Watch: 2017 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

The US is now firmly into a new era of sportscar racing.

Three complete seasons have now elapsed since the ‘merger’ between the American Le Mans Series and the Grand-Am Series and at last the unified IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship has a new top class to call its own, rather than one with cars inherited from the old era.

Three weeks ago the 2017 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona saw the debut of the brand new LMP2 cars which we will also see in the World Endurance Championship (and European & Asian Le Mans Series). In addition and more interestingly, the new ‘Daytona Prototype international’ cars were seen and it is those that are most exciting. DPi takes the LMP2 as a base and adds in manufacturer support, including engines and bespoke bodywork.

Watch The Race

You can watch the 2017 edition of the race, complete with full IMSA Radio commentary, via the official IMSA YouTube channel below. All rights belong to their respective owners. These only appear embedded because that’s what WordPress does with YouTube links, no copyright infringement is intended.

Below the video are some of my thoughts.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Prototype

The Prototype class really was a combination of a traditional sportscar endurance race mixed with the excitement of recent Rolex 24 Hours! For most of the race the goal was just to get the car to the end. Few did. ‘New car blues’ hit a lot of teams, you never knew who would be next to fall. And yet, Daytona being Daytona, it still contrived to boil down to a fistfight right to the end!

The new DPi Cadillac cars held an advantage in both pace and reliability, but this was no surprise as they had tested far more than anyone else. But you never really knew how it would pan out, and when one of the seemingly indestructible cars, the Whelen Action Express entry, fell away late in the race, it felt as though any car could still win with the Riley P2 car and the Nissan DPi chasing just a lap or two behind. A multi-lap advantage is meaningless if the car breaks down.

As it turned out Cadillac took 1st and 2nd, but Nissan in particular and Mazda both look to have a lot of potential. Once everyone gets their stuff sorted out, it’ll be fantastic.

The WEC-spec LMP2s didn’t fare well. I thought they would do a lot better. Only one car had a near-flawless run, the largely unfancied Riley Multimatic entered by VisitFlorida (formerly Spirit of Daytona). It was only unfancied compared to the Liger and Oreca because the Riley carries higher downforce, it was ‘meant’ to be slower at Daytona and better at twisty tracks, yet proved itself remarkably well. The Ligier and ORECA examples really struggled but I am sure will be on-song by the time we hit the bulk of the season, both in the US and elsewhere.

Prototype Challenge is best left unmentioned, a single car running well while the others fell apart. One had mechanical problems to do with fuel feed. Others looked as though they just didn’t get on with the setups on the cars – whether these were enforced by the BoP or by the tyres or conditions I do not know, but they looked tough to drive. PC has never covered itself in glory at Daytona, or at many other places since roughly around the time they were made to change tyre supplier.. Coincidence?

GT

GTLM, the Le Mans GTE class, was again the highlight of the race as it so often is in the IMSA series. GT in IMSA is almost always better than the WEC equivalent both in strength and depth and again it was true here – a flat out war from start to finish! It also had a fistfight with a near-identical incident in turn 1 as in the P class.

It was no surprise to see Ford and Ferrari up front, but then the rain fell and brought Porsche into the picture, with Corvette playing their trick of the GT1 era of not necessarily being the fastest but always being there at the end.

It was clear from the ability of the GTLM cars in mixed conditions, pulling away from top Prototypes under acceleration before P’s repassed them with higher top end, that Michelins are still the best things to have in the wet.

That is not to underplay the huge GTD class (for GT3 cars) which twisted and turned all race long as different cars and drivers struggled with the cold, changeable conditions. Some teams managed this better than others. Continental laid down instructions which some followed successfully, others ignored them and then complained about it.

It was great to see Mercedes GT3s on the high banks and those new Acuras look stunning. The racing in GTD was really very good and with a big field. I hope it gets the attention it deserves this season.

Result

Class winners:

Prototype
#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing – Cadillac DPi-V.R
Ricky Taylor / Jordan Taylor / Jeff Gordon / Max Angelelli

GTLM
#66 Ford Chip Ganassi – Ford GT
Joey Hand / Dirk Mueller / Sebastien Bourdais

GTD
#28 Alegra Motorsports – Porsche 911 GT3 R
Daniel Morad / Michael Christensen / Jesse Lazarre / Carlos de Quesada / Michael de Quesada

PC
#38 Performance Tech Motorsports – Oreca FLM09
James French / Patricio O’Ward / Kyle Masson / Nicholas Boulle

Next Race

The next IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship race is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, on Saturday 18th March 2017.

The race is half as long but the bumps are bone-shaking and really test a car and driver, how will the new Prototypes hold up there?

What To Look Forward To In 2017

There is a lot to look for in the 2017 motorsport season.

I felt something was missing in 2016. I don’t know what it was. Some sort of spark. Maybe it was me, maybe it was other events away from racing, or maybe motorsport just didn’t grab me as much as before – with the exception of IndyCar and MotoGP which were excellent. I didn’t invest as much time in keeping up with WEC and IMSA, something I’m doing over the winter break.

I think that should change this year.

Formula 1

New cars! Better looking cars. No more silly rear wings. Faster over a lap, faster through the corners. Hopefully they’ll look as fast and dramatic as the last time we had high downforce F1 cars, about a decade ago. The drivers are going to have to work hard.

With luck this will shake up the order. Some teams will get it wrong and will spend the year catching up. We’ll see them do it, much like we’ve seen McLaren-Honda get faster through the year over the last two years.

The downside? More downforce usually reduces overtaking opportunities. I wonder whether the larger rear wing will increase the effectiveness of the DRS. I would rather have no DRS – or have it and allow a driver to use it wherever he likes, no zones, no limits.

