In a four-part series, Last Lap previews the 2021 FIA World Endurance Championship and their class’ talking points, starting with LM GTE-Am.
The opening round of the FIA WEC will be commencing at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Before previewing the 6 Hours of Spa itself, proceedings which are a month away, we thought best to pick some key talking points from the four racing categories.
We begin with the GTE-Am category. The supposedly lowest class of competitor in the FIA WEC has always featured the prior season’s WEC GTE models.
Each entry features a mandated trio driver line-up with a mix of bronze and silver-licensed drivers. It is the most ideal class in the WEC for the more elder and experienced drivers.
Season 9’s GTE-Am features 13 competitors with the same four manufacturers as before, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche, even if the former has left from a manufacturer works perspective.
D’Station partners with TF Sport for WEC debut
A talking point in the category includes the new partnership between Super GT regulars D’station Racing and reigning class Le Mans winners TF Sport.
A familiar set of drivers commit themselves in the full 2021 season, with a focus on the Le Mans 24 Hours later in the year.
The only two announced so far has been bronze-rated driver Satoshi Hoshino, gold-rated Tomonobu Fujii, and silver-rated Andrew Watson.
“Being able to compete in the FIA WEC has been a major goal for D’station Racing since its inauguration.”
Tomonobu Fuji, Managing Director of D’Station Racing
Fujii’s track record showcases his last 24 hour race in 2013 (3rd in A6-Pro class) and 2014 where he drove an AM Vantage GT3 in both instances.
The will drive the #777 Aston Martin Vantage GTE rather than their common GT3 and GT4 racers.
Their GT3 variant that last appeared during the foughtnight Asian Le Mans Series calendar during last month at Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The crew and their #77 AMR GT3 competed in a hurried schedule with two four-hour races coupled with each other at two consecutive weekends.
D’station left the final round of the 2021 ALMS on a high after an improvement with two seventh-placed finishes in a GT class of 19, compared to two 13th spots at the two Dubai opening races.
A great learning curve will be met as they pursue the ultimate form of endurance racing on a maiden full-time scale, but the other commitments in GT3 and GT4 outfits brings an element of preparation and familiarity with the AMR package.
Tom Ferrier, Team Owner of TF Sport, looks to work with Fujii “for many years to come.”
Ben Keating switches to TF Sport and Aston Martin machinery
As one of the more prominent names in GTE-Am, the 49-year-old American driver has found himself in most corners of the sportscar world.
Coupled with his six consecutive Le Mans participations, he made most of a career in American sportscar racing inspired from the moment his wife gifted him a track-day driving course back in 2006.
As far as his WEC commitments go, he pursued a full-time campaign from Season 8 having just secured a third-placed finish at Le Mans in his Keating Motorsport GTE-Am outfit.
This will be his fifth GTE-Am car since a first glimpse with an SRT Viper GTS-R in 2015, followed by two years of LMP2 (thus six cars driven at each Le Mans).
The Ferrari 488 GTE followed, as a Ford GT in the Super-Season, and then a Porsche 911 RSR GTE.
A range of piloted GT cars is part of why Keating is a major score in TF Sport’s line-up and this could be the year where he defends and takes a maiden Le Mans win on his seventh attempt.
Iron Lynx all-female crew set for full-time WEC promotion
The all-female driver crew of Rahel Frey, Manuela Gostner, and Michelle Gatting have raced as a team at the past two Le Mans 24 Hours. However, this initial crew was shuffled around so that Katherine Legge will debut into the WEC.
Frey and Gostner debuted at the 2019 event with Kessel Racing, and Iron Lynx in 2020. A ninth-placed finish at both events made for a satisfactory debut. With the latter run in the ‘Evo’ variant of the Ferrari 488 GTE, the former Ferrari Challenge graduates continue in a familiar GTE package.
Legge has yet to make her Le Mans debut but will do so later this year. She will be the first British female to do so since 2008.
As the second other all-female driver crew to run in the WEC, it goes without saying they will want to prove their presence and ability once in a GTE category.
Other than the 24 Hours of Le Mans, their testament of endurance will be stretched at now having to do eight and six-hour long races.
Frey and Gostner’s ELMS season, in which Legge was forced to sit out of after a testing incident, will partner their familiarity with the car with Legge’s experience in the sportscar discipline.
Cetilar opt for GTE-Am after four years in LMP2
Team Owner and driver Roberto Lacorte made the decision to strengthen their ties with AF Corse by now fielding a Ferrari 488 GTE-Evo (Am).
For the past four years, the LMP2 category has been dominated by Oreca 07s, as still exemplified by the sole Ligier JSP217 anomaly in this year’s Oreca field.
Their AF Corse-run Dallara P217-Gibson was raced by Cetilar Racing in the last four Le Mans 24 Hours participations and dismissed out of use at this year’s Rolex 24.
The reasoning behind this move to GTE was the incoming power restrictions for LMP2 that would make it undesirable. Lacorte can now draw in AF Corse’s experience in the GTE-Am class.
Former Scuderia Ferrari F1 development driver Antonio Fuoco joins two Cetilar Racing regulars, Giorgio Sernagiotto and Lacorte, into this GTE-Am pursuit.
The team made their jump onto the full WEC spotlight at Season 8 from the ELMS, a natural and popular jump being made by several teams especially for this year.
Their 2019-20 campaign in LMP2 was checkered and mediocre to say the least with all of their finishes at the mid-to-lower end of the class field.
However, a sense of perseverance and enthusiasm carried itself within the team that wanted to respect the only Dallara package.
An example would be at the 8 Hours of Bahrain when the #47 suffered an exploded brake disc and were also forced to change the alternator. They may have finished in last position but wanted to give the Dallara a run to the finish in its final WEC race.
With a Ferrari 488 GTE-Evo, the team will be poised for stronger results in the more competitive and refreshing package.
New challenge, new motivation, same passion… and same number! #47 😍waiting for @FIAWEC 2021…. 💙💚🇮🇹🏎️ @AFCorse @SernaGiottoGio @Anto_Fuoco @robertolacorte @Andrea_Belicchi #testdays pic.twitter.com/Fz8M5pa0cA
— Cetilar Racing (@CetilarRacing) February 16, 2021
Whilst GTE is slowly meeting its unfortunate demise, its current heartbeat is kept alive and pulsating with action thanks to the customer teams in this category.
It also maintains a gateway for bronze and silver drivers to get in on the WEC action.
The fight for the GTE-Am Drivers’ and Teams’ trophies will be on and the #83 AF Corse crew are onto defending it.