Luxury Racing's 458 Italia at Sebring (Photo Credit: DPPI Media)

Luxury Racing's 458 Italia at Sebring (Photo Credit: DPPI Media)

For several seasons around the turn of the last decade LMGTE (nee LMGT2) was the most competitive and numerous class in any ACO regulation racing – the ALMS' category arguably the strongest of all, and certainly the most varied of all.

However, over the last few years the class has undergone several changes. After the demise of LMGT1 in 2010, the GT2 field got a new name – and was split into two classes, one for Pro drivers and one aimed at teams featuring amateur wheelmen. In truth it was a divide that existed within GT2 for several years, and the split only gave the amateur drivers a better chance , or actually a chance as the increasingly factory backed lead teams moved further and further clear, of victory.

Aston Martin return to GT racing as a factory effort this year, but BMW depart – the company focussing its racing efforts on battling Mercedes and Audi in DTM. As a result – plus the lack of recent visitors Spyker, Ford and Jaguar – the GTE ranks, both Pro and Am, are less varied.

Instead LMGTEPro is a distilled, concentrated version of the top ranks of GT2, with four manufacturers represented by factory or factory supported teams boasting a host of top GT and endurance racing talent.

On the strength of Spa and Sebring  Ferrari have the strongest cars, but in terms of best driving staff there is very little to choose between Ferrari, Porsche and Corvette.   

#51 – AF Corse – Ferrari 458 Italia
Gianmaria Bruni/Giancarlo Fisichella/Toni Vilander

The latest spec of the 458 Italia has the measure of the GTEPro field on pace alone and AF Corse, long the leader of Ferrari's customer racing GT teams, have three drivers that can contend for the win. Last year after the end of his time in F1 – in a short and unsuccessful spell at Ferrari in lieu of Felipe Massa – Fisichella quickly came to terms with endurance racing with Le Mans Series podiums. Now after a year and a half of  GT racing behind him Fisichella cannot be considered a weak link in a very strong line-up beside Finn Vilander and Brazilian Bruni, both of whom have copious Ferrari experience with teams based on both sides of the Atlantic.
Prediction: Winner    

#59 – Luxury Racing – Ferrari 458 Italia
Dominik Farnbacher/Fred Makowiecki/Jaime Melo

They started 2011 as an unfamiliar name drawn in by the ILMC, but Luxury Racing have become an established Ferrari team and come to Le Mans with a promising line-up. Makowiecki, whose racing past is rooted in the sprint GT series of GT1 and GT3 cars, proved his pace with class pole position at Spa, though a spin on the greasy formation lap rendered that null and void. Again he combines with experienced Ferrari man Melo, a double LMGT2 Le Mans champ with Risi Competizione. New for 2012 is Farnbacher, who brings more Ferrari and Le Mans history with him after several years in a Hankook shod car. Luxury's single effort has the capability to mix with the two AF Corse cars, likely splitting them on race pace.
Prediction: Podium

#66 – JMW Motorsport – Ferrari 458 Italia
Jonny Cocker/James Walker/Roger Wills

Something of LMGTEAm line-up stuck in LMGTEPro with historic racing regular Wills alongside Cocker and Walker, who won the class at Paul Ricard as a twosome. The Essex based teams are an established team at Le Mans, racing the old Ferrari 430, before a single year in an Aston Martin and a return to Ferrari last year. However, in the new streamlined LMGTEPro class, where they are largely alone in not receiving factory support they are unlikely to feature.
Prediction: DNF

#71 – AF Corse – Ferrari 458 Italia
Olivier Beretta/Andrea Bertolini/Marco Cioci

Despite the presence of reigning Le Mans winner Beretta and multiple FIA GT champion Bertolini this is very much the second of AF Corse's two cars, not because of any weakness here but more the strength of the lead #51 entry. Cioci is experienced enough, joining AF Corse for last season's Le Mans and ILMC campaigns. With the strength of the 458 and AF Corse behind them they should be capable of running for podium, but they are the most vulnerable Ferrari to assembled Corvettes and Porsches.
Prediction: Podium

#73 – Corvette Racing – Chevrolet Corvette C6.R
Antonio Garcia/Jan Magnussen/Jordan Taylor

As part of an off-season shuffle of their driving roster Corvette have split the team that gave them class victory last season. Garcia, part of that team with Tommy Milner and Oliver Beretta, joins Jan Magnussen, who crashed out of the lead as Corvette's regular pairing with youngster Jordan Taylor – recruited after a winning past for GM names in the GT ranks of Grand-Am. In his brief Corvette career he has proven that he can match his teammates over a single lap, but with such relatively little track time it's hard to imagine him matching them over a long stint at Le Mans. Without incident the trio should be in contention, but may be behind their teammates.
Prediction: Podium  

#74 – Corvette Racing – Chevrolet Corvette C6.R
Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Richard Westbrook

Without the issues of unpredictability caused by a Le Mans debutant the #74 Corvette almost certainly starts as the best of the two C6.R's and probably the most likely to challenge the trio of 458s. Gavin and Westbrook – for all that the latter is still only a third driver in Corvette's GTE set-up – are both vastly experience sportscar heads while Milner, the youngest of the three at 26-years-old is one of the coming talents of endurance racing in his second season with Corvette. A potential class winner without doubt.
Prediction: Podium

#77 – Team Felbermayr-Proton – Porsche 911 GT3-RSR
Wolf Henzler/Marc Lieb/Richard Lietz

Felbermayr-Proton continue to be Porsche's primary outlet in ACO regulation racing, and are again the Stuttgart marque's best chance of scoring a Le Mans victory. Lieb and Lietz have European Le Mans and Le Mans 24 titles already but there is a feeling that the Porsche – for all that each year of Porsche is an evolution – is no match in a straight fight for the Ferrari and Corvette. Their best hope of victory comes with a lack of reliability for their rivals or with rain to delete their performance disadvantage, as the pre-race rain did at Spa-Francorchamps before their class win in May.
Prediction: Finisher

#80 – Flying Lizard Motorsports – Porsche 911 GT3-RSR
Jorg Bergmeister/Marco Holzer/Patrick Long

Like the Felbermayr entry Flying Lizard come with three drivers drawn from Porsche's works stable. There is little to choose between the two Porsche teams in the class – the best European team in Felbermayr and the best ALMS team in the Lizards. In both cases team and drivers behind the car are undeniably strong, Flying Lizard's trio also all being drawn from the Porsche works bank. The only problem is how the car compares to others in the class in terms of speed.
Prediction: Finisher

#97 – Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Adrian Fernandez/Stefan Mucke/Darren Turner

After the doomed foray into LMP1 Aston Martin Racing return to their GT roots for 2012, renewing the battle with Corvette that defined the latter years of LMGT1. While the Vantage was run by privateer teams – Drayson Racing, JMW and Jota – it was dogged by reliability problems that kept success to a minimum. When the factory team picked up the Vantage after the collapse of the AMR-One program they promised big changes to the car but, given their early retirement at Spa-Francorchamps, albeit after Darren Turner had taken the class lead, shows there are still gremlins in the car.
Prediction: DNF