A tale of 22 Cars & 3 Manufacturers…
For 2020, the GTE Am field swells to a field of 22 cars, the highest number of cars ever seen in the class, surpassing the previous high of 17 cars. While the number of cars has risen, the level of variety in the field has fallen, with Ben Keating having retired his Ford GT from competitive racing, bringing back the number of manufacturers in the field to just 3.
As with most years, the GTE Am field is dominated by a mix of Ferraris and Porsches, with a handful of Aston Martins. This year’s 22 car field comprises of 12 Ferrari 488 GTE Evos, 8 Porsche 911 RSRs, and 2 Aston Martin Vantage GTEs. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic leading to travel restrictions worldwide, the GTE Am class continues to see entrants from all over gathering at Le Mans to compete.
#52 | Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| ELMS | Steffen Görig, Christoph Ulrich, Alexander West |
Q: 22nd (No time)
#54 | Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| WEC | Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci, Giancarlo Fisichella |
Q: 10th (3:54.144)
#83| Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| WEC | Francois PERRODO, Emmanuel Collard, Nicklas Nielsen | Q: 7th (3:53.621)
For 2020, AF Corse, Ferrari’s GTE Pro partner team, launches a 3 car assault in the GTE Am ranks under its own name, with the team having the #52 car from the ELMS, while the #54 and #83 cars are from the WEC. While the team is better known for its works GTE Pro effort, it is no stranger to GTE Am, having previously run the operations of Clearwater Racing, and also entering it’s own cars in the GTE Am class.
The #52 crew is carried over from #51 car in the ELMS, with Alexander West rejoining Steffen Görig and Christoph Ulrich after missing the Le Castellet 240. The #54 car sees the 2018 Le Mans runner-up driver crew return to contend for victory, this time under the AF Corse banner.
Spirit of Race
#55 | Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| ELMS | Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin & Aaron Scott |
Q: 14th (3:55.772)
The Swiss flagged squad returns to Le Mans for a fourth time to bid for glory, this time with a fresh lineup of drivers. The #54 car is now under AF Corse, while the #55 car which was run in 2017 makes a return, with Duncan Cameron reunited with longtime driving partner Aaron Scott. The duo are joined by Matt Griffin, the long-time AF Corse man acting as the lead driver in the lineup.
Team Project 1
#56 | Porsche 911 RSR| WEC | Matteo Cairoli, Egidio Perfetti, Larry ten Voorde | Q: 6th (3:53.598)
#57 | Porsche 911 RSR| WEC | Jeroen Bleekemolen, Felipe Fraga, Ben Keating | Q: 9th (3:53.838)
#89 | Porsche 911 RSR| nil| “Steve Brooks”, Julien Piguet, Andreas Laskaratos| Q: 20th (4:00.691)
Team Project 1 returns to Le Mans, this time with a three-car assault, comprising of 2 cars from it’s WEC campaign (#56, #57), and an additional car (#89), following its victory at Le Mans last year.
The #56 car, which won the race after the original GTE Am winner, the #85 Keating Motorsports Ford GT was disqualified, sees a vastly different driver lineup this year. The now-retired Porsche factory driver Jörg Bergmeister has been replaced by Porsche Young Professional Matteo Cairoli, while Patrick Lindsey has been replaced by 2020 Porsche Supercup champion Larry ten Voorde. Le Mans will be the first race in the #56 car for ten Voorde, who replaces Laurents Hörr in the lineup. ten Voorde had previously stood in for Felipe Fraga in the #57 car on 2 occasions.
The #57 car sees the #85 Keating Motorsports crew, who won the race last year on the road prior to their disqualification, reunited. Ben Keating is joined by long-time IMSA co-driver Jeroen Bleekemolen & former Stock Car Brazil Champion Felipe Fraga, who served as the third driver for Keating during the 2019 Michelin Pilot Cup rounds of the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.
The #89 car sees a lineup of all-bronze drivers, with Philippe Haezebrouck competing under the alias of “Steve Brooks”, Andreas Laskaratos and Julien Piguet. Expectations are not high for the #89, given the all-bronze nature of this lineup, but never say never, for Le Mans is an endurance race, where anything can happen!