There should be good news with the tyres. Pirelli are charged with making tyres that allow a driver to push and not conserve so we might see some flat out racing again. Let’s hope they get it right.

How will Valterri Bottas fare at Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton? I’m excited to find out. I don’t think he’ll be a pushover. And Hamilton will want to fight after being defeated last year – I think he’ll win another title, but may again trip over himself in doing so.

How will Max Verstappen get on at his second season at the big Red Bull team and how will Dan Ricciardo react? Will Ferrari sink or swim, will Seb Vettel get fed up and move on? Will McLaren be back?

MotoGP

MotoGP is always fun at the front of the field. Even a dominant lead can be lost with a momentary lapse of concentration sending a rider to the floor.

Jorge Lorenzo moves to that hard-to-tame Ducati. Maverick Vinales replaces him at Yamaha alongside Valentino Rossi. Iannone across to Suzuki. I reckon the title fight will be between Marquez and Vinales. I’d love to see Pedrosa up front more often.

How will KTM get on in their first season? Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, Tech3 teammates last year, both move there.

Formula E

I’m excited to see the races at New York and Montreal. I hope to see Jaguar improving through the year. Adam Carroll is vastly underrated and ought to have had a top works drive years ago.

I would like to see a greater energy allocation, more harvesting, as the cars are too energy-restricted. They did grant more allocation this season but they also lengthened the races which offset the benefit. If they’d given more energy for the same distance, everyone could’ve pushed harder in the race. It feels like the series is wasting the opportunity for good races while everyone is cruising around saving energy.

Sebastien Buemi leads after the two rounds held so far, but my tip is to keep watching Felix Rosenqvist.

IndyCar

Some of the best racing in the world will continue to be found in IndyCar. I fully expect the Indy 500 to be a highlight again.

Aero Kit competition is now frozen. In theory this means Honda are at a disadvantage, at least on road and street courses. A spec kit will appear in 2018.

Chip Ganassi Racing are moving back to Honda. With the might of CGR’s resources, joining Andretti’s, I suspect the Honda vs Chevy competition may become more equal.

AJ Foyt’s team go the other way to Chevy. Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly join. I’m starting to think Foyt will have a very good season! Takuma Sato goes the other way, to Andretti.

Josef Newgarden will have the most attention. His was the biggest move in the driver market, joining Team Penske to replace Juan Montoya. (JPM will still contest Indy). It took someone with the talent of Simon Pagenaud a full season to ‘bed in’ at Penske so I think we should go easy on Joe-New, at least this year.

As in 2016 I expect Pagenaud versus Power over the season, too close to call, but you must watch all of the races because really anything can happen from race to race!

World Endurance Championship

It’ll be very strange without Audi competing. Only five LMP1 cars:  2 x Porsche, 2 x Toyota, 1 x ByKolles CLM. We may see another Toyota at Le Mans and surely this is their year for the 24 Hours?

We saw great battles between two manufacturers in the past, Audi vs Peugeot, then Audi vs Toyota, so there’s every reason to think Toyota vs Porsche will be just as good.

All-new cars in LMP2. Which will be quickest? I’m sad they felt the need to restrict it to four chassis makers but I understand the budgetary reasons for it. Hopefully the cost savings will attract more entrants. Rebellion Racing step down from LMP1 with a hell of a driver line-up.

GTE Pro is a balance of performance (BoP) nightmare. Ford and Ferrari ahead last year but Porsche have a new car – and it is a mid-engined 911. Heresy! This could be the best fight in the field. And in 2018 we’ll see the brand new BMW.

GTE Am. Early yet but I’m not seeing a lot of takers. Perhaps it is time to replace it with GT3?

IMSA Sportscars

The story in the US is very different, IMSA is having a resurgence. The Prototype class will use the same brand new LMP2 cars as the WEC. In addition are the new Daytona Prototype international “DPi” cars, which take those LMP2 cars and add manufacturer engines and bespoke bodywork. It is a cost-effective way to bring in manufacturers and it has attracted Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan. It should be a fantastic year in the top class and it stars next week with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

The GTLM class in IMSA, just like the ALMS before it, is top drawer. Often it is the best race among the 4 classes and it is usually better than the WEC equivalent (which runs to the same rules).

GTD will be numerically dominant with a lot of GT3 cars, no slouches themselves, including the new Acura (Honda) and Lexus. Worth checking out the entry list.

And the much-maligned PC class will finally be put out of its misery at the end of the year! It worked well when it started, but really ought to have been killed off a couple of years ago.

European Le Mans Series

The top class will have those new LMP2 cars which seem to be attracting a lot of attention in this series. LMP3 is also proving popular so there should be a lot of Prototypes in the ELMS again this year. I’d like to see a bigger GT field.

The supporting Michelin Le Mans Cup, featuring LMP3 and GT3 cars in a series of 2-hour races (1 hour at Le Mans before the big race), is also booming. This should be one of the hidden gems of 2017 so do look out for it, especially the LM24 support race.

World Rally Championship

New cars. Faster cars. Okay, some people are heralding them as the second coming of Group B – they are decidedly not that. They aren’t that extreme, with much less power than Gp.B, but with modern suspension, tyres, electronics and all the rest they will be very fast. It is good to see the WRC return to more advanced tech.

Citroen are back, Toyota are back, Hyundai continue and the M-Sport Fords look competitive.

My TV

One more reason this year will be good? I’ve upgraded from a 30″ standard definition TV to a 50″ Ultra HD TV. Wow what an upgrade! Even the size difference is remarkable, let alone the quality.

Okay there’s not much content in UHD, for motorsport basically it is only MotoGP, but I bet it’ll look damn good! (I think F1 is in UHD this year – but I don’t have Sky Sports). Certainly I will be enjoying a lot of stuff in ‘normal’ 1080 HD – and I can’t wait!

