During the upcoming build up to Le Mans, Mark Atkins has been taking us through the runners and riders continuing now onto the GTE PRO field.
Corvette Racing (#64) Corvette C7
A surprising quickest GT car at the test was the Chevy Corvette, the IMSA squad making their annual trip across the Atlantic for Le Mans. This year, Audi’s Marcel Fässler returns to the team for the first time since God was a boy, I can’t recall him driving anything other than an Audi to be honest! IMSA regulars Olly Gavin (the third driver here called Oliver) whose speed is never in doubt and Tommy Milner make up the three drivers. Although getting a bit long in the tooth the car is still a force to be reckoned with.
Porsche GT Team (#91) Porsche 911 RSR
A brand new car configuration for the factory Porsche team this year, the mid-engined 911 RSR debuted at Daytona in January where it would have won GT-LM had it not been for the weather. The driver line-up leaves nothing open, along with Patrick Pilet both Richard Lietz and Fred Mackowiecki have the inherent speed and experience to make this car a favourite for class victory.
Porsche GT Team (#92)
Much the same can be said about the sister car, however these guys have had an awful run of bad luck (including a fire at Silverstone) which leaves them last in the GT PRO class. A good result is vital in the double points race at Le Mans. The drivers are just as good as those in the #91, Porsche picking its drivers carefully, so expect a tight battle with their team mates.
Corvette Racing (#63) Corvette C7
Sandwiching the two Porsches is the other factory ‘Vette’ with ‘Kevin Magnussen’s dad’ Jan, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor. A steady if unspectacular run at the test bodes well for a good result in the race, the evergreen pair of Magnussen/Garcia as popular as ever.
Aston Martin Racing (#95) Aston Martin Vantage
No complete “Dane train” this year but two out of three ain’t bad! Currently lying in sixth in the GT PRO standings, the reigning class champions Nicki Thiim (son of Kurt) and Marco Sørensen will be keen to impress in the race, and in Kiwi Richie Stanaway they have a super fast pedaller to boot. Aston will be desperate to win the class again and these three might just be the ones to do it.
Aston Martin Racing (#97) Aston Martin Vantage
The proven duo of Darren Turner and Jonny Adam head up the #97 crew, but Fernando Rees has been unfathomably dropped in favour of rookie Daniel Serra. The Brazilian is undoubtedly quick but will need to show an error-free race, especially with two illustrious team-mates. However Serra has been testing the Dunlop tyres as the manufacturer’s official test driver so this will undoubtedly prove to be a huge asset to the team. Like the #95, these guys will be keen to give the Vantage what might be one final shot at victory.
AF Corse (#71) Ferrari 488 GTE
Top Ferrari at the test was the #71 AF Corse machine, the BoP not quite fully equalizing the pace of the different cars. Sam Bird and Davide Rigon continue for a second season and are joined by ex-DTM drover Miguel Molina, who is on loan from the sister team Spirit of Race. Another team to be blighted by bad luck in the previous WEC rounds, the big disaster being the last-lap clash at Silverstone with the AM #99 Aston. If the BoP is kind to the Ferraris then a win might be on the cards.
AF Corse (#51) Ferrari 488 GTE
The sister car to the #71 was less than half a second behind at the test, so expect a close battle between the two. Alessandro Pier Guidi replaces Porsche-bound Gianmaria Bruni with Briton James Calado and ex-Audi man Lucas Di Grassi joining him. Di Grassi in particular will be under scrutiny in his GT debut in the WEC. Again, BoP will decide the overall competitiveness of the Ferraris.
Risi Competitzione (#82) Ferrari 488 GTE
The only true privateer in the GT PRO class, Risi return to Le Mans with the proven trio of Vilander/Kaffer/Fisichella, and a years’ experience with the 488 GTE. Despite not having full factory backing they have performed well in the WEC and will be well up with the factory Ferraris during the race.
Chip Ganassi USA (#69) Ford GT
Ford had a tough time at the test, the best of them being three seconds off the leading GT time. Part of this can be attributed to the floating BoP but there seems to be more behind it than just that. The Ford drivers are undoubtedly first class, Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe needing no introduction. Kiwi Scott Dixon missed the test due to IndyCar commitments, so his first taste of the 2017 car will come on Wednesday evening. It’ll be a struggle however if Ford is to repeat its 2016 victory.
Chip Ganassi UK (#67) Ford GT
The sister car is the first of the WEC Fords at the test, the #67 currently leading the GT PRO points standings thanks to a brilliant victory at Spa. The three drivers are possibly Ford’s strongest, Andy Prialux is at the top of his game, Harry Tincknell as fast as ever he was and Pipo Derani adapting well after two seasons with ESM in P2. Once again, BoP will decide all, rather than the skill of the men behind the wheel.
Chip Ganassi USA (#68) Ford GT
A last minute switch seeks Tony Kanaan make his Le Mans début in place of Sébastien Bourdais, who was injured in a horrific crash during qualifying for the Indy 500. Kanaan missed the test due to racing in the Detroit GP, but has with him Daytona 24 Hours winners Joey Hand and Dirk Müller, so will be able to rely on their experience during qualifying and the race.
Chip Ganassi UK (#66) Ford GT
The slowest Ford GT at the test was in the hands of Olivier Pla, Stefan Mücke and Billy Johnson, so presumably the BoP played a significant part in this.