2013 24 Hours Of Le Mans Preview: LMGTE Pro


2013 24 Hours of Le Mans (Credit: Porsche AG)

If the two concepts are not mutually exclusive then the LMGTE Pro field for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans is both smaller and stronger than the collection of teams that raced two years ago when the GT2 teams were split along their current Pro and Am lines after the demise of GT1 from ACO rules racing.

A total of 18 teams started the 2011 race in the class, compared to the 13 starting this year but with five manufacturers fielding multiple car works teams the 2013 entry represents a distilled spirit of the GTE class, the Pro ranks rightly the cream of the ‘lower half’ of the 56 car entry list.

The class is not just about the works teams however, with two privateer teams squeezing into the class alongside the esteemed company.

Long time ACO rules racers JMW Motorsport remain in the team, their Dunlop shod and liveried cars now a familiar site are the race track of Europe on Le Mans Series campaigns. Likewise Prospeed Competition Porsches have become an established mainstay of European racing, the Belgian squad entering Porsches in various GT racing series including the Blancpain Endurance Series for GT3 cars.

Both teams have star drivers – Emmanuel Collard in Prospeed’s Porsche in an all-French line-up with Francois Perrodo and Sebastien Crubile and multiple FIA GT champion Andrea Bertolini leading the team in JMW’s Ferrari with Abdulaziz Turki Alfaisal and Dubai 24H winner Khaled Al Qubaisi.

However, with less experienced drivers like their privateer counterparts in LMP1 they are likely to fighting over scraps if the make it to the end of the race and with significantly more works machinery between them and a top result than Rebellion or Strakka find in the premier class the chances of a surprise result seem very small for both teams despite their pedigree in other series.

That said the 11 works teams are by no means equal and unstoppable.

There have to be questions over the reliability of the SRT Motorsports Vipers. Since their arrival in the American Le Mans Series the cars have shown pace. They led both of the first two round of this year – the 12 Hours of Sebring and then at Long Beach, having taken first and third in qualifying around the street circuit.

There is argument as to how much that counts towards any form at Le Mans – the wide open straights of the Circuit de la Sarthe bearing as much resemblance to the twisting California streets as a Whale Shark does a goldfish. Still the more important issue is reliability. Even Sebring, where both Vipers eventually had issues, is half the length of Le Mans though again there is an element of comparing apples to oranges giving the formidable bumps strewn around Sebring.

The team have no shortage of experience, their lead car driven by Marc Goossens, Dominik Farnbacher and Ryan Dalziel, a man who won LMP2 last year with a Starworks Motorsport team sadly absent from the 2013 entry. A lack of experience is also what separates the three Aston Martin Racing teams, part of a massive five car effort from the manufacturer in their centenary year.

Of the three teams it is the third entry – one only promoted from the reserve list as other GTE teams dropped out – that is the weakest in terms of experience with the only Le Mans rookie in the AMR race line-up, Paul Dalla Lana. The Canadian is joined by Bill Auberlen, on loan from BMW for the race and Dalla Lana’s regular co-driver in the Grand-Am Rolex Series from which the pair come to Le Mans after a win at Mid-Ohio. Even with Pedro Lamy completing the team the trio are unlikely to be able to match the sister teams which ended the test day on top.

Aston Martin also dominated the opening WEC race of the season. With driving staff in a slightly different configuration, owing prior commitments for Rob Bell and Peter Dumbreck elsewhere the two cars for the race led every lap of the six hour race to finish first and third. On that occasion victory going to AMR stalwarts Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke with GT racing (though not Le Mans) new boy Bruno Senna clinching the home win. The second WEC event of the year was more open. Aston Martin Racing were hit by penalties that dropped the best V8 Vantage back to third but a AF Corse Ferrari first and second with a Porsche fourth demonstrated the relative parity between the three WEC manufacturers, especially compared to the huge advantage enjoyed by the Ferrari squads this time last season.

Of the three marques contesting the full WEC season Porsche, with the new Porsche AG Team Manthey team representing them with the new design 911, have got off to the slowest start but with Le Mans such a different beast from either Silverstone or Spa-Francorchamps that has gone before.  If their car can challenge for victory then with six Porsche factory drivers split across the two teams they have the man power to take advantage of it, just as do the lead two Aston Martin Racing cars, the two AF Corse Ferrari and the pair of Corvettes.

If anything can be taken from a test day in which all of the fastest times came in the closing half hour as the track finally dried enough to accommodate slick tyres it is that AF Corse face an enormous challenge if they are to successfully defend their 2012 win. Despite their 1-2 at Spa the best of the 458 Italias – that of Olivier Beretta, Kamui Kobayashi and Toni Vilander was only eighth fastest, the other entry of Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Matteo Malucelli (something of a revelation as part of Risi Competizione’s ALMS return) eleventh of the twelve cars that tested.

Exactly where the two Corvettes fit into the order of the class remains to be seen, though on a combination of reputation and past performances it is likely to be within the battle for the class win.

One thing is clear, however. After a test day in which in the top nine cars – including all five manufacturers was split by less than three seconds in terms of best lap time – the entire 24 hours should be a door-to-door affair in which only a perfect race is likely to result in a class podium, let alone a victory.

2013 24 Hours of Le Mans LMGTE Pro entry list

#51 – Gianmaria Bruni/Giancarlo Fisichella/Matteo Malucelli
AF Corse
Ferrari 458 Italia

#53 – Ryan Dalziel/Dominik Farnbacher/Marc Goossens
SRT Motorsports
Dodge Viper GTS-R

#66 – Andrea Bertolini/Abdulaziz Turki Alfaisal/Khaled Al Qubaisi
JMW Motorsport
Ferrari 458 Italia

#71 – Olivier Beretta/Kamui Kobayashi/Toni Vilander
AF Corse
Ferrari 458 Italia

#73 – Antonio Garcia/Jan Magnussen/Jordan Taylor
Corvette Racing
Chevrolet Corvette C6-ZR1

#74 – Oliver Gavin/Tom Milner/Richard Westbrook
Corvette Racing
Chevrolet Corvette C6-ZR1

#75 – Emmanuel Collard/Sebastien Crubile/Francois Perrodo
Prospeed Competition
Porsche 911 GT3 RSR

#91 – Joerg Bergmeister/Timo Bernhard/Patrick Pilet
Porsche AG Team Manthey
Porsche 911 RSR

#92 – Romain Dumas/Marc Lieb/Richard Lietz
Porsche AG Team Manthey
Porsche 911 RSR

#93 – Jonathan Bomarito/Tom Kendall/Kuno Wittmer
SRT Motorsports
Dodge Viper GTS-R

#97 – Peter Dumbreck/Stefan Mucke/Darren Turner
Aston Martin Racing
Aston Martin Vantage V8

#98 – Bill Auberlen/Paul Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy
Aston Martin Racing
Aston Martin Vantage V8

#99 – Rob Bell/Fred Makowiecki/Bruno Senna
Aston Martin Racing
Aston Martin Vantage V8

  • JayBee

    I will be following the no#71 this weekend. The Aston Martins have been incredibly fast at the first 2 races, so they are likely favourites. But I’m still holding out hope there is more pace to be found in the 458’s. But it may just come down to reliability.