Le Mans 2020: GTE Am Preview

A quick look at the GTE Am field of the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours, running 19-20 September.

This year I’m not able to dedicate the time to research every car and driver fully, in any case the post would be too long if I did that. I still want to look team by team and to tell you my picks for the top 3 in each class!

GTE Am is an under-rated class. Yes, okay, it is for rich blokes. But it’s also for up-and-coming young drivers looking to break into the pro ranks. And for senior pros passing on their trade to others. As well as creating trade to keep teams afloat it is a great way to introduce a team to the Le Mans 24 Hours that might move up to other classes later.

To recap, in sports car racing drivers are graded Platinum and Gold for Professional, Silver or Bronze for Amateur. GTE Am requires at least one Bronze driver and that driver must complete a minimum amount of time in the race. As the Pros are generally within tenths of each other, the name of the game is to get your part-time Bronze driver up to speed while being consistent.

Yes, in the race, huge time gaps will appear in the field early in the race as the Pros drive away from the Bronzes. But just wait. Often the race will close back up again when the situation reverses: when the Pro hands over to their Bronze co-driver and the car becomes the tortoise, the chasing car is taken over by the Pro and becomes the hare. That’s when it gets fun. Never mind the live classification mid-race, often it is a mystery how the class really looks until it shakes out in the final hour of the race.

Do you burn your Bronze time early and run the fast Pros to the end? Do you use your Pros early to build a huge lead and hope your Bronze can hang on at the end? This can work if your Bronze is very good. What if the Bronze guy is not fast, is very rich, funds the team, and his dream is to cross the finish line himself? (Well, you’re the client, you do as he says!) Thankfully most are also extremely competitive so if there’s a sniff of a win they’ll happily put the Pro driver in to get it.

There have been a lot of Covid-19 withdrawals in the LMP1 and GTE Pro classes, in addition to the already planned cutbacks from BMW and Ford. And so the two pro-am classes, LMP2 and GTE Am, heavily feature in the 2020 race. This isn’t a surprise as they form the bedrock of the ELMS.

Entries By Class at 15th September:
LMP1 5
LMP2 24
PRO 8
AM 22
TOTAL 59

The ACO should be congratulated for managing to get so many cars in this pandemic year.

That said, I must admit to being disappointed at the lack of variety. And that’s nothing to do with Covid-19, this was the situation regardless and is a problem with the GTE market. The Ford GT was a one-off last year, Larbre aren’t running the Corvettes, and nobody picked up the BMWs. We’re again faced with a horde of 12 Ferraris and 8 Porsches up against the two Aston Martins. The good news is the quality of teams and drivers is high.

The powerhouse teams are AF Corse (Ferrari) and Proton Competition (Porsche). These teams, or others like Kessel Racing, often provide support to others on the entry list to varying degrees. Anything from a little bit of technical help, right up to running the entire operation under your name. Particularly those based outside Europe as it helps logistically. AF Corse are supporting 13 cars including their own five!

Le Mans is worth double-points to the WEC teams. Will they go for it to make their season? Will they race conservatively for points? Remember the WEC points are awarded as if the non-WEC cars are not there, so if two ELMS cars finish 1-2 and the top WEC car is 3rd, that car will be awarded 50 points for being first WEC car home even though they did not win the race. This opens them up to be challenged by those going for glory at the 24 Hours, knowing the WEC teams need those points.
ELMS entries do not get points towards their own championship.

WEC Points Standings
83 AF Corse 110 pts
90 TF Sport 98 pts
57 Project 1 81.5 pts
98 Aston 80.5 pts
77 Dempsey 61.5 pts
56 Project 1 56 pts

ELMS Points Standings
74 Kessel 56 pts (not at LM)
77 Proton 56 pts (crew split between other entries)
55 Spirit of Race 40 pts
83 Iron Lynx 38 pts (at LM as no.85)
51 AF Corse 28 pts (at LM as no.52)

FERRARI (12 cars)

AF Corse (4 cars):

83 AF Corse Perrodo (B)/Collard (G)/N.Nielsen (S) WEC
54 AF Corse Flohr (B)/Castellacci (S)/Fisichella (P) WEC
55 Spirit Of Race Cameron (B)/Scott (S)/Griffin (G) ELMS
52 AF Corse Ulrich (B)/Gorig (B)/West (B) ELMS

Collard’s 24th Le Mans. Perrodo and Collard have been paired in a variety of GT and LMP2 machinery for about 7 years and currently lead the WEC points. Last time they were here in a Ferrari was in 2016: they won Le Mans and the title. A race favourite.

Flohr and Castellacci are a decent long-term pairing. They’re joined by Giancarlo Fisichella who needs no introduction. Certainly top ten, possible podium.

The green 55 of Cameron, Scott & Griffin is exceptionally fast is one of those non-WEC cars to watch. Another race favourite.

The 4th car I know nothing about. They are the only all-Bronze trio in the class. Expect little.

Iron Lynx (3 cars):

60 Iron Lynx Schiavoni (B)/Pianezzola (S)/Ruberti (G) ELMS
75 Iron Lynx Mastronardi (B)/Cressoni (S)/Piccini (G) n/a
85 Iron Lynx Gostner (B)/Frey (S)/Gatting (S) ELMS

Of this trio the best in points is the all-female no.85 crew 4th in the ELMS (where it races as no.83) of Manuela Gostner, Michelle Gatting and long-time GT racer Rahel Frey. Hopefully this car will make the top six.

