In LM GTE-Pro’s final WEC season, expect talented line-ups of factory drivers battling it out for the prestigious GT World Championship titles.
As the fascinating yet expiring Grand Touring Endurance category closes its chapter, it must be said the final year certainly promises thrills and spills.
Following the notable end of Season 9, several talking points – both new and outstanding – carry themselves into the new year.
Unlike GTE-Am, this category is fighting for the utmost highest status of a World Championship Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ title.
This category will feature 10 current driving talents of GT motorsport who represent Ferrari, Porsche, and now Corvette. Treble line-ups will be expected for Round 3 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
With a trio of manufacturers represented in the class, it stands to no reason why there are key talking points which make each of them worthy contenders.
Corvette Racing’s full-time entry in the WEC
The American manufacturer has a decorated history of participations and successes, in GT sportscar racing, including every Le Mans 24 Hours running since 1999, apart from 2020.
Their C8.R took on its first race in Europe last year at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps opener.
Alike for this season, they took on AF Corse and Porsche’s double-entries which team veterans Antonio Garcia and Oliver Gavin at the wheel, whereas it will be Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner in 2022.
Unfortunately, the car struggled to bring competitive qualifying pace when it trailed over two seconds behind Kevin Estre’s pole position.
This was the theme for the race as the C8.R did not assert the consistent race pace against their rivals.
Looking further to the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year, their competitive pace turned alive.
It was Nick Tandy pushed the #64 Corvette confidently into Hyperpole behind one Porsche and two AF Corses. In that final session, he qualified third on the grid in the GTE field.
Throughout the race, both Corvettes showcased why they are the most experienced GTE outfit on the grid with perfectly executed pit stops.
Regular duels set the tone for a promising Le Mans however the #64 car finished last in the classified field after running into continuous issues making three trips to the garage, the first when the diffuser broke in the fifth hour shortly after Alexander Sims’ first stint.
The Briton also set a new race lap record for GTE of 3m47.501s, teasing the undeployed potential of the Corvette.
As for the #63 which started last in GTE-Pro, they were fighting for the lead with AF Corse right to the end with a 50s gap at the checkered flag.
The #52 and the #63 averaged the same speed during their race at 307 km/h and conducted the same number (23) of pit stops.
Le Mans 24 remains a positive reminder of what they can do in the WEC environment, so there is promise for Season 10 with a pair of multiple Le Mans- and title-winning drivers.
Anticipation remains for when they take on as yet two unraced circuits – Fuji and Bahrain.
Porsche’s motivation to grasp both titles
Never could one have anticipated a dramatic finale with just four cars in the class, but with slightly changed driver crews, we have no reason to deny the same fights this year.
Michael Christensen, replacing Neel Jani, and reigning Nurburgring 24 winner Kevin Estre will pilot the #92.
In the other Porsche 911 RSR GTE-Evo, Gianmaria Bruni will partner Richard Lietz once again.
First of all, Estre’s qualifying performances were the talk of the moment throughout last year’s campaign and his talents showed as he navigated the LMP2s which were just metres ahead.
With a grand LMP2 field for this year, his awareness at race starts will piece through to the cameras once again.
It will be a pleasure to see him take on every qualifying session this year, but his red flag-induced crash at Le Mans cost them a fighting chance at the most prestigious round on the calendar.
His one FIA WEC GT title and Le Mans victory during the Super-Season shadows his hunger to win this year before Porsche returns to top-tier sportscar racing.
AF Corse on a mission to defend their titles
AF Corse’s duo of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi will begin this season with the objective to defend their second Le Mans victory together in addition to the World Championship.
The Ferrari 488 GTE Evo package showed strong pace throughout last season as very little on-track mistakes were made, excluding the last lap moment in Bahrain.
What formulated a controversial end to the GTE-Pro title fight disparaged the fascinating eight-hour duel between both outfits.
Last year, it took some time into the season before we got to see them fighting, so more of such action would be an uplifting end to GTE.
Antonio Fuoco replaces Daniel Serra in the #52 as a promoted jump from Cetilar Racing’s 2021 GTE-Am debut.
The Scuderia Ferrari F1 development driver demonstrated eagerness in the GTE-Am class and was part of two podiums including a race victory at Portimao.
The 25-year-old proved himself amongst the field of ‘amateur-rated’ drivers last year, but now he must take on the professionals.
Let us know what your favourite talking points are from the GTE-Pro category!