While GTE Am may be the lowest class of the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans, it is by no means the least competitive. With six Porsche 911 RSRs, five Ferrari 488 GTEs and two Aston Martin Vantages the machinery in action doesn’t hang around.
To say the class could be won by any of the cars listed below could be seen as a cop out, but it is a tough choice to make. Ultimately The Proton Competition cars are most likely to be the fastest of the Porsche’s as they bring their experience.
While the Risi Competizione name may not be hanging over the garages this year, the team will still be there under the Keating Motorsport banner, while all of the Ferrari entrants are strong, it is likely to be this car or the JMW Motorsport Ferrari that leads the way.
The Aston Martin’s are tried and tested, but they are the oldest cars in the class, hopefully this wont hamper their progress, if they are on the pace we could see three different manufacturers on the podium.
Without further delay, here is the TCF Preview of the GTE Am field…
#54 Spirit of Race – Ferrari 488 GTE
Thomas Flohr – Francesco Castellacci – Giancarlo Fisichella
Ex-Formula 1 driver turned endurance racer Giancarlo Fisichella heads up the team in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE, undoubtably the most experienced driver of the trio, who has a total of five podiums from eight attempts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, two of those podiums were victories in 2012 and 2014 with AF Corse. This year will mark his first attempt at Le Mans glory in the GTE Am class, having previously raced with AF Corse and Risi Competizione in the GTE Pro class.
Thomas Flohr finished seventh in class on his debut at the 2017 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside 2011 GT3 European Championship winner Francesco Castellacci, who returns for his third race around Circuit de la Sarthe.
#56 Team Project 1 – Porsche 911 RSR
Jörg Bergmeister – Patrick Lindsey – Egidio Perfetti
2017 saw a familiar name missing from the Le Mans grid when Jörg Bergmeister ended a 15-year stint of competing the endurance classic, this year he is back with the highly sucessful Porsche Supercup squad Team Project 1 as they continue to learn their trade in the FIA WEC.
Bergmeister’s experience will come as a massive help to the team as he looks to repeat his 2004 victory, especially as both Egidio Perfetti and Patrick Lindsey will be making their 24 Hours of Le Mans debut this year.
#61 Clearwater Racing – Ferrari 488 GTE
Weng Sun Mok – Matt Griffin – Keitha Sawa
2018 will be the seventh time that Irishman Matt Griffin takes on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and while victory eludes him at Circuit de la Sarthe he has been successful on other twenty-four hour races and will no doubt be a front runner throughout the race.
Teaming up with Weng Sun Mok and Keitha Sawa once again, they will be looking to better their 2017 result of fifth in class.
#70 MR Racing – Ferrari 488 GTE
Motoaki Ishikawa – Olivier Beretta – Eddie Cheever III
Since 1996, Olivier Beretta has only missed one year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking six victories and a further five podium finishes.
Beretta is joined by upcoming American-Italian racer Eddie Cheever III, son of the ex-Formula 1 driver Eddie Cheever, who himself competed at Le Mans during the 80’s. Cheever Jr. is still fairly new to the world of sportscars after switching away from NASCAR Whelen Euro Series in 2016. Two years of Italian GT racing, including taking the Campionato Italiano Gran Turismo – GT3 championship in 2016 has led to him taking on both the WEC and IMSA series in 2018.
Like Cheever, Motoaki Ishikawa makes his Le Mans debut in 2018, the Japanese driver has raced in a variety of sportscar series since making the switch from single seaters in 2013, a year in Blancpain Endurance has prepared him for the WEC, and ultimately the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
#77 Dempsey-Proton Racing – Porsche 911 RSR
Matt Campbell – Christian Ried – Julien Andlauer
While luck has not always been with Christian Ried, this line-up features two hard charging Porsche Juniors, Australian Matt Campbell, and Frenchman Julien Andlauer.
Campbell took the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia championship in 2016, Andlauer emulated the feat in 2017 by winning the Carrera Cup France title, propelling him on to the Porsche Junior programme.
A fourth place in the opening round of the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship showed they have the pace to run at the front, the #77 Porsche could be a true threat to class victory if everything falls in to place.
#80 Ebimotors – Porsche 911 RSR
Fabio Babini – Christina Nielsen – Erik Maris
2017 Michelin Le Mans Cup champions Ebimotors head to Circuit de la Sarthe for their debut in the main race with their Porsche 911 RSR.
Recent announcements from the FIA suggest that they are looking in to promoting females in the sport, Christina Nielsen should be the poster girl for this campaign. The hard charging Dane is definitely here by merit having taken the IMSA GTD class championship for the last two years. This wont be her first time at Le Mans either, 2016 saw the all Danish line-up take sixth place in class before finishing fourteenth in class last time out with Scuderia Corsa.
Fabio Babini brings Le Mans class winning knowledge to the Ebimotors team having secured victory in 2001, while that is his only victory to date, eight attempts have also resulted in two second in class finishes.
Erik Maris returns to the GTE-Am class for the first time since 2014 after three years in LMP2.
#84 JMW Motorsport – Ferrari 488 GTE
Liam Griffin – Cooper Macneil – Jeffrey Segal
Current European Le Mans GTE points leader Liam Griffin will be a familiar name to regulars of this site as a competitor in the British Touring Car Championship and more recently the British GT Championship. Griffin made his Le Mans debut in 2016 and will be looking to build on the result this time out.