 

2016 Motorsport Calendars

2016’s calendars are now available!

Each year I produce motorsport calendars for use within Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook and many other apps.

I have now added as many 2016 motorsport dates as I can find and they are available to use!

Just go to:   www.toomuchracing.com/calendar

There are a few notes on my methodology followed by a table showing each racing series:  F1, MotoGP, IndyCar, WEC, IMSA, NASCAR, WTCC, BTCC, DTM and many more. Just click the links on the right hand side of the table.

There are a couple of options, try each to find the one that works the way you want it.

If you subscribed to these feeds in 2015, or before, and have not removed them, you do not need to add them again. Just scroll forwards and the dates will be there. This obviously doesn’t apply if you took it as a download!

Thanks everybody for your continued support of this project. Do keep pointing out errors and omissions. And share with anybody who may be interested!

This Blog

A quick note on the blog:  I apologise for not posting more frequently. The last couple of years have been quite tiring. I keep meaning to return with lots of small posts and observations rather than the occasional long-read. I do miss the long posts as well.

I’m also considering a Facebook page. On Twitter I share or retweet lots of stories I think are interesting or funny and it might be useful to have a place on FB to do the same. Let me know your thoughts.

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours – LMP1 Preview

Hello. This is the last of my Class Previews and I saved the top one until last – the battle for the overall win. Last year’s race was unbelievable, this year’s promises to be just as good! The form book suggests a head-to-head between two German heavyweights.. but Le Mans has no respect for form.

Other class previews:  LMP2, GTE Pro, GTE Am;

Once again the usual disclaimer, this is a fan blog and these are just my impressions having seen the first few races but without having yet read or listened to any previews.

LM P1 Summary:  14 Entries (11 from WEC, 3 one-offs)

Le Mans Prototype cars with professional drivers. This top class is the Big Dog, this will decide the overall winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A car from another class could win outright, but LMP1 cars are so much faster it’ll take something major to rule them out.

With lap times not far off F1 cars and top speeds on the Mulsanne probably higher than them, these are serious machines. LMP1 today is the opposite of the endurance perception:  now they are full attack, with little to no fuel saving, on full grip tyres. Basically a sprint race that lasts a long time! They do this with more advanced hybrid systems, of a completely different design from each manufacturer – true competition! – with more power than last year and more than F1. I am a life-long F1 fan but this is remarkable technology which makes F1’s new kit look out-dated.

Two privateer entrants carry the flag for the independents and long may they continue to do so. LMP1 must always have independents. Though neither team runs those crucial hybrid systems which make such a difference.

All cars in the class run on Michelins.

WEC note: Le Mans counts for WEC double-points but only among entrants registered for the WEC. Non-registered cars are ignored for points purposes. WEC-registered cars are marked with ( W ) after their name.

The Favourite

#7 Audi Sport Team Joest (W) – Audi R18 e-tron quattro – Marcel Faessler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer

An immensely tricky choice. This year all three Audis and all three Porsches can be considered almost equally likely to win. Should they falter, the two Toyotas will be right there.

#7 Audi e-tron quattro
#7 Audi e-tron quattro (c) P.Wotton

I’ve chosen this car for two reasons:  Firstly, Joest Audi just knows how to win this race. Secondly, Porsche are faster over a lap but the #7 Audi has beaten them in the opening two rounds of this year’s WEC already.
A few years ago, the likes of Kristensen, McNish and Capello were considered greats even when they were still racing. I consider Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer to be their equals. I don’t know why they aren’t seen that way by others, yet for some reason they haven’t yet reached the same level in the public conciousness. They’ve won Le Mans in 2011, 2012 and 2014 and finished 2nd in 2010! You cannot argue that success rate. They have already etched their name into Le Mans history.

The Contenders

#17 Porsche Team (W) – Porsche 919 Hybrid – Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
#18 Porsche Team (W) – Porsche 919 Hybrid – Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
#19 Porsche Team – Porsche 919 Hybrid – Nico Huelkenberg, Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy

#18 Porsche
#18 Porsche at speed (c) P.Wotton

I said Audi would have the advantage over the race.. but I think they’ll only get one car ahead of the Porsches. My podium prediction is Audi-Porsche-Porsche and I think Porsche will hold the lead for much of the race. They’ll claim pole and I think it’ll be a clear 1-2-3 in qualifying! Those 919s are fast. How reliable are they? How many stints on tyres can they do? Will any of the guys make unforced errors?

#18 is the stronger car. The trio seem to have found the sweet spot with the car and they took 2nd in the first two WEC races. #17 isn’t far off but it feels trouble attracts it, or vice versa! Yet when your weakest driver is of the calibre of Mark Webber you know you have a strong team.

#19 isn’t registered for WEC points so there’s a choice: run it as a safe backup behind the other two, or run it at the level of the opposition as a spoiler to get in the way, or run it fast as a hare and chase off into the distance to fool the other teams into chasing after it (and hope they break down in the process)?

After so many years together in so many cars in so many races, I still find it odd that Dumas and Bernhard aren’t sharing a car.

#8 Audi Sport Team Joest (W) – Audi R18 e-tron quattro – Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis
#9 Audi Sport Team Joest – Audi R18 e-tron quattro – Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi, Rene Rast

#7 and #8 Audi e-tron quattro
#7 and #8 Audi e-tron quattro (c) P.Wotton

We already know the talents of Duval and di Grassi, we’re quickly learning Jarvis deserves his place among them.

The non-points #9 car is in the same position as Porsche’s #19. We already know Audi typically let their three cars fight for the win. Points be damned, Le Mans is Le Mans. The trio in the #9 are as good as those in #8. Rene Rast is very fast.

Can they go as far on fuel as the Porsches? Indeed, if they can outperform them on tyres does the fuel matter? Questions, questions! The six cars of Audi and Porsche should be fighting all race long!

