GTE Pro is back with a vengeance
Last weekend’s World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) / European Le Mans Series (ELMS) double-header at Silverstone, in racing terms, was a huge success. Both series four-hour races were exciting from start to finish and included changeable weather conditions and class wins being decided in the closing laps.
Arguably the most intriguing battle of them all came in the GTE Pro class in Sunday’s FIA WEC race. Aston Martin, Porsche and Ferrari were all in contention for the class win until the final hour of the race.
On the newly-resurfaced Silverstone circuit, the racing was fast and frantic. Across the weekend all WEC class Qualifying and Race lap records were shattered and drivers and teams alike gave positive feedback. In the GTE Pro class this change to the circuit threw up an interesting variable in race strategy. Heading into the weekend AF Corse selected soft and medium compound Michelin tyres, while Porsche and Aston Martin opted for the medium and hard selections. In practice this kept the race close and created a game of cat and mouse.
Once the wet weather had passed by the halfway mark, it was down to the drivers in with a chance to push as hard as possible to score the first victory of the season. AF Corse changed its tyres at each stop, while Porsche and Aston Martin were able to double stint. This meant that at each round of stops they gained a time advantage, and spent each stint trying to fend off the sole remaining hard-charging No.51 488 GTE EVO of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi which was on fresher rubber.
There were plenty of door-to-door battles, but on this occasion, AF Corse lost out to a safety car infringement which forced the organisers to dish out a drive-through penalty to the No.51 car. This meant that AF Corse dropped from the lead, to fourth in class, and was unable to rely on its second car (which retired after a collision with a Team LNT Ginetta) to pick up the pieces. This gifted Porsche a 1-2 finish to start the season, with Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni in the No.91 911 RSR 19 leading home the No.92 example. It was a dream debut for Porsche’s new chassis, which has been tasked with defending the marque’s FIA World GTE Manufacturer’s crown this season.
Aston Martin completed the podium and seemed far more competitive on home soil with the Vantage AMR than it did last season. While it wasn’t quite the home-town success some in the garage had hoped for, a third place finish to kick off its second campaign with the current-spec Vantage is far from disappointing.
All this proved that, in metaphorical terms, you only need two cars to make a race. Losing Ford and BMW was a blow to WEC, financially in particular, but right there, in the opening race of the season, we saw a far more entertaining ‘battle of the brands’ than we did at any point during the ‘Super Season’. With fewer cars it’s easier to manage Balance of Performance, and with all three marques more eager than ever to collect wins and triumph at Le Mans, this season has all the makings of a classic between three sportscar giants, that will tide us over before the cavalry arrives in the top class next season.
Speaking of the top class, Toyota scored a 1-2, but the privateers were closer than ever before over the course of a race. All four challengers finished off the lead lap, but mainly down to errors and minor mechanical issues. Rebellion’s third-place-finishing No.3 R-13 was on the lead lap until late on, and Team LNT’s Ginetta’s were able to muster up-front-running pace at times. Once the ‘Success Handicap’ comes into play, it will only get closer, and that starts with Fuji, where the other classes, LMP2 and GTE Am included, promise to provide plenty of action in the WEC’s first six-hour race of the season.
Which of the many storylines in the paddock will make the headline next time out? At this point it’s impossible to tell, which is exactly what the FIA WEC needs.
Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar