Tag Archives: GTE Pro

FIA WEC

FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa Preview

Looking Ahead to the FIA WEC  6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps

After months and months of intrigue and speculation, the FIA World Endurance Championship’s 2018/19 ‘Super Season’ is finally here. This weekend, the teams and drivers will head to Spa-Francorchamps to kick off the season with the traditional Le Mans dress rehearsal in the Ardennes Forest. But with so much new technology up and down the order, just what can we expect? Will it deliver and what should we be keeping an eye on as the countdown to the 86th edition of the Grand Prix D’Endurance enters its final stages?

Up at the front, the LMP1 class looks completely different, and far bigger, than it did in 2017. In fact, what we have, for better or for worse, is the biggest LMP1 field in the FIA WEC’s six-year history. It is packed with privateer cars, fresh and still unproven, and just two hybrid entries from Toyota after Porsche’s withdrawal. But don’t let the lack of factory competition for the Japanese marque put you off. This is very much a David vs Goliath situation, and there is still far more questions than answers at this time.

FIA WEC

Toyota’s big news story this year, isn’t concerning the car. Instead, the headlines surround the driver crew which will feature two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso. It is no secret he’s coming this year, and it is no secret that he is taking on the FIA WEC as part of a ‘Triple Crown’ run. But just how will he fare? Well, we don’t know yet, but what we do know, is that his supreme talents in an F1 car aside, when he stepped into an IndyCar last year he was quick straight away. You would also think that his performance at Daytona this year (for his sportscar debut) would give a good indication. But his car wasn’t up to the task, resulting in a rather quiet run to the finish for the Spaniard. Time will tell just how quickly he can adapt to what is a very different style of driving required in LMP1 H.

Can Toyota’s pair of mildly-revised TS050 HYBRIDs be challenged by the slew of private competition? In truth, especially at this stage, it seems unlikely. There is still plenty of creases to be ironed out in the class’ EoT (Equivalence of Technology), and in the new cars themselves. So we may have to wait a little before we see the true potential of SMP and DragonSpeed’s BR1s, CEFC TRSM’s Ginettas, ByKolles upgraded CLM and Rebellion Racing’s R-13s. The FIA WEC Prologue though, was if nothing else, encouraging; Toyota setting its fast times running outside the rules, leaving some hope for a competitive race at the start of the season.

FIA WEC

Who should we be looking to at this stage to challenge for the final podium spot? SMP Racing and Rebellion Racing look to hold the advantage at this stage in the pace department. The Russian BR1 AER’s look quick, and at the Prologue they didn’t suffer any major troubles. Not surprising, as the car, designed by Dallara, has had the most running of the new breed, and has a good set of drivers to get the most out of its cars. This will include Jenson Button this year, but unfortunately not until after the Spa round.

Rebellion meanwhile, was unable to get its pre-season test programme underway before the Prologue, due to the lead time from ORECA of its new Gibson-powered chassis. The team, has been out testing since the trip to Paul Ricard, but its R-13s are still very new. The pace appears to be there, so it’s all down to durability this weekend in Belgium if the Swiss-flagged effort is to leave with silverware at this early stage. Elsewhere, ByKolles, DragonSpeed and CEFC TRSM showed flashes of what is to come in France, but there is still a long way to go for all three teams. The focus at this stage is very much on using Spa as effectively as possible as preparation for Le Mans, which is going to be a far harder, but more important task in the long run.

While LMP1 may hold the most interest to those in the stands, let’s not forget that there is plenty to look for in the other three classes too. GTE Pro is stacked. Now with the addition of a full BMW factory effort, the category is 10-cars strong, and oozing talent. While little has changed at Ferrari, Porsche and Ford in the off-season, that is by no means a bad thing. With the added value of BMW’s new M8 GTE and Aston Martin’s new Vantage, with fresh driver crews, there’s going to be a real fight for the podium spots this year.

FIA WEC

Both new cars set to grace the class have been out testing for months now, and have completed some serious mileage. Both cars look strong, not bullet proof, but certainly further down the line in their development than you might expect considering neither have a FIA WEC start to their name.

Aston Martin’s driver crew sees two newcomers set to debut at Spa; Maxime Martin, who’s astonishing performance at the 2013 Nurburgring 24 Hours still lives in the memories of many, and Alex Lynn, who’s won races in GP2, LMP2 and in DPi. Both are rapid, and are already up to speed with the car and their new surroundings. BMW meanwhile, will start the season with a quartet of FIA WEC new-boys: Martin Tomczyk, Nicky Catsburg, Tom Blomqvist and Antonio Felix Da Costa. There’s no weak link there, it is hot-shoe central in the BMW garage!

FIA WEC

Then there is both the LMP2 and GTE Am classes which are set to deliver quality racing all season long, as they did in 2017. LMP2 has variety, with a Dallara P217 from Racing Team Nederland (driven by none other than Dutch hero Jan Lammers at Spa and Le Mans) and a Ligier JS P217 fielded by Larbre Competition. That means  we don’t have an an ORECA spec-class, instead we have a division with three of the four LMP2 global chassis present, and two tyre brands, with Michelin entering the class to go head-to-head with Dunlop.

FIA WEC

DragonSpeed’s 07 Gibson may well prove to be the class of the field. At the Prologue it ran fastest, courtesy of a rapid lap by the polarising figure that is Pastor Maldonado, the Venezuelan signed up for his sportscar race debut at this weekend too, with Mexican Roberto Gonzalez and Frenchman Nethanael Berthon.

FIA WEC

GTE Am meanwhile, may have been consistently the best class on the wheel-to-wheel racing front in 2017, and that could well be exacerbated this season, as the car count has grown significantly to nine cars, up from five last year. There is plenty of familiar faces in the class too. Aston Martin Racing return as champions with the same line-up and the older, rumbling V8-powered Vantage, Clearwater Racing looks to be everyone’s favourite team again with its all-chrome Ferrari 488, and the ageless Jorg Bergmiester rejoins the series with Team Project 1 – the most successful Porsche one-make team, which expands its programme with a debut FIA WEC run this year. As unpredictable as ever in 2018/19, GTE Am should continue to throw some real surprises throughout the season. At the moment, going on the form from the Prologue, which saw the new Porsche 911 RSRs in the class look clearly faster in pure lap time, it’s advantage Stuttgart. But with BoP set to be tweaked throughout, nobody is crowning any winners just yet.

So sit back, and enjoy the ride. This weekend, the FIA WEC, with its new look grid and new calendar is back, and some might say, better than ever. The new era, starts now.

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

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