Though 2013 will start without race winners Scuderia Vittoria on the grid after two seasons in the championship the Ferrari representation in this year’s paddock is stronger than ever. MTECH expand to two cars, FF Corse move into GT3 after winning the GTC class title after entering second half of the previous campaign. Meanwhile two Italian teams, including arguably the best Ferrari GT squad in the world, join the series, adding some the 458 some extra Latinate flair.
#3 – Allan Simonsen/Hector Lester
Very much a known quantity in the series as the Simonsen-Lester partnership begins a tenth season together and starts a second in the Ferrari 458.
However, while the other teams riding the Prancing Horse in the championship do so with the latest-spec machinery the Rosso Verde pairing begin the year with the older car, trusting the balance of performance to level out their performance with the teams in the newer cars.
Simonsen is established as one of the fastest drivers in the championship, his drives through the field in the second half of races often one of the strongest performance in the race, though it betrays Ulsterman Lestor as one of the more gentle of the gentleman drivers in the series, with the quality of driver climbing across the board in recent years. While that case looks unlikely to change the partnership with the dependably rapid Simonsen could help Lester into contention for the new for 2013 Gentleman Trophy set to introduced into the British championship.
#13 – Aaron Scott/John Dhillon
Italian squad AF Corse are as close to a works Ferrari team as you’ll find in GT racing, and on top of campaigns on the world stage in the FIA World Endurance Championship as well as internationally and domestically on Continental Europe they add a British GT team, with two cars planned as the season progresses.
While AF Corse may be new to the paddock Scott and Dhillon are not, having been together as a pairing since 2011 first in the GTC class, then with Scuderia Vittoria in GT3 last year with a best result of sixth at both Brands Hatch and Snetterton. One of the typical Pro-Am combinations of the series Dhillon has improved greatly while driving alongside Scott but with SV they remained confined to scrapping over the minor points positions. Whether a move to AF Corse brings better results only time will tell.
#18 – Gary Eastwood/Rob Barff
After sweeping to the GTC ahead of the Chevron GR8 with a string of wins in the second half of last year British Ferrari preparation specialists FF Corse step up to GT3 with Gary Eastwood – one half of the GTC winning line-up – and Rob Barff returning to British GT competition to complete the team.
Moving into the premier class brings FF Corse far more competition. With a CV that includes starts at Le Mans and Sebring in LMP1 cars before returning to GT cars and the Blancpain Endurance Series last Barff is another strong addition to the grid and a strong Pro to lead the team in the move up the categories. How fast Eastwood proves to be in GT3 machinery will be a deciding factor in where they finish races.
#21 – Matt Griffin/Duncan Cameron
#41 – Derek Johnston/Parthiva Sureshwaren
Once again MTECH, with Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron were the nearly men last season. Having started the final race leading in the points they got almost within touching distance of glory before being spun out of the way.
The pair have been the benchmark Ferrari combination in recent years, but with the increased number of fellow 458 drivers on the grid keeping hold of that crown is going to be a tougher task than previous. They remain potential race winners on every weekend, though with a stronger grid to race against if they are to finally clinch the title they crave mistakes and DNFs will have to kept at a minimum, though luck will also play a part after being caught in two incidents not of their making in 2012 dented, then derailed their title hopes.
The second car – set for a full season – after isolated outings in the past two seasons brings together former Radical racer Johnston, inspired to turn to GT racing after racing at the Rolex 24 as the first winner of the Sunoco Daytona Challenge, and Formula Two refugee Sureshwaren. Johnston won the GT Cup title in 2012, so starts the season the stronger driver, not least because of his prior GT experience.
Vita4One Team Italy
#27 – Jay Palmer/Matteo Bobbi
The second Italian team to join the grid bring with them former FIA GT champion turned team principal Bobbi to lead their campaign on-track. Not only are he and Palmer another driving combination to blend a professional driver with an amateur teammate but they also blend a British driver with a foreign driver.
Palmer drove for United Autosports as part of their two Audi assault in 2011 alongside John Bintcliffe. The pair had varying results in a car that was not the most competitive on the grid. Bobbi, who won the FIA GT title in 2003, has a CV that could put him in top echelon of drivers in the championship. Like with FF Corse, with a dependable Pro, it will be the pace of the Am half of the partnership that will – largely – be reflected in the race results.