With the first free practice session of the season starting tomorrow, we’re almost finished with our Super Season introductions. Today we look at what to expect from the GTE Am class.
It’s getting closer! By the end of the week, we’ll be one race down in the 2018/19 Super Season. As we look forward to the start of tomorrow’s track action for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, we’re introducing you to the cars and teams of the fourth and final category in the WEC – GTE Am.
Jumping from five full-season entries to nine, GTE Am has almost doubled in size for the Super Season with three out of the five GTE manufacturers represented. As the name suggests, GTE Am driver lineups must contain one bronze driver plus one bronze or silver ranked driver – the third driver is an open choice. All the competitors have elected to run on Michelin rubber for the Super Season.
These cars are also subject to Balance of Performance regulations, though unlike their Pro counterparts, the BoP adjustments are applied manually by the FIA Endurance Committee.
This year an assortment of Ferraris, Porsches and Aston Martins will fill the GTE Am grid, with teams representing five different countries. Time to get acquainted.
The spirit of racing is a Ferrari
And they’re a Swiss team entered into GTE Am. Spirit of Race joined the World Endurance Championship last season and are back for more with their red and silver Ferrari 488 GTE. Thomas Flohr and Francesco Castellacci fill the team’s bronze and silver driver requirements. Their teammate is a name that most should recognise – Giancarlo Fisichella. Fisi returns to the WEC following a few years racing in the US with IMSA’s Risi Competizione (also in a Ferrari.) The team finished fourth last season, thanks to a couple of retirements and managing only a single win at the 6 Hours of Fuji. Now with their platinum driver aboard, they’re set to move up the ranks.
It’s a team game
Usually associated with Porsche championships like Carrera Cup and Mobile 1 Supercup, Team Project 1 is celebrating its 25th birthday this year by entering into their biggest championship ever – WEC’s GTE Am. One of the newcomers to this Super Season, the team have come armed with a Porsche 911 RSR and a trio of talented drivers. First on the entry list is platinum ranked, Porsche works driver, Jorg Bergmeister. Jorg has been with Porsche as a works driver since 2007 and brings plenty of talent and experience to the team. Alongside Jorg is