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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