Le Mans 24 Hours 2011; GTE Am Preview

GTE AM: The Gentlemen Drivers

The new GTE Am class, which requires cars to be at least a year old and have a crew with no more than a single pro driver, numbers a convincing and high quality ten car entry for its debut year. Happily, there’s variety aplenty here too with five marques represented and with top quality teams bringing their usual standards of car preparation to the task in hand.

Larbre Competition has a pair of entries courtesy of their GT1 race and Championship wins last season. Plans to run a pair of Corvettes didn’t quite gel, but their full season ILMC entry is the single Corvette in the pack here. The No.50 car is an ex 2010 factory car but thus far the Gabriele Gardel, Patrick Bornhauser, Julian Canal combo has failed to shine. The Corvette, though, is on ground at Le Mans that could have been designed explicitly for it, and Larbre will be looking to capitalise on that. Larbre’s second car is a customer Porsche, co-run here with the support of IMSA Performance. Jean Christophe Belloc reprises his seemingly constant role of Pro driver and anchor man alongside Financier Christophe Bourret and Paris Hotelier Pascal Gibon. This is a classic Pro-Am effort and won’t be winning any speed records – but could they finish well? Far, far stranger things have happened.

GTE AM Larbre Corvette

Krohn Racing is another full season ILMC entry, but, whilst this looks a very familiar car to recent ALMS and Le Mans attendees, there are important differences from the outfit we’ve seen score podium finishes in the major races in previous years. Firstly, the team is now a stand-alone outfit, rather than a customer effort from Risi Competizione, as Tracy Krohn embarks on a global endurance racing journey. The Ferrari 430 which the team fields is an ex Extreme Speed ALMS car and has served the team well so far. With Nic Jonsson and Michele Rugolo accompanying the team owner, this squad is going to be in the mix for a podium finish if they can stay out of trouble.

Gulf AMR Middle East have had a testing start to the 2011 season, with major mechanical woes for the No.60 Aston Vantage restricting them to a mere handful of laps at Sebring; and then a blown engine in warm-up at Spa giving Dave Price and co a huge mountain to climb before the start of the Spa 1000kms. That they scaled it and, albeit delayed, finished the race, is a huge testimony to the quality of the team assembled for this effort. Fabien Giroix provides the professionally cool head on the shoulders of the driving squad, but Mike Wainwright and Roald Goethe aren’t easily stirred. The odds are against this effort finishing, but a filthy Gulf-coloured Vantage would be a massively popular sight come Sunday afternoon.

Gulf AMR Middle East

AF Corse is a four-car effort at Le Mans this year (if you include the Pecom Racing Lola). Their GTE Am No.61 Ferrari 430 looks set to be in amongst the thick of things in the class battle for overall honours; AF Corse’s preparation will be top notch and they know the 430 better than anyone. On the driver front, Marco Cioci has proven his speed and Sean Paul Breslin has got the hunger; the ex VLN Champ living the Le Mans dream this year. We’d suggest that a win for this effort would be far from a shock.

CRS Racing is back at Le Mans, but without any of their regular roster of pros. Instead, the No.62 car sees Pierre Ehret’s ex ALMS 430 contesting the full ILMC together with a pair of experienced historic racers; both rookies at the 24hrs, but with both having already raced on the full circuit, albeit in machines from a bygone era. Shaun Lynn is buzzing ahead of the race week, a lifelong ambition about to be realised. Roger Wills, too, is thoroughly looking forward to the race; he comes to Le Mans on the back of a class win last year at the Spa 24 Hours with Jota AMR. This trio won’t be the fastest, but they don’t have to be – consistency could just be the key.

CRS Racing

And it could be the key, too, to progress for the No.63 Proton Competition Porsche 911 GT3-RSR effort. This is another team with a three car effort at Le Mans, and another full season ILMC effort, astonishingly, the only Porsche on the ILMC entry! Horst Felbermayr Jr, Horst Felbermayr Snr and Christian Ried are in charge of the fastest company car in the world and, whilst none will trouble the GTE Pro runners, they all know how to bring home a GT car in good order – they can finish, and if they do they’ll finish well.

The No.68 Robertson Racing Doran-Ford GT will, however good or otherwise its pace, be a major fan favourite. The classic Ford GT-looks still stir the emotions of all endurance enthusiasts with a pulse and so too does the sound of a barely silenced Ford V8. The husband and wife combo of David and Andrea Robertson deserve a sporting medal for their commitment to this programme. Their reserve listed ‘Pro’ car was shipped over for the test, too, and the level of investment and backroom resource pumped into their team would put some factory backed teams to shame. A post-test reshuffle sees David Murry back on board with the bosses; he’ll be quick, too, and, with the car having been allowed to breathe a little more easily since the Test Day, he might just get in amongst the middle order GTE Pros. But reliability, consistency and luck are going to be the winning combination in GTE Am, and somehow the Ford looks less likely than some to be dealt that particular hand.

Two left, and both come from very well-established GT racing teams. Flying Lizard Motorsport are well used to running a two car effort, but not here. 2011 sees them with both of their 997s at Le Mans, with Seth Neiman very pleased indeed that the ‘Am’ category gives him a chance of battling for a meaningful honour. He’ll be helped in no small measure by regular team-mate Darren Law and Lizards and Le Mans newcomer Spencer Pumpelly. This is a potentially pacey looking effort – if Lizard’s famously dreadful run of luck at Le Mans reverses, this could be set for a run at the podium or better.

Finally, the JMB Racing team arrives with the ex AF Corse Sebring pole-setting 430, now redubbed JMB’s No.83 effort.The very rapid Nicolas Marroc, already an LMS class pole-setter (in a Hope Racing FLM Oreca), joins this effort and will be very quick indeed. Nicolas Menahem and Manuel Rodrigues provide the ‘Am’ credentials and both are capable of reliability. Much will depend on their consistency, and that of Marroc. There’s little here, though, that suggests that JMB will be also-rans come Sunday afternoon.

10 cars with not much between them in the GTE Am class looks likely to see some exciting racing. Experience could be the key at the end of the race so look out for AF Corse and Flying Lizards to near the front.

Graham Goodwin
Graham is the editor of www.dailysportscar.com and is part of the Radio Le Mans crew