#1 Toyota Racing (W) – Toyota TS040 Hybrid – Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#2 Toyota Racing (W) – Toyota TS040 Hybrid – Alex Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin, Mike Conway

#2 Toyota
#2 Toyota (c) P.Wotton

The 2014 Champions aren’t having such a good 2015, unfortunately the pace just doesn’t seem to be in the car. More accurately, the pace is definitely still there and the car is faster than last year, what’s happened is Audi and Porsche jumped ahead.

Toyota know what they are doing and so do all the drivers, every one of them top drawer, no weak link here. But they’ll have to run reliability – no mistakes, no failures – and take advantage of any problems others may have. If they do this they can score a podium – or win if the others break down, which they really might.

An slightly outside bet then, but a serious one. If the Porsches and Audis have even the tiniest problem the Toyotas will be through.

The Unknown Quantity

#21 Nissan Motorsports – Nissan GT-R LM Nismo – Tsugio Matsuda, Mark Shulzhitsky, Lucas Ordonez
#22 Nissan Motorsports (W) – Nissan GT-R LM Nismo – Harry Tinknell, Michael Krumm, Alex Buncombe
#23 Nissan Motorsports (W) – Nissan GT-R LM Nismo – Olivier Pla, Jann Mardenborough, Max Chilton

NISMO Show Car
#23 Nissan NISMO show cars (c) P.Wotton

Tricky. They are confident and the fans are with them. And yet… And yet. This confidence is based on what the car WILL do once it is fully developed. In 2016. Right now though, it is only halfway there. It is in no position to win this race on pace alone. As for reliability and fuel numbers, well they haven’t raced it yet, so nobody knows!

Full credit for exploiting the rules to create such a unique car. It takes the lessons of the Delta Wing and mates them to the LMP1 regulations. At the Test Day it was clearly the fastest in a straight line, even though the lap times weren’t there at all. It was only a test though.

The team didn’t enter the opening two races, is reportedly running on only one of the two hybrid systems, and they haven’t actually raced as a unit yet. They have less of a budget than the other manufacturers. Add in the difficulty in making a novel design actually work, it wouldn’t surprise me if the thing was totally unreliable at this first attempt. No surprise to read Tincknell is focussing on getting the car to the finish, above all else.

What’s a realistic objective? Get one car to the finish in the top 12. Porsche finished 11th on their return just twelve months ago, behind 6 LMP2 cars, now look where they are. If Nissan can finish top 12 overall, or complete a similar number of laps to the top 6 in LMP2, I’d call that a successful return in Year 1. Year 2 is when the fun will happen.

No surprise that #23 (‘Ni San’ in Japanese) has the higher profile drivers. Pla is stellar, Mardenborough ridiculously quick, Chilton the steady hand on the tiller. #22 isn’t too shabby either – Tincknell is my local driver and was a hot shoe in LMP2 – and #21 is right up there in quality, especially Ordonez. The only one I don’t know is Matsuda. An aggressive line up across all three cars, despite their youth many already have Le Mans experience.

They know exactly where they are. That is why they are being so open with the fans, with social media and PR events, open about the car, all the open access. That’ll change next year if and when they become competitive. The walls will close in, expect it. Still, none of the other teams let us in on their development cycle!

The Independents

#12 Rebellion Racing (W) – Rebellion R-One – AER – Nicolas Prost, Nick Heidfeld, Mattias Beche
#13 Rebellion Racing (W) – Rebellion R-One – AER – Alexandre Imperatori, Dominik Kraihamer, Daniel Abt

Rebellion were forced to skip Silverstone and Spa while they sorted out installations issues with the new AER engines after a late choice to swap from Toyota (not the works Toyota engines, something else).
I like the way they go racing so I hope the delay won’t impact their reliability. They need a good solid run to take advantage of the reliability troubles that’ll surely hit the hybrid runners, just as they did last year which netted them 4th place! So: same again please, just slightly faster! That’s why they put in the AER which is so fast in the CLM.
The solid #12 drivers return and will surely be their lead charge. In the #13 Leimer and Belicchi are out, and Imperatori and Abt are in. Imperatori was good for KCMG in the LMP2 class.

#4 Team ByKolles (W) – CLM P1/01 – AER – Simon Trummer, Pierre Kaffer, Tiago Monteiro

#4 ByKolles CLM
#4 ByKolles CLM in parc ferme (c) P.Wotton

This team is doing all of their development in public. In a difference to last year they do appear to be getting faster. The car is changing appearance. Quick in a straight line just not so good in the corners (good engine, bad chassis). Over a lap the car does just about out-run the LMP2 cars but it still can’t run for very long. It was in and out of the pits at Silverstone and at Spa it only did 46 laps (the winner did 176 laps). This was the only privateer entrant at Silverstone and Spa so it was expected they’d build a big points gap over Rebellion – but failing to finish either round means they’ve failed to score. So excluding crashes from others I have every expectation this will be the first official retirement in any class. Klien and Liuzzi look to have been binned, which for their own careers is probably for the best.

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours – LMP2 Preview

Hi. This is the 3rd of 4 posts previewing each class of the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours. I’ve already written about GTE Pro and GTE Am. Now it is time for the biggest class: LMP2 has a whopping 19 entries. I will try to be brief..

Again, disclaimer, this is a fan blog and these are just my impressions having seen the first few races but without having yet read or listened to any previews.

LM P2 Summary: 19 Entries (9 from WEC, 9 from ELMS, 1 one-off)

Le Mans Prototype cars with a Pro/Am driver line-up, similar to GTE Am but with a slightly different configuration between Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. The specifics aren’t important, what’s important is the way you choose to deploy your lower-ranked driver/s. Do you get the slower guys out of the way early? Do you have the Pro’s deal with the difficult night? And remember, without the Am’s a lot of these teams wouldn’t even be racing – some may want to take the flag themselves.