Cooper Macneil returns for a fourth attempt at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, last year he managed to get on the GTE Am podium with Bill Sweeder and Townsend Bell.
Jeffrey Segal is the most successful of the trio at Le Mans having scored a third place on his debut, and victory in 2016, both times, like Macneil, he was partnered with Sweeder and Bell.
#85 Keating Motorsports – Ferrari 488 GTE
Ben Keating – Jeroen Bleekemolen – Luca Stolz
While the team name may not be familiar to some, the Keating Motorsports banner is actually over the Risi Competizione garage, with Keating teaming up with the crack Ferrari squad.
Ben Keating returns to GTE Am for the first time since 2015, his two previous attempts saw the American take on the challenge in LMP2 machinery alongside Bleekemolen.
Jeroen Bleekemolen is another veteran of the French endurance classic, with twelve attempts under his belt. While only one of those has resulted in victory, Bleekemolen has proven he can run with the pace setters, and should not be dismissed.
While Luca Stolz is the youngest of the trio he should not be overlooked, a victory at the Liqui-moly Bathurst 12 Hour Race in the Class A – GT3 Pro-Am shows he has the pace to run at the front in endurance racing, this paired with his Blancpain GT Series – Sprint Cup – Silver title makes him a formidable threat.
#86 Gulf Racing – Porsche 911 RSR
Michael Wainwright – Ben Barker – Alex Davison
Michael Wainwright and his Gulf Racing team return for his fourth 24 hours of Le Mans, and the third with Ben Barker alongside him as he looks to better his best finish of fifth in class.
Barker returns for his third attempt at Le Mans, after making his name racing Porsche’s around the world in a variety of Carrera Cup championships, including the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup, the tall Brit has shown his potential throughout the Porsche pyramid.
Alex Davison brings the most experience to the team with over 20 years of motorsport action, while he has only appeared at Le Mans once before in 2008 (when the team was racing under the Team Felbermayr-Proton banner), the Australian has plenty of experience in Porsche’s having competed in Carrera Cup Deutschland, Carrera Cup Australia and like Barker, the Supercup.
#88 Dempsey-Proton Racing – Porsche 911 RSR
Matteo Cairoli – Khaled Al Qubaisi – Giorgio Roda
Porsche Young Professional Driver Matteo Cairoli made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut last year, finishing sixth in class. Cairoli is constantly evolving and will be charging towards the front of the pack throughout the race.
A second in class finish in 2014 remains Khaled Al Qubaisi‘s highest placing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Emirati will be hoping to go one better in 2018, his fifth attempt with Proton and sixth overall appearance.
Giorgio Roda will make his Le Mans debut this year, the young Italian has shown potential in his previous endeavours in European Le Mans and has already picked up one podium in his short WEC career.
#90 TF Sport – Aston Martin Vantage
Salih Yoluc – Euan Hankey – Charlie Eastwood
In 2017 Salih Yoluc became the first Turkish driver to compete at Le Mans, he returns this year with Euan Hankey and rookie Charlie Eastwood.
Yoluc has evolved in to a confident driver, and has shown promising pace at times along with Hankey, the pair could be potential frontrunners as the TF Sport squad make they return to Le Mans for their second attempt.
Regular readers at The Checkered Flag will recognise Charlie Eastwood from his 2017 championship winning season in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB series, a great addition alongside Yoluc and Hankey.
#98 Aston Martin Racing – Aston Martin Vantage
Paul Dalla Lana – Pedro Lamy – Mathias Lauda
2018 marks the fourth time this trio of drivers will attempt to take on the 24 Hours of Le Mans; it hasn’t always been plain sailing and despite showing pace, eighth place last time out is the highest position recorded for Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda.
The trio took the 2017 GTE Am championship title and the momentum will no doubt drive the passion to take the win as Dalla Lana will head in to his sixth 24 Hours of Le Mans this year,
For Lamy 2018 is his nineteenth appearance at Circuit de la Sarthe, in that time he has taken five podiums plus victory in 2012. Lamy has yet to appear on the podium for AMR, this could be the year it all changes, the only thing that may hold the trio back is the ageing Vantage.
Lauda starts his fourth race, the Austrian will be keen to better the eighth place finish last time out.
#99 Proton Competition – Porsche 911 RSR
Patrick Long – Tim Pappas – Spencer Pumpelly
Patrick Long is a man that should really need no introduction, a long-term Porsche factory driver, and to date, the only American to hold that position. A veteran of fifteen races at Le Mans, including two victories and three further podiums, luck hasn’t always been on his side.
The #99 entry comes as a result of the Proton Racing team securing the European Le Mans series in 2017 as they join the grid with a third entry alongside their regular WEC cars.
Making it an all-American affair for the driver line-up, Long is joined by Spencer Pumpelly, who has raced at Le Mans three times, and Tim Pappas, a regular on the IMSA scene with his Black Swan Racing team, who will be making his debut in France this year.
That concludes our look at the GTE Am class, keep a look out on site for the other three previews, next up is the LMP2 class which will go live later today.
The Checkered Flag will be reporting all week from Le Mans including around the clock coverage of the race, we hope you join us on our journey through what looks set to be another highly competitive edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.