Le Mans 2020: GTE Pro Preview

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

GTE Pro is the super-serious GT class. For year after year the depth of quality is unsurpassed, in many years the quality is higher even than LMP1 purely because there are more of them. There are 8 cars this year as opposed to some 17 or so last year.

How do you predict GTE Pro? It’s always a train of cars running nose to tail at 110% and to hell with reliability. If you want a 24-Hour sprint race look right here.

There is a depleted field largely because Ford and BMW pulled out last year, a loss of six cars.

In addition, the famous yellow Corvettes and the Porsche North America team elected not to travel this year due to Covid-19.

We do gain a couple of cars from IMSA competition: Risi Competizione do make the trip from the USA and on paper so do Weathertech Racing, although in reality that entry will be European-operated now.

These will go up against the six full-time WEC cars.

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

Balance of Performance is always a hot topic in GTE Pro and is often blamed for cars being faster or slower – even in years when a car happens to be inherently faster or slower because the BoP is meant to equalise the field. Much will depend who gets given a horsepower advantage on these long straights.

Le Mans is worth double-points to the WEC teams. Interestingly every team has one car doing well and one not as well! The ones having poorer seasons will want to go for it, I wonder whether the others will be happy to consolidate the points?

WEC Points Standings
95 Aston Martin 127 pts
92 Porsche 108 pts
51 AF Corse 95 pts
97 Aston Martin 92 pts
91 Porsche 79 pts
71 AF Corse 63 pts

WEC GTE Manufacturer Points
Aston Martin 219
Porsche 190
Ferrari 166

FERRARI (4 cars)

51 AF Corse Calado (P)/Pier Guidi (P)/Serra (G) WEC
71 AF Corse Rigon (P)/Molina (P)/Bird (P) WEC

The 51 crew are the 2019 race winners but have only had one win in the WEC season so far. That would suggest they have a great chance again this year..
Cynics would say, since they won last year, the BoP will change to ensure they don’t win this year! In reality there’s more to it than that, see the Porsche and Aston entries below. I think the Ferrari is the only car that hasn’t changed much.

The 51 is having the better season. Serra is rated Gold on the entry list but I bet he’ll be a Platinum next season.

The 71 of Rigon and Molina are last of the six in the points by dint of a DNF at Silverstone – no other car in the class has recorded one. They’ve also ‘only’ had one podium and everyone else has at least two. But that doesn’t mean they are a bad line-up! Formula E star Sam Bird again joins for Le Mans, he’s no fool in an endurance car either.

63 Weathertech Racing Vilander (P)/MacNeil (S)/Segal (G) IMSA

Moved up from the Am class even though they have a silver driver. This means they don’t need to respect the drive time limits enforced in that class for the amateur driver, they can run the Pro drivers much longer. They aren’t going for WEC points so it doesn’t matter. But mainly it is so they are competing against 7 cars instead of 21!

Vilander is extremely fast. Segal is very good and for a silver MacNeil is actually pretty handy himself.

This was meant to be run by the Scuderia Corsa entry from America but, apart from the drivers and the team strategist, they were unable to travel due to Covid-19. AF Corse have drafted in their GT World Challenge Europe crew who certainly know their way around a Ferrari GT at the Spa 24.

82 Risi Competizione Bourdais (P)/Pla (P)/Gounon (G) IMSA

Risi did make the trip from the USA, with nearly all of their crew. Famous race engineer Dave ‘Beaky’ Sims retired some while ago but expect the team to have retained its speed.

Sebastien Bourdais enters his 14th Le Mans. He’s won GTE with Ford (beating Risi in that ultra-controversial 2016 race!), he’s won Daytona both overall and in GT, and add on all those IndyCar/ChampCar wins. Olivier Pla is into his 13th Le Mans and is another ex-Ford man. Gounon has won the 24H of Spa for Bentley.

Without points to worry about these guys will be on it. The question I suppose is how quickly they adapt to the Ferrari with very little testing.

PORSCHE (2 cars)

91 Porsche GT Team Lietz (P)/Bruni (P)/Makowiecki (P) WEC
92 Porsche GT Team Estre (P)/Christensen (P)/Vanthoor (P) WEC

Lietz and Bruni have won the race 3 times (independently!) and I’m amazed Mako hasn’t.

Estre and Christensen are 2nd in points after four 2nd-places out of 6 starts! They won the race 2 years ago. Vanthoor is the endurance driver, he won the 2019 IMSA title and a whole bunch of Blancpain GT wins in the past. Very hard to pick who is the fastest among the six drivers but I think I’d go with Vanthoor.

This is the first Le Mans for the new-spec 911 which debuted at Silverstone last September.

The North American team didn’t make the trip for budgetary reasons after Covid but they’ve raced this version of the car in all the big enduros over there.

ASTON MARTIN (2 cars)

95 Aston Martin Racing Thiim (P)/Sorensen (G)/Westbrook (P) WEC
97 Aston Martin Racing Lynn (P)/Martin (P)/Tincknell (P) WEC

Thiim and Sorensen lead the WEC by 19 points. Lynn and Martin have a quartet of 3rd-place finishes this season.

You rarely teach Prodrive Aston Martin Racing anything – but the pair of Westbrook and Tincknell will surely provide a lot of insight from the shuttered Ford Chip Ganassi programme.

The car has had a lot of testing and has been getting faster and faster. Remember 2018 when it was really quite slow? It’s not slow now! In the results I’ve seen of the FP sessions the Aston has topped both GT classes. Genuine contenders and probably favourites.

MY TOP THREE

How do you predict GTE Pro? It’s always a train of cars running nose to tail at 110% and to hell with reliability. If you want a 24-Hour sprint race look right here.

As I’ve got to pick the driver who grew up an hour from me, Devon’s Harry Tincknell, I’m going with this:

97 Aston Martin

92 Porsche

91 Porsche

Yes the 95 will be in the mix. But something always seems to happen to one or other of the Astons so since I picked 97 to win I’ll have to knock the 95 back. In reality it could be either winning. And Porsche will be very solid.

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