Slower than LMP1 but faster around a lap than GTE. They have about the same top speed as GTE, the P2s make up their time through the corners. This isn’t ideal when the P2s come to lap the GTEs as it can make for some dicey, late braking moves.

European Le Mans Series P2 teams are strong. Don’t be fooled by the fact they don’t enter the world championship – the rules for their class of the ELMS are the same as for the WEC. Last year the ELMS guys roundly trounced the WEC teams. This year some of them joined the WEC so the split is now 50:50.

WEC note: Le Mans counts for WEC double-points but only among entrants registered for the WEC. Non-registered cars are ignored for points purposes. WEC-registered cars are marked with (W) after their name.

 

The Favourite

#38 Jota Sport – Gibson 015S – Nissan – Dunlop – Simon Dolan, Mitch Evans, Oliver Turvey

Jota Sport Gibson-Nissan
#38 Jota Sport Gibson-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

This is another class in which you could easily argue there are 2 or 3 equal favourites! I’m forcing myself to make a pick for each class and I can’t look away from Jota. They are likely the favourites for the ELMS title though a win in that series has eluded them this year, with 2nd and 3rd so far. In between those results they won the WEC round at Spa. Turvey is quick, Evans is hungry, Dolan has become one of the top ‘Am’ drivers in the class. They have some very stiff competition though.

 

The Contenders

Thiriet by TDS
#46 Thiriet by TDS Oreca-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

#46 Thiriet by TDS Racing – Oreca 05 – Nissan – Dunlop – Pierre Thiriet, Ludovic Badey, Tristan Gommendy

This car is equal favourite to Jota and is only in this section because I made myself pick only one favourite per class. This is a very good ELMS team with a solid line-up, despite this strong field I’d be amazed if it doesn’t make the podium. A win at Imola and 3rd at Silverstone prove they mean business with the coupe Oreca after a year struggling with the Ligier.

#26 G-Drive Racing (W) – Ligier JS P2 – Nissan – Dunlop – Roman Rusinov, Julien Canal, Sam Bird
#28 G-Drive Racing (W) – Ligier JS P2 – Nissan – Dunlop – Gustavo Yacaman, Pipo Derani, Ricardo Gonzalez

G-Drive Ligier-Nissan
#28 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

A win apiece for this team in the WEC. #26 won at Silverstone. #28 won at Spa and took 2nd at Silverstone meaning they hold a handy points lead – no other WEC P2 car scored two podiums out of the opening rounds. Double points though at Le Mans, all to play for.
Theoretically you’d say the #26 should have the edge in driver line-ups in this team, particularly Bird, but perhaps that #28 should be watched too. Yacaman has been wild in the past in IMSA but seems to be taking to WEC P2 racing rather well.

#41 Greaves Motorsport – Gibson 015S – Nissan – Dunlop – Gary Hirsch, Bjorn Wirdheim, Jon Lancaster

Winners at Silverstone ELMS thanks to Lancaster’s, err, ‘forceful’ GP2-style moves to overtake. That sort of driving won’t last long at Le Mans and what’s more, the team and driver are both fast enough not to need it. Could get a win or podium and will likely finish ahead of many fancied WEC runners.

#36 Signatech Alpine (W) – Alpine A450b – Nissan – Dunlop – Nelson Panciatici, Paul-Loup Chatin, Vincent Capillaire

#36 Signatech
#36 Signatech Alpine-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

PLC is one to watch. Some may say ‘miscategorised’! I like the fight they showed in the ELMS last year, now they’re in the WEC and a DNF and a 4th probably aren’t representative of what this team can do. The Alpine A450b is basically an Oreca 03R under another name: older, but proven. (I say that – it was out after 20 laps at Silverstone after a wheel came off!)

#43 Team SARD-Morand (W) – Morgan LMP2 Evo – SARD – Dunlop – Pierre Ragues, Oliver Webb, Zoel Amberg

A troubled start to the year with sponsors walking away, the team skipping Silverstone and a planned second car not appearing. A strong rebound at Spa saw the lone car finish 2nd! Are they a contender? I’m a little unsure, but to pull off a result like that on merit following such troubles, that’s a good sign.

 

The Upper Midfield

 

#48 Murphy Prototypes – Oreca 03R – Nissan – Dunlop – Karun Chandhok, Mark Patterson, Nathanael Berthon

This is an odd one. The team has all the hallmarks of one that should be quick but they never seem to have the luck – mechanicals, crashes, you name it. Scored 2nd in the ELMS at Imola but a retirement at Silverstone. I want to say they’re a Contender and I really hope they have a good solid run but you just know something will happen..

#47 KCMG (W) – Oreca 05 – Nissan – Dunlop – Matt Howson, Richard Bradley, Nicolas Lapierre

#47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan
#47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

Steadily building up over the last few years. You sense this team is a growing force. Took 3 wins in last year’s under-subscribed WEC and now showing well against a bigger field. Two LM24 attempts and two DNFs so far, I think they’ll do much better this year but I don’t think it’ll be a win.. yet. Unlucky not to have a second car on the entry list (it is 1st Reserve), perhaps they can focus on this one without distractions. Also has the best livery in the field!

#34 OAK Racing – Ligier JS P2 – Honda – Dunlop – Chris Cumming, Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre
#35 OAK Racing (W) – Ligier JS P2 – Nissan – Dunlop – Jacques Nicolet, Jean-Marc Merlin, Erik Maris

#35 OAK Racing
#35 OAK Racing Ligier-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

OAK Racing is the competition arm of Onroak who make the Ligier and Morgan chassis. As such they’re running cars here with different engines as a showcase, one with a Nissan and one with a Honda/HPD. With these line-ups the Honda car has the driver advantage, Vanthoor and Estre are great talents in GT racing. Yet so far the Nissan has proven the better engine, that’s why most of the field is using it.
There isn’t any doubt about the quality of the team. #34 could be in the ‘Contender’ category – but OAK previously said they didn’t want to race their customers this year so that makes me pull back and wonder whether they’ll slow it down and run this race as a test with both cars.

