Le Mans GTE-Pro wide open

February 13, 2018

Le Mans GTE-Pro wide open

February 13, 2018

Five different manufacturers have won the last five GTE-Pro races at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

That makes predicting this year’s race anyone’s guess.

Porsche kicked off the run of parity with a dominant victory in 2013, in the first year with its previous generation Porsche 911 RSR. Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz and Romain Dumas’ win in this class set the stage for Porsche’s eventual return to overall glory in the race from 2015 through 2017.

In 2014, Ferrari seized the mantle with the trio of Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander winning in an AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia for the second time in three years.

Corvette Racing scored an emotional and dramatic win in 2015. Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor outlasted the class field in an attrition-heavy year.

This was Corvette’s lone car in the race after an accident in qualifying took the sister car out of the race. It cost the trio of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Ryan Briscoe a chance to sweep all of Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans in the same year. But with the second Corvette coming through to the flag, it ensured the team achieved that feat.

The 2016 race will forever go down in Le Mans lore as the year Ford returned, and conquered, the class with its new Ford GT. An authoritative performance saw the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team finish first, third and fourth to fulfill the manufacturer’s stated objective of matching its 1966 win with the GT40, 50 years later. On this occasion, it was Dirk Mueller, Joey Hand and Le Mans native Sebastien Bourdais who were top dogs among the Ford contingent.

Then last year, Aston Martin Racing and Corvette Racing dueled to the finish with the two oldest cars in the class. Jonny Adam in the venerable Aston Martin Vantage V8 pressured Taylor into a late-race mistake, and captured the lead on the final lap. Adam shared his car with Darren Turner and Daniel Serra, while Taylor limped his wounded Corvette home to third place.

So how does one begin to predict the 2018 race?

The first step comes with a look at the entry list, which was revealed last week and features a spectacular 17-car grid in GTE-Pro, all of whom are Michelin technical partner teams.

Defending winners Aston Martin are back with two entirely new cars. The new Vantage GTE is the sleeker successor to the old car, switches from Dunlop to Michelin and shifts a couple drivers around its lineup.

A new fluorescent lime yellow livery replaces the trademark Aston Martin British racing green for the new challenger, which has now clocked up more than 10,500 miles of testing over the winter. With further preparation to come, Aston Martin will not go quietly in trying to defend its title.

Corvette also has two cars, with its usual determination to succeed as it prepares for its 19th run at Le Mans in its 20th season of professional sports car competition.

BMW is back in the class for the first time since 2011. The MTEK team will run the pair of new M8 GTEs to provide a sixth manufacturer to the stacked class.

AF Corse will look to deliver the Ferrari 488 GTE its first Le Mans GTE-Pro win with three pro cars, a deviation from normal. Its two usual FIA World Endurance Championship challengers will no doubt contend and a third car, which should draw from Ferrari’s immense factory talent pool, adds strength in numbers.

The two manufacturers that have stacked the deck though are Ford and Porsche, each with four cars split perfectly two apiece between their U.S. and FIA WEC efforts. Porsche, now having withdrawn from LMP1, is fully focused on returning to the top of the GTE-Pro field. Ford, meanwhile, remains a consistent threat and will look to do in 2018 what they haven’t done in 2016 or 2017: win both 24-hour races at Daytona and Le Mans in the same year.

It’s only February, but it’s already tantalizing to think about what’s to come in June.

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