#60 | Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| ELMS | Claudio Schiavoni, Sergio Pianezzola, Paolo Ruberti| Q: 19th (3:57.876)
#75 | Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| Nil | Rino Mastronadi, Matteo Cressoni, Andrea Piccini |
Q: 15th (3:56.141)
#85 | Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| ELMS | Manuela Gostner, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting |
Q: 18th (3:56.833)
Iron Lynx arrives at Le Mans for the first time, supported by AF Corse. The Italian flagged squad makes it’s debut with a 3 car entry comprising of it’s 2 ELMS entries, including the all-female Iron Maiden crew in the #85 car, and an additional Le Mans only entry in the #75 car.
The team’s debut at Le Mans appears to be off to a rocky start, with all 3 cars far off the pace of the pace in GTE Am, coming in at the back of the pack. The team’s one-lap pace appears to be poor when compared to the other Ferrari teams in the GTE Am class, with the 3 cars coming in as the 3 slowest Ferraris in qualifying.
#61 | Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| ELMS | Francesco Piovanetti, Oswaldo Ngeri, Come Ledogar| Q: 4th (3:53.292)
Luzich Racing is yet another debutant at Le Mans running in the GTE Am ranks, with the American owned but Swiss flagged outfit earning it’s debut, courtesy of an invite from the ACO after winning the 2019 ELMS GTE title.
Luzich Racing performed well in qualifying, scoring 4th and emerging as the fastest Ferrari in the GTE Am ranks, to earn a spot in the Hyperpole session to determine the top 6 for the GTE Am grid for the race. Given the strong one-lap pace demonstrated by the #61 crew, the debutants could potentially be podium contenders for the race, barring any dramas for the team.
Red River Sport
#62 | Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| WEC |Bonamy Grimes, Johnny Mowlem, Charles Hollings| Q: 19th (4:00.084)
Red River Sport is yet another debutant at Le Mans running in the GTE Am ranks, with the British squad entering a lone Ferrari 488 GTE Evo, operated by AF Corse. Coming into the race week, expectations were not high, given the performance of the British squad thus far in the WEC season, the crew last in the WEC standings, having failed to finish higher than 8th in the GTE Am standings at any race.
With the #62 being so far down the order, it is unlikely to see the team score a podium, and finishing the race would be something for the team to cheer about on it’s debut. That said, never say never, for Le Mans is an endurance race, where anything can happen!
#66 | Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| ELMS |Richard Heistand, Jan Magnussen, Max Root |
Q: 16th (3:56.383)
2017 GTE Am winners and 2019 GTE Am runner-ups, JMW Motorsport return to Le Mans once more, sporting a fresh lineup of drivers. Headlining the team’s lineup is ex-Corvette factory driver Jan Magnussen, with the Dane joined by 2 Le Mans rookies, in the form of 2019 Bob Akin Award winner Richard Heistand and rising star Max Root. The team’s qualifying result of 16th is most certainly disappointing for the team, which had been GTE Am front runners in previous years.
This result was perhaps inevitable, however, with all 3 drivers having limited experience in the 488 GTE, and travel restrictions caused by COVID-19, alongside the cancellation of the Le Mans testing not helping the situation. For tomorrow’s race, the team’s goal will be to focus on attaining a respectable result from 16th on the GTE Am grid, by ensuring a clean race for the car.
#70 | Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| WEC | Takeshi Kimura, Vincent Abril, Kei Cozzolino|
Q: 12th (3:54.628)
MR Racing returns to Le Mans once more, with the #70 Ferrari 488 GTE seeing a refreshed lineup that sees Kei Cozzolino being the sole driver from last year to remain in the lineup. Takeshi Kimura, Vincent Abril replace Eddie Cheever III and Oliver Beretta as Cozzolino’s driving partners.
Third time lucky? Maybe, but probably not. The #70 starts in the GTE Am mid-pack, which would most certainly allow the team to have a respectable finish, barring any mid-race dramas, but a race win or podium does not appear to be likely. Then again, Le Mans is a 24 Hour Endurance Race, and anything can happen…
Hub Auto Racing
#72 | Ferrari 488 GTE Evo| AsLMS |Morris Chen, Tom Blomqvist, Marcos Gomes| Q: 13th (3:55.308)
Taiwanese team Hub Auto Racing makes it’s Le Mans debut, courtesy of it’s Asian Le Mans Series GT title. The team’s qualifying performance has been a surprise, with the team coming in 13th, beating out much more experienced European teams who have run the 488 GTE Evo in the ELMS or WEC.