#42 Strakka Racing (W) – Dome Strakka S103 – Nissan – Dunlop – Nick Leventis, Danny Watts, Jonny Kane

#42 Strakka Dome Nissan
#42 Strakka Dome Nissan (c) P.Wotton

The new car isn’t as quick as it should be. It was also a year late. Finished 3rd at Silverstone only thanks to the troubles of others, because they were 7 laps down and off the pace throughout. The team hopes a change from Michelin, used in the first two races, to the class-leading Dunlop will help their fortunes. I hope so but right now I have insufficient data to realistically call them a contender. The quality of the team itself and of the driver line-up isn’t in question.

The Lower Midfield

#30 Extreme Speed Motorsports (W) – Ligier JS P2 – Honda – Dunlop – Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel, David Heinemeier-Hansson
#31 Extreme Speed Motorsports (W) – Ligier JS P2 – Honda – Dunlop – Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek, Jon Fogarty

#30 ESM HPD
#30 ESM HPD in the wars at Silverstone (c) P.Wotton

What should be a team running further up will likely just be happy to finish the race, after the six months they’ve had! From the new HPD chassis at the IMSA Daytona 24, to the venerable old HPD at Silverstone – which first got damaged and then got excluded – then to the new Ligiers at Spa. So many car changes in such a short time has left the team spinning! This is the sole reason I place my expectations so low – in any other year they’d be higher.
A very good driver line-up and the team has plenty of experience of racing in the ALMS and IMSA. I’m glad they are in the WEC now but I wish they hadn’t had such a bumpy ride so far. Let’s hope for a smooth Le Mans. Won’t be in their usual Tequila Patron bright green as alcohol sponsorship is banned in France.

The Outsiders

#40 Krohn Racing – Ligier JS P2 – Judd – Michelin – Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson, Joao Barbosa

#40 Krohn Ligier-Judd
#40 Krohn Ligier-Judd (c) P.Wotton

Team took part in IMSA’s Daytona & Sebring before joining the ELMS, finding that series a cheaper / less hectic schedule for them around Krohn’s other interests.
Barbosa is acting as ‘guest driver’ and we all know how good he is. He’s become one of the top drivers in IMSA, but before that do you remember he went like dynamite for Rollcentre Racing at Le Mans? Could take class pole. Interesting choice to use him instead of ELMS driver Ozz Negri. Jonsson is also a quick guy. The fortunes of this team will depend on Krohn, who has experience and on some days can be quick for an ‘Am’, yet on others can spin the car every 10 laps like a rookie. After 24 hours they should be clearly ahead of the cars listed below, but perhaps behind most of those listed above.

#27 SMP Racing – BR Engineering BR01 – Nissan – Michelin – Maurizio Mediani, David Markozov, Nicolas Minassian
#37 SMP Racing – BR Engineering BR01 – Nissan – Michelin – Mikhail Aleshin, Kirill Ladygin, Anton Ladygin

Won the WEC last year (via double points at Le Mans) then stepped back to the ELMS to work on this new car. Suffered new-car-woes at Imola after missing round 1 entirely. We’ll know the true pace of the car when Minassian is aboard. Aleshin was a little guilty of over-driving it to make up time. I think one car will likely retire, the other will also DNF or will come home multiple laps down. They’ll keep trying though, until the thing physically won’t move any more.

#29 Pegasus Racing – Morgan LMP2 – Nissan – Michelin – Leo Roussel, Ho-Pin Tung, David Cheng

They haven’t had a good start to the ELMS. A DNF and a low placing at Imola. Ho-Pin Tung is a known quantity (for better or worse). David Cheng, name rings a bell.. I know he’s been in the PC class in IMSA but I don’t remember much more. I don’t know Roussel. The Morgan is an older open-top car.

#45 Ibanez Racing Oreca-Nissan
#45 Ibanez Racing Oreca-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

#45 Ibanez Racing – Oreca 03R – Nissan – Dunlop – Jose Ibanez, Pierre Perret, Ivan Bellarosa

Running the older open-top Oreca. Didn’t really have the speed in the opening ELMS races, mostly through inexperience from the team and drivers. I like it when new teams appear so I hope they keep running as it’ll encourage them to improve and come back.

 

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours – GTE Pro Preview

Hello. This is the second of my previews for the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours. See my GTE-Am preview here.

Again, disclaimer, this is a fan blog and these are just my impressions having seen the first few races but without having yet read or listened to any previews.

LM GTE Pro Summary: 9 Entries (7 from WEC and 2 from IMSA)

GT Endurance cars with an all-Pro driver line-up. This makes for a frantic 24-hour sprint race where the tiniest margin matters.

GTE Pro is the GT class where manufacturers go to prove their roadgoing cars. The big battle is between Aston Martin, Ferrari, Corvette and Porsche.

Although this class has the smallest entry in the field, it is the class with the highest average level of quality. You won’t find a car or driver here that you’d scratch your head about, and you can’t say that about the other classes. I’m not joking or exaggerating when I say any car can win. Most drivers here are employed by the car manufacturers themselves, being paid to race, and most are good enough to race in LMP1 or F1 which shows how seriously those companies take this class.

WEC note: Le Mans counts for WEC double-points but only among entrants registered for the WEC. Non-registered cars are ignored for points purposes. WEC-registered cars are marked with (W) after their name.