I expect little of the other two. The no.60 races full-time but isn’t haven’t a great season. Andrea Piccini usually in that car moved to the one-off no.75 for LM24. He and Matteo Cressoni are rapid so if their Bronze is any good they may finish top ten.

Other Ferraris (5 cars)

61 Luzich Racing Piovanetti (B)/Negri (B)/Ledogar (P) n/a
2019 ELMS GTE Champion team. There was some debate about whether they would take their LM invite as they aren’t racing in an ACO series in 2020.
Ozz Negri is only a Bronze because of his age, usually he can be relied upon to just slot in, but he’s never raced a GTE and he missed all the pre-race testing has he had a positive Covid-19 test. Ledogar is a former McLaren GT factory driver. Keep an eye on this one.

62 Red River Sport Grimes (B)/Mowlem (G)/Hollings (S) WEC
Johnny Mowlem’s driver development program continues its debut WEC season and the man himself has un-retired yet again. 🙂 Wish I could say they were doing better in points, currently last. They have a different goal though: get Grimes from being a track day guy four years ago, to a race finish at Le Mans. If they can do that it’ll be a great advert for their driver agency.

66 JMW Motorsport Heistand (B)/Root (S)/Magnussen (P) ELMS
JMW get their number back after Ford stole it those years ago! Jan Magnussen joins post-Corvette, he’d planned to race LMP2 this year but the team withdrew. Heistand won the 2019 IMSA award giving him an entry to Le Mans. Despite a wholesale driver change – not one of their regular drivers are here – it’s still one to watch. JMW are ALWAYS in contention at Le Mans.

70 MR Racing Kimura (B)/Abril (G)/Cozzolino (S) WEC
A welcome addition as the only Japanese team in GTE Am. Scored a podium first time out at Silverstone but less well since. Owner/Driver Ishikawa can’t make it due to travel restrictions but thankfully the team are still here.

72 Hub Auto Corsa Chen (B)/Blomqvist (P)/Gomes (S) AsianLMS
Asian Le Mans GT3 champion team and another welcome addition, the only Taiwanese entry on the list! Blomqvist raced the BMW GTE in IMSA last year.

PORSCHE (8 cars)

Dempsey-Proton / Proton Competition (4 cars)

77 Dempsey-Proton Ried (B)/Pera (S)/Campbell (G) WEC
88 Dempsey-Proton Preining (G)/Bastien (B)/De Leener (S) WEC

78 Proton Competition Felbermayr Jr (B)/M.Beretta (S)/van Splunteren (S) ELMS
99 Dempsey-Proton Inthraphuvasak (B)/Legeret (S)/Andlauer (S) ELMS

Unusually far down the WEC standings with the 77 in 5th and the 88 in 10th. This has been one of the reference Porsche teams in Am for years.

Ried owns the team and is a fast Bronze in his own right. Andlauer should’ve been with Porsche North America in Pro but it withdrew – no clue why he’s listed as Silver. They’re usually there or thereabouts at the end.

The driver crews often do double-duty in WEC and ELMS hence some new names in the ELMS cars. I have to say the WEC cars are more fancied here. But the classic Felbermayr livery is back!

Team Project 1 (3 cars)

56 Project 1 Perfetti (B)/ten Voorde (S)/Cairoli (G) WEC
57 Project 1 Keating (B)/Fraga (S)/Bleekemolen (G) WEC
89 Project 1 “Brooks” (B)/Piguet (S)/Laskaratos (B) 24H

There’s a strong argument Project 1 might’ve usurped Proton as the out and out fastest Porsche Pro-Am team. Defending race winner, hence awarded an extra entry, the 89 car.

The 57 is a full-season WEC program for Keating & Bleekemolen hence no Ford GT this year, same livery though! And they’re 3rd in WEC points.

Edigio Perfetti is a member of the family that owns Mentos mints, of which he’s a director, did you know that? And he’s one of the best Bronze drivers out there. The 56 crew 6th in points.

The 89 car, I’ve never heard of these drivers.

The 56 and 57 will feature heavily and are equally contenders for the win, the 89 is making up the numbers I think.

86 Gulf Racing Wainwright (B)/Barker (G)/Watson (S) WEC

Always a team to watch at Le Mans, they will lead the race at some point, they always do. Only 7th in WEC points but I expect a top 5 result here. Ben Barker will make it fly.

ASTON MARTIN (2 cars)

90 TF Sport Yoluc (B)/Eastwood (S)/Adam (P) WEC

Currently 2nd in points. Much will depend on the Le Mans BoP but this team knows what it is doing and is a contender. Yoluc is somehow still rated Bronze but he’s better than that I’m sure he is. Jonny Adam and Charlie Eastwood are rapid.

98 Aston Martin Racing Dalla Lana (B)/Gunn (S)/Farfus (P) WEC

The perennial no.98 of Paul Dalla Lana is part of the furniture these days and it would be very strange if it wasn’t in the top 5 during the race and probably contending at the end. Augusto Farfus, latterly of BMW, joined the party last time out in Spa in replacement of Darren Turner who is now in charge of testing the Valkyrie road car.

MY TOP THREE

This is always a toughie and especially with 22 cars! This is my podium prediction:

55 Spirit of Race Ferrari (Cameron)

90 TF Sport Aston Martin (Yoluc)

57 Team Project 1 Porsche (Keating)

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