The race also marks the team’s first foray into GTE Am and GTE machinery, a step up from the GT3 machinery the team runs in Asia. A good target for the team during the race would be to achieve a respectable finish, given the team’s unfamiliarity with GTE spec machinery.
Dempsey-Proton Racing/Proton Competition
#77 | Porsche 911 RSR| WEC (DPR)|Christian Ried, Riccardo Pera, Matt Campbell| Q: 5th (3:53.334)
#78 | Porsche 911 RSR| ELMS (PC) |Horst Felbermayr Jr, Michele Beretta, Max van Splunteren| Q: 17th (3:56.475)
#88 | Porsche 911 RSR| WEC (DPR) |Thomas Preining, Dominique Bastien, Adrien De Leener|
Q: 11th (3:54.281)
#99 | Porsche 911 RSR| ELMS (DPR)|Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak, Lucas Légeret, Julien PIGUET|Q: 8th (3:53.670)
Christian Reid’s Proton outfit is one of the biggest in the field this year, the team bringing a 4 Porsche 911 RSRs to the GTE Am class. Proton has established itself as a top team in the GTE Am ranks, with the team having strong performances across the years. However, the team had to endure a mixed qualifying, which saw the #77 barely scrape into the hyperpole shootout, while the #99 just missed out on the session. Things however, were less than rosy in the sole Proton Compeititon entered car, the #78 qualifying far down the order.
The #77 sees it’s 2019 Le Mans lineup retained, while the remaining cars see a fresh lineup of drivers. Expect the #77 to be the lead Proton car on track tomorrow, with the “surprise package” #99 not too far behind, trailed by the #88 car. Given the large pace deficit to the rest of the Proton cars, expect the #78 to fall behind it’s sister cars.
#86 | Porsche 911 RSR| WEC |Michael Wainwright, Benjamin Barker, Andrew Watson|
Q: 3rd (3:52.970)
Gulf Racing returns to Le Mans, quite possibly for the last time under its existing name, after Gulf Oil ended its sponsorship agreement ahead of the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship. The #86 car sees Michael Wainwright and Benjamin Barker return, with a new driving partner in the form of Andrew Watson, replacing Thomas Preining.
The team achieved a top 3 qualifying position ahead of the hyperpole shootout, demonstrating strong one-lap pace, which could most certainly come in handy on race day. Expect to see the team to be competitive on race day, and barring any drama on track, the team could potentially be a podium finisher or race-wnning.
#90 | Aston Martin Vantage AMR| WEC |Salih Yoluc, Charles Eastwood, Jonathan Adam| Q: 2nd (3:52.961)
Will 2020 finally see a change in fortune for TF Sport at Le Mans? The 2020 edition of the race sees TF Sport put in their best performance yet, with 2nd on the grid ahead of the hyperpole session to determine the final starting grid. The British squad has never finished higher than 7th at Le Mans, or qualified near the front of the GTE Am pack.
While on paper this puts the car in contention for a podium, or even victory on Sunday, barring any mid-race dramas, one thing could certainly put a stop to this. A 3 letter acronym that is often fraught with controversy in the GTE classes: BoP. The factory #98 Aston Martin managed to pull clear of the fastest non-Aston Martin by nearly 2 tenths, which may be enough to trigger a BoP adjustment to peg back both Astons. Past instances of pre-race/post-qualifying BoP changes have seen dramatic performance implications for cars, which could easily ruin the race for any affected car..
Aston Martin Racing
#98 | Aston Martin Vantage AMR| WEC |Paul Dalla Lana, Ross Gunn, Agusto Farfus| Q: 1st (3:52.778)
The factory Aston Martin Racing team competes in the GTE Am ranks once more for the eighth consecutive year, with a single car for Paul Dalla Lana alongside it’s 2 other GTE Pro entries. For this year, the #98 sees a refreshed driver crew, with Ross Gunn and Augusto Farfus replacing Dalla Lana’s longtime driving partners Pedro Lamy and Matthias Lauda.
The #98 Vantage AMR had a strong showing in qualifying, coming in on provisional pole ahead of the Hyperpole shoot-out for qualifying. While on paper this puts the car in contention for victory on Sunday, barring any mid-race dramas, as mentioned earlier, given the gap to the rest of the GTE Am pack, some pre-race BoP adjustments could see the Am class Vantages slowed down…
How great the impact of slowing down the cars ahead of the race will be is an unknown until race day, but past instances have always seen drastic performance implications for the affected cars…