 

The Favourite

#51 AF Corse (W) – Ferrari 458 Italia – Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander, Giancarlo Fisichella

AF Corse at Silverstone
AF Corse at Silverstone (c) P.Wotton

Although in GTE Am I said the Aston would hold the advantage, and that car will be strong, I just can’t shake off the feeling AF Corse will win in Pro. The Ferraris are always quick, Bruni and Vilander are nearly unbeatable, and Fisi is really on form as well.

Though I’m forcing myself to pick a favourite, in reality another 3 or 4 cars could be considered joint favourites! It may be the smallest class but it the one with highest quality entry.

 

The Contenders

#95 Aston Martin Racing (W) – Aston Martin Vantage GTE – Marco Sorensen, Nicki Thiim, Christoffer Nygaard
#97 Aston Martin Racing (W) – Aston Martin Vantage GTE – Darren Turner, Stefan Muecke, Rob Bell
#99 Aston Martin Racing (W) – Aston Martin Vantage GTE – Fernando Rees, Alex MacDowell, Richie Stanaway

Aston Martins at Silverstone
Aston Martins at Silverstone (c) P.Wotton

#97 and #95 (in that order) should be the big contenders for the race win yet they are both at the bottom of the WEC standings. I do think they’ll be fast at Le Mans, they just have to avoid errors.

#99 in theory is the weaker car but nobody told them that – they sit 2nd in WEC team points with a win at Spa! This crew of younger guns is hungry to prove something. Keep an eye on this car.

#71 AF Corse (W) – Ferrari 458 Italia – Davide Rigon, James Calado, Olivier Beretta

I put this a little behind the #51 but not far. I’m not quite sure where to place it versus the Aston Martins. They are at the same level! A podium contender for certain, and possibly also the win.

Porsche at Silverstone
Porsche at Silverstone (c) P.Wotton

#91 Porsche Team Manthey (W) – Porsche 911 RSR – Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen, Joerg Bergmeister
#92 Porsche Team Manthey (W) – Porsche 911 RSR – Patrick Pilet, Fred Makowiecki, Wolf Henzler

As with the Porsche in the Am class, the nature of the LM circuit may count against outright speed at the 24 Hours. The Ferraris and Astons seem either to have something more or they have the better BoP. This is Manthey though so they’ll be in contention, they’ll find a way. The #91 scored 2nd at Silverstone, before the team took 2nd (#92) and 3rd (#91) at Spa.

With a field of this quality it is hard to say which car has the best driver line-up in the Pro class but I think my pick is the #92.

#63 Corvette Racing-GM – Chevrolet Corvette C7.R – Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Ryan Briscoe
#64 Corvette Racing-GM – Chevrolet Corvette C7.R – Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Jordan Taylor

This IMSA team is one of the best GT teams on the planet, but nowadays they only really meet their LM opposition actually at Le Mans, which makes it hard to judge where they’ll place and how fast they’ll be. They prefer to run a conservative race, sticking to a race pace to preserve reliability, and let the others go chasing speed and will pick up the pieces when those fall by the wayside in trying. It hasn’t quite worked as well as it did in the GT1 era but it did get them 2nd place last year. But don’t think they aren’t fast, when they want to be.

And that’s it!

Every car in the field is a contender. There are no ‘midfielders’ or ‘tailenders’ in this class, every car has a legitimate shot to win. This is why you NEED to be watching GTE Pro.

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours – GTE Am Preview

Hello everyone. It was Racing Christmas 2 last week – Monaco, Indy, Charlotte, etc – and what an epic weekend it was. Now we’re into June and that means one thing: Racing Christmas 3 and what could be the best Le Mans in years!

Inspired by Andy The Speedgeek’s Daytona 24 Hours class-by-class previews I thought I’d preview each class of the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours. (Daytona 24 is Racing Christmas 1). This isn’t the first thing of Andy’s I’ve ‘stolen’, I’m hoping this’ll go a little better.

A short bit on each entry, one post per class, in reverse class order with the slowest first. This satisfies my sense of order and also the classes line up in exactly the order of how interesting I find them (LMP1 the most interesting). That’s not to say you should ignore GTE Am though, you must keep an eye on it!

Disclaimer – This is a fan blog. I have no insider information. Due to time constraints I haven’t followed much news from Sunday’s Test Day and I’m deliberately ignoring any previews until after I’ve written my own. I want these posts to be my best guess rather than an echo chamber for the experts you should really be listening to from RLM, DSC, Racer, S365, etc.

I have seen both World Endurance Championship races this year and both European Le Mans Series races, and most of the IMSA Tudor Championship too, however a final word of warning – my memory is abysmal.

LM GTE Am Summary: 14 Entries (7 from WEC, 2 from IMSA, 2 from ELMS, 2 from Asian LMS, 1 one-off)

GT Endurance cars which must have a Pro/Am driver line-up. (Although the class is called ‘Am’ a car can run with one Pro driver).

I like GTE Am. When GT1 died and GT2 got turned into GTE, with a separate Pro class and a Pro/Am class, I thought we’d all focus on the flat-out Pro race and could safely ignore a boring Am race – how wrong I was!

GTE Am is strategic. The strategy comes from the driver line up. It is regulated, you have to decide what combination of Platinum and Gold (Pro), and Silver and Bronze (Am), drivers to run to fit the drive-time rules and when in the race to run them. Do you use your Silver & Bronze time early, or do you put the Pro’s in overnight? Eventually it all equals out because everyone is (in theory) running to the same rules.

WEC note: Le Mans counts for WEC double-points but only among entrants registered for the WEC. Non-registered cars are ignored for points purposes. WEC-registered cars are marked with (W) after their name.

