Next on the Last Lap’s WEC preview series is LM GTE-Pro and three talking points ahead of Season 9 getting underway.
GTE has been in a prolonging status of decay with three manufacturers pulling out from the works programme since 2019, almost like the LMP1-H story.
With a bespoke purpose for endurance racing, slippier aerodynamics compared to GT3s, and an overall package that puts them amongst the fastest of today’s GT cars, they are a unique and well-admired form of racecraft.
Unfortunately, this statement has not stood the test of time and now WEC houses only Porsche and (AF Corse) Ferrari in GTE-Pro – reigning FIA WEC GT Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ champions Aston Martin are keeping their ‘Am’ customer teams going for the time being.
Instead of debating and speculating the future of GT cars at Le Mans and the WEC, it is fair to say that the category still has something ambitious going for itself in 2021.
Nevertheless, there are a few of talking points worth mentioning.
Corvette Racing cameo at selected rounds
The opening round at Spa-Francorchamps will treat us to five instead of the full-season four GTE-Pro entries (they’ll come to Le Mans too).
Corvette Racing last made a WEC appearance at last year’s Lone Star Le Mans but the relatively new C8.R struggled throughout that weekend at CoTA.
Across both Free Practice sessions, the #63 set the third most number of combined laps (in-class) at 77, whilst in qualifying the #95 ‘Dane Train’ duo set an average of 2m07.33s, with both drivers recording almost identical lap times.
Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen put down a combined-average qualifying lap of 2m02.967s which was 2.234s slower than the GTE-Pro pole time and slower than the top-three GTE-Ams.
Things did not get any better during the race as the C8.R proved uncompetitive and lacking in pace to end up sixth out of a class of seventh but only ahead of the #91 Porsche which ran into problems.
Without heading into such negative predictions, the C8.R has gathered up a lot of mileage, success and knowledge for Corvette Racing in the meantime over at IMSA.
This time around, the C8.R will be driven by Garcia once again, and Oliver Gavin.
The duo have never shared a car despite over a combined 30 years of team affiliation; all the more desire to beat their rivals on their trips across the pond.
Neel Jani returns to Porsche and the WEC
During the heart of the off-season, Porsche shuffled their GT driver line-ups which now welcomes former LMP1 WEC Champion and Le Mans winner Neel Jani.
His time during Porsche’s debut Formula E campaign was a challenge to say the least as he was unable to get to grips with the new elements of the single-seater electric championship. Teammate Andre Lotterer scored a podium at the first race whilst Jani never got into the top-10 points threshold.
Thankfully, his strong Porsche affiliation and talent is now put to better use in a Porsche 911 RSR GTE-19.
Also announced are two extra drivers for the 8 Hours of Portimão and the 24 Hours of Le Mans this season. Michael Christensen, who joins the #92 crew of Kevin Estre and the driver who he switched his full-time WEC role, Neel Jani.
“IT’S HUGELY IMPORTANT THAT THE TWO DRIVER CREWS WE SEND TO LE MANS HAVE CONTESTED AS MANY RACES AS POSSIBLE TOGETHER.”
ALEXANDER STEHLIG, HEAD OF OPERATIONS FOR FIA WEC AT PORSCHE
Frédéric Makowiecki joins the #91 of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz. Combined, the six drivers have 59 races completed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with nine class victories (LMP1 and GTE-Pro/GT2).
Makowiecki commented: “There’s not a lot of time to work on some aspects during the Le Mans week, so we’ll do that in Portimão. That puts us in a good starting position.”
With the focus on a manufacturer duel, it is no surprise that the very best drivers are being put to the test. This will make GTE-Pro a worthy category to follow this year.
Daniel Serra and his full-time return seat
Speaking of the other half in this full-season manufacturer rivalry, AF Corse are about to enter their ninth WEC season. Another 13th Le Mans 24 Hours participation later in August.
Daniel Serra may have only raced in five races during two WEC seasons for AF Corse, but he crucially claimed two podiums and one victory during the three Le Mans outings.
He won Le Mans a year before his move to AF Corse in after a full season with a full season at the now-folded Aston Martin Racing works GTE-Pro team.
Most of his recent GT experience, at most valuable, is drawn from IMSA in 10 different works-Ferrari cars across GTLM and GTD.
Without spouting any more of his history, he will remorse to return to a full year of WEC which will once again prove useful to Ferrari and claim the Le Mans win and GTE trophy titles.
All the beauty of our new #51 and #52 #Ferrari488GTE liveries, from different perspectives. Are you ready to see them compete in the 2021 @FIAWEC season?@AFCorse @JamesCalado51 @Ale_PierGuidi @DanielSerra29 @MiguelMolinaM2 #FerrariCompetizioniGT #FerrariRaces pic.twitter.com/td53SWJj2s
— Ferrari Races (@FerrariRaces) March 21, 2021
It is worth a mention that his last and most recent run in the WEC was not of such success after colliding with the #56 GTE-Am in Bahrain to lose James Calado any chance of the FIA WEC GT title; finishing four laps down to the #91 class-winning Porsche was less than ideal.
He will team up with another AF Corse regular Miguel Molina as both take on Corvette Racing and Porsche.
Indeed the GTE-Pro category is thinning after several seasons of action from manufacturers and their professional drivers.
AF Corse has hinted at continuing the WEC if GTE becomes GT3 anytime soon, though unsurprising considering their vast array of global GT3 commitments.
Despite the undertone of decay for GTE, there is no excuse to undermine the action that GTE-Pro will put on.