impressive result.

4. Aston Martin Racing looks far more competitive this year

Aston Martin Racing

2015 was tough for the British factory team run by Prodrive. Its Vantages were often far off front-running pace throughout the year and failed once again to win the GTE Pro class at Le Mans.

If the first round of 2016 is anything to go by though, Aston Martin looks in a lot better shape than was predicted. With brand new Dunlop tyres that will only get better with further development, a return to a green paint scheme and an aggressive aerodynamic overhaual to its Vantages, it should be able to build on the solid podium finish on home soil and win its class for the first time at Le Mans in eight years.

5. The WEC continues to build on its extremely positive foundation

Gulf Racing UK

While the Le Mans 24 Hours will always be the jewel in the WEC’s crown, the exceptional racing, interest from more blue-chip manufacturers and a very stable calendar is paying off big time for the FIA’s youngest World Championship.

Crowds at European rounds like Silverstone and Spa have been growing year on year, and that’s only a good thing for the future of sportscar racing as well as the Le Mans 24 Hours. Last year, a record crowd of 263,000 people turned up to La Sarthe in June to witness history, and with momentum continuing to build don’t be surprised if that record is shattered once again.

If you would like to attend the Le Mans 24 Hours 2016 then Travel Destinations have a selection of travel, ticket and camping packages available.

If you would like to attend the FIA WEC 6 Hours of the Nurburgring in July, then Travel Destinations also have an exclusive travel, ticket and trackside camping option available.

If you would like more information on either of these offers please click on the links above or call our reservations team on 0844 873 0203.