This week we are looking at the Le Mans 24H GTE PRO class, and who is likely to do what in the forthcoming duel at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Last week we stuck our neck out and predicted a Porsche win in the LMP1 class, so let us examine who stands out in the tightly contested manufacturer GT class.
Firstly, we have fourteen cars in the Le Mans 24H GTE PRO class this year, compared with just nine in 2015. The extra cars come in the form of four Ford GTs and an extra Porsche 911 RSR, this being the #77 Dempsey Proton car which is being supported by the factory for the whole season. Porsche have elected to compete with a pair of factory 911 RSRs of their own at Le Mans, but this is the only race they will be competing in officially as their new RSR-replacement will only be ready in 2017.
The rest of the competitors in the Le Mans 24H GTE PRO class will be made up of two Ferrari 488 GTE cars, two Aston Martin Vantages, and a pair of Corvette C7.Rs. So far this year, the #71 Ferrari of Davide Rigon/Sam Bird has won both of the first two rounds at Silverstone and Spa, so there are no prizes for guessing which team is highly motivated. The #51 Ferrari of Bruni/Calado was second at Silverstone and was leading at Spa when it blew its engine five laps from the end.
This brought the Ford GT into the picture, because the #67 car finished second at Spa when the Ferrari retired in the closing stages. But if one remembers, the two Fords were glued together for most of the Silverstone race finishing fourth and fifth, which tells you that their reliability is strong. Could we see a classic Ford/Ferrari clash once again at Le Mans, reminiscent of the 1960s? Alright, it isn’t with prototypes, but there will be four Fords at Le Mans. I hope it will result in a classic tussle, because it would be wonderful to watch.
The #95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim/Marco Sørensen/Darren Turner finished third in class at Silverstone, with their team mates Richie Stanaway/Fernando Rees/Jonathan Adam in the #97 car finishing third at Spa. The #95 car was hit by another competitor at Spa during the second hour after the team had moved up from sixth to fourth place, so the car seemed to be going well at the time. One can therefore deduce that, mechanically, both of the Aston Martins are also looking strong and reliable in the season so far, and will snatch any chance they get to move into the top three.
This leaves just the two works Porsches which have not raced this year and the two factory Corvettes which also have not raced in Europe so far this season, which means that both manufacturers are unknown quantities at this stage. Neither of these two marques will lie down and roll over in a fight, and as Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser told the author at Silverstone, he has ‘unfinished business at Le Mans,’ after last year’s disappointing finish. The two factory RSRs have been prepared to 2016 spec which means they have slightly bigger air restrictors (2x 30.3mm compared with 2x 29.6mm last year), and they have a revised rear wing and a bigger rear diffuser. This translates into the word ‘danger’ for any competitor who thinks these Porsches will be a push-over. The #91 car will be driven by Patrick Pilet/Kevin Estre/Nick Tandy, while the #92 car is to be piloted by Earl Bamber/Frédéric Makowiecki/Joerg Bergmeister.
Last but by no means least, the Corvette teams for Le Mans will be largely familiar to most. Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor will drive the #64 Corvette C7.R, while the #63 car will be in the hands of Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Ricky Taylor. The Taylor brothers race together in the USA in a Corvette DP team run by their father, Wayne Taylor, himself a veteran of many Le Mans races. The Corvettes opened their account State-side with a first and second finish in the GTLM class at Daytona, and this was followed up with a first and ninth place finish in class at the Sebring 12 Hours. Although the Corvettes are class points leaders in GTLM over in the US, Le Mans will be their first European race of the season.
Of the five manufacturers in the Le Mans 24H GTE PRO class, they all have a strong chance of winning their class at Le Mans in June. We stuck our neck out by predicting a winner in LMP1, but the GTE PRO class is a really difficult one to call, so much so that those lucky enough to work in VMP Towers were split on this possible outcome. As a result, the best that we do is to predict that the potential class winner will come from either the Ferrari camp or the Porsche camp.
There it is, we have said our piece…next week we will look at the GTE AM class, and it is no easier there either!
Written by: Glen Smale