 

The Favourite

#98 Aston Martin Racing (W) – Aston Martin Vantage GTE – Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda

Won at both Silverstone and Spa. The only things stopping this will be the #83 Ferrari, the BoP at Le Mans, or simply the vagaries of crashes, contact and reliability at the big race. I think the Ferrari will have the speed at this place but the Aston will win in the long run.

The Contenders

#83 AF Corse (W) – Ferrari 458 Italia – Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard, Rui Aguas
#55 AF Corse – Ferrari 458 Italia – Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin, Alex Mortimer

AF Corse Ferrari
#83 AF Corse Ferrari at Silverstone (c) P.Wotton

AF Corse, the Ferrari powerhouse. The #83 is the WEC-scoring car. It was second at both Silverstone and Spa and a very strong contender for the win and Championship. I still think the Aston will edge it but it’ll be a close run thing!

The #55 is AF Corse’s ELMS car. Cameron and Griffin took 3 wins out of 5 in the ELMS last year with this team (and Michele Rugalo) and are a great pairing.

Both cars will be strong.

no.50 Larbre Corvette
#50 Larbre Corvette (c) P.Wotton

#50 Larbre Competition (W) – Corvette C7.R – Gianluca Roda, Paulo Ruberti, Kristian Poulsen

Larbre know how to win this race. Strong contender especially with the new Corvette, the driver line-up is pretty good too… but finished laps down at Silverstone and recorded a DNF at Spa so making the finish is the only question mark. One-car effort up against the might of the Ferraris and the rapid Astons. Want an underdog that has a real chance? Pick this car.

#72 SMP Racing (W) – Ferrari 458 Italia – Viktor Shaitar, Andrea Bertolini, Aleksey Basov

no.72 SMP Ferrari
#72 SMP Ferrari (c) P.Wotton

Bertolini is still rapid. Shaitar and Basov seem reasonable enough. This car finished 3rd in class at both Silverstone and Spa which I suspect surprised a lot of people – it surprised me. I thought the tie-in with AF Corse had ended. Could find itself in stealthy contention while everyone is watching AMR and AF. May not be a fan favourite, yet definitely one to watch.

The Upper Midfield

no.88 Proton Porsche
#88 Proton Porsche (c) P.Wotton

#88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing (W) – Porsche 911 RSR (991) – Christian Ried, Khaled al Qubaisi, Klaus Bachler

Top notch driver line-up in this class and nothing wrong with the team. I’m just not convinced of the pace of the Porsches at Le Mans. If the Balance of Performance is working for it then this’ll be a contender too, no question, but the Aston and Ferrari always seem to have the edge at Le Mans and in the WEC.

#66 JMW Motorsport – Ferrari 458 Italia – Abdulaziz al Faisal, Kuba Giermaziak, Michael Avenatti

I nearly put this in the ‘Contenders’ section and may regret not doing so. One of only two ELMS entrants to make the big race (unless a Reserve gets in). The only car in the combined GT field to run on Dunlop tyres, as everyone else is on Michelins, an advantage or disadvantage? The team usually runs well at Le Mans and has a decent driver line-up. Solid top 6 expected.

#62 Scuderia Corsa – Ferrari 458 Italia – Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal

Quality entrant from the GTD (GT3) class in IMSA in the US with a first rate driver line up but this is the team’s first attempt at Le Mans – although significant team members & drivers have been before. Full credit to them for doing it themselves rather than tying up with a European team. If they figure out Le Mans they could be another contender I’ve underestimated.

The Others

#61 AF Corse – Ferrari 458 Italia – Peter Ashley Mann, Raffaele Gianmaria, Matteo Cressoni

Another of AF’s fleet, this is their one-off LM entry. It’ll be in the mix somewhere but surely not all of their cars can be up front..?

#53 Riley Motorsports – Dodge Viper SRT GTS-R – Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Marc Miller

IMSA entrant from the US. Car ran solidly but off pace at Le Mans in 2013, after that they made upgrades to the car which helped it to the 2014 IMSA title before the programme got canned. Back now without factory backing but with those upgrades and a good driver line-up, it will be interesting to see how it fares this year. Bleekemolen is the Pro and is probably the fastest driver entered in the entire class. I can’t classify it anywhere other than here simply due to lack of data.

#77 Dempsey-Proton Racing (W) – Porsche 911 RSR (991) – Patrick Dempsey, Pat Long, Marco Seefried

The second Proton car is the one with the driver who does acting from time to time. Long and Seefried we know are very quick. Dempsey himself led the Am class on merit a year ago until an LMP2 car knocked him into a spin. Hopefully that pace reappears from him this year but it was lacking at Silverstone and Spa so my expectations are low.

#96 Aston Martin Racing
#96 Aston Martin Racing (c) P.Wotton

#96 Aston Martin Racing (W) – Aston Martin Vantage GTE – Roald Goethe, Stuart Hall, Franscesco Castellacci

As above I predict AMR will have the fastest car. but with the #96 the driver lineup lets it down. Goethe blows hot and cold but as he’s the one providing the Gulf funding you can’t really argue if he wants to have a go! I expect a few spins but they should make it home, albeit a few laps down.

The Outsiders

#67 Team AAI – Porsche 911 GTR RSR (997) – Jun-San Chen, Xavier Maassen, Alex Kapadia
#68 Team AAI – Porsche 911 RSR (991) – Han-Chen Chen, Gilles Vannelet, Mike Parisy

Team AAI get the entries from the Asian Le Mans Series. Teaming with Prospeed Competition for Le Mans is smart and should almost guarantee a solid run, but I can’t recommend a team when I’ve never heard of four of the drivers. Maassen is solid, Kapadia was quick the few times I saw him in LMP2 (his website is called wiKapadia.com – good punnery means I support him). Interestingly, the lone old-spec 997 Porsche in the race has been given to the quick guys of this team. It’ll outpace the newer car which I doubt will finish.