The World Endurance Championship is a month away from kicking off its 10th season at Sebring, and Last Lap previews their LM GTE-Am class.
GTE-Am is often underestimated for the action it gives off with the excitement from the other three categories.
A range of teams comprised of semi-professional and ‘amateur’-licensed drivers compete for the Drivers’ and Teams’ trophies up for grabs every season.
Each of three driver crews will pilot the previous season’s GTE models, as per usual with how the class works.
Season 10 once again features manufacturers Aston Martin with their Vantage GTE, Ferrari and the 488 GTE-Evo, and Porsche’s 911 RSR GTE-Evo.
There are several reasons as to why excitement should be reserved for this 13-car field as it has showcased many of the most relentless wheel-to-wheel battles last year.
A platform of unforgiving fights
It remains an impressive spectacle to see the group of ‘amateur’ drivers (excluding the handful of platinum drivers) show their abilities when they are unforgiving but not reckless as they seek positions on the circuit.
There are three factors which enable this: The cars being able to run closely, the extra allocation of tyres compared to the other classes, and the sheer will of the drivers who take on the WEC.
Extraneous factors such as tyre wear do pose a vital matter for GTE-Am teams, but at a lesser intensity compared to the other three classes.
Two particular case studies can be drawn from last year, the first event of which will sadly not return for 2022.
During the 8 Hours of Portimao, the ‘roller-coaster’ nature of the circuit combined with the high track temperatures put a strain on the cars and drivers, particularly through tyre management with aim not to grain, blister or flat-spot the Michelin rubber.
D’station Racing’s Tomonobu Fujii made up for an underwhelming qualifying after charging through the field at the beginning of the race.
Needless to say, it was an engaging performance to see him climb five places and into the GTE-Am lead. His efforts, however, were compromised by locking up the brakes into a few braking zones, therefore he was forced to pit early after his tyres suffered dramatically.
The action was a thrill in GTE-Am, but even they can be subjected to the spells of imperfect tyre management.
Jump forward to the penultimate round, the 6 Hours of Bahrain, the high temperatures – heating up the track itself – and the sand provoked a game in tyre management.
This made for a lack of action during the middle of the race, apart from GTE-Am who changed tyres at every pit stop therefore kept relentlessly fighting for positions.
In fact, the fight for second place kept the excitement to the end as the #98 North West AMR of Marcos Gomes fought with Matteo Cairoli of the #56 Team Project 1, who in their respect chased down Matt Cambell’s #77 Porsche in P2.
GTE-Am is the category to trust for action from start to finish, if none of the others look to do so.
Title fight opens up as reigning champions jump to LMP2
The same car has won the Drivers’ and Teams’ trophies for two consecutive seasons, featuring the same drivers (apart from Emmanuel Collard who won it in Season 8 and Alessio Rovera in Season 9).
As they head to LMP2’s Pro/Am class, a new champion is guaranteed an open for the 2022 campaign.
Many of the drivers in the class have yet to be confirmed, and besides, the class is highly competitive thus too unpredictable to note one winner.
Contenders include the #33 TF Sport crew. Last year, they were unlucky on several occasions not to fight at the sharper end of the grid more often.
From being a victim within an LMP2 fight at Spa, to their tyre failure at Monza and their contact with the #98 in the finale which saw them score no points never stopped them from putting on a fight for the title.
They were unable to compete with the #83’s level of success which landed them 150 points compared to the efforts of Ben Keating, Dylan Pereira and Felipe Fraga’s 90.5.
They finished second even at Le Mans and are primary contenders to land the top spot this year with better luck on their side, albeit with new teammates partnering Keating.
Team Project 1 teaming up with Optimum Motorsport
The crew of the #56 Team Project 1 Porsche may look familiar if you watched the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year.
Talented trio Brendan Iribe, Oli Milroy, and Lexus works driver Ben Barnicoat drove in the team’s first race in the championship with a Ferrari.
It was a challenging run after finishing 12th in the 23-car GTE-Am class.
This finishing place told half the story as they asserted front-running pace during a frantic narrative for their class.
It’s all eyes on them as they pursue their first WEC campaign with one of the most experienced GTE-Am teams in the game.
Spirit of Race returns full-time since the Super-Season
Amongst the five Ferraris in the class, Spirit of Race make a return to the WEC since completing the 2018-19 Super Season campaign.
They returned at the two Le Mans 24 Hours which followed, claiming P22 and P19 in the category.
For this year, there is little reason to doubt their chances at fighting at the front of the field.
Spirit of Race did so in the Super-Season with two podiums and 62.5% of their eight finishes in the top five.
Not only do the team have the experience of endurance racing, but the drivers are just as thrilling to watch throughout this season.
LMP2 regular Gabriel Aubry adds confidence to the team in partnership with Pierre Ragues who has 13 Le Mans entries with a personal best of P4 overall for Signatech Alpine, in 2017.
Gentlemen driver Franck Dezoteux brings five races worth of racing experience competed in the past two years, with four of those races in the European Le Mans Series and the Michelin Le Mans; both in Ferrari machinery.
These are only just some of the talking points with GTE-Am! Which teams and drivers are you looking out for this year?