Significant IMSA and U.S. presence in GTE-Am’s field

June 12, 2018

Significant IMSA and U.S. presence in GTE-Am’s field

June 12, 2018

The GTE-Am class at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans features a wealth of drivers and teams who race in America or have achieved success in IMSA.

Beyond the nine full-season cars in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the four extra cars in class at Le Mans all feature significant ties to the U.S.

FERRARI’S PAIR OF VETERANS

Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen have carved out a path as one of IMSA’s most successful pro-am pairings. Driving for Bill Riley’s team, the pair have won races and contended for titles both with Dodge and now Mercedes-AMG.

At Le Mans, Keating, Bleekemolen and Luca Stolz will share the No. 85 Ferrari 488 GTE as one of IMSA’s invited “at large” entries. The entry is a joint effort between Keating Motorsports and Risi Competizione, which returns to action at Le Mans for its first race since the first two IMSA races at Daytona and Sebring.

Rick Mayer is Risi’s race engineer. He explains how different the strategy and planning is to run a GTE-Am entry, versus a GTE-Pro one.

“There are some significant differences between GTE-Pro and GTE-Am in the way you approach the event and how the race is run and won. In GTE-Am the only real strategy is in driver rotation; that’s not all science as the weather conditions play a significant part in this,” he says.

“In GTE-Am the drivers play the most significant role in the outcome of the race and more specifically the Bronze driver. To win you need to be the best at minimizing the effect of the Bronze driver. The Bronze driver needs to drive when the lap time difference to the Pro is minimized. A simple concept but so many variables make it difficult to get it right.”

Another pair with experience co-driving together are Americans Jeff Segal and Cooper MacNeil. They’ll share the No. 84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari with Liam Griffin.

Segal is a past Le Mans class winner (2016), and MacNeil a podium finisher (2017) in GTE-Am. They achieved these results with the Scuderia Corsa team, who they race with in IMSA. Scuderia Corsa did not receive a race entry to Le Mans this year.

Instead, MacNeil and Segal will drive for the team that won the GTE-Am class last year, JMW. JMW had an entirely different lineup with Dries Vanthoor, Will Stevens and Robert Smith sharing the car.

MacNeil and Bleekemolen actually completed an “iron man” two-driver race at Le Mans in 2014. Their third driver got injured pre-race and they couldn’t find a similarly rated replacement driver for GTE-Am. So they moved up a class to GTE-Pro and ran the 24 hours themselves. A year later, MacNeil got ill and couldn’t drive himself.

So when MacNeil made the podium last year for the first time, he was overjoyed.

“For me to see that and to have that experience was truly amazing,” MacNeil recalls (via IMSA Wire). “I actually didn’t even want to get off the podium. They had to grab me and pull me off to do whatever else they were doing. I’m really looking forward to getting back there and hopefully standing on that podium there.”

Both these Ferraris will feature WeatherTech sponsorship, The Keating/Risi No. 85 car is red with white accents, while the JMW No. 84 car is white with black accents.

MORE IMSA PRESENCE IN PORSCHES

There are more Americans present in the two extra Porsche 911 RSRs in this class.

Wright Motorsports’ IMSA pairing of Christina Nielsen and Patrick Long will both race at Le Mans. But they’ll drive in two different cars!

Nielsen will share the No. 80 Ebimotors Porsche with Erik Maris and Fabio Babini. The team won the GT3 class in the Michelin Le Mans Cup last year, to gain its entry. This will be her third Le Mans start.

I couldn’t imagine a little rain would dampen @christinaracing’s #Lemas24.

A post shared by Spencer Pumpelly (@spencer_pumpelly) on

Long, meanwhile, will be in the No. 99 Proton Competition Porsche with Spencer Pumpelly and Tim Pappas. This is the only all-American driver lineup on the grid. Long makes his 15th straight Le Mans start, Pumpelly his fourth overall and Pappas his first. This is Long’s sixth straight year in a Proton-entered Porsche at Le Mans.

Black Swan Racing has tackled some of the world’s most incredible endurance races, including the Bathurst 12 Hour, and now makes its Le Mans debut.

“This has been a long sought-after opportunity, and I couldn’t be more excited to be part of such a strong program,” Pappas said. “Putting together an All-American lineup isn’t just something I wanted to do from a pure PR standpoint, I’m fortunate to have two teammates that are some of the best in the business, which I wouldn’t compromise on.

“Spencer is one of the best sportscar drivers in the U.S., and with his Le Mans experience he should slot in well, and of course Patrick Long’s reputation speaks for itself.

“Between the two of them, we should have a wealth of knowledge coming in, and with the support of Proton Competition we have an excellent program headed in to June. I’m really appreciative of not only everyone within the organization, but of course Porsche Motorsport as well.”

With Park Place Motorsports’ Joerg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey also at Le Mans, part of Team Project 1’s lineup for its debut, there are a lot of familiar faces we’ll keep an eye on this week. Team Project 1 is a full-season WEC entrant.

All these teams have selected Michelin as their tire partner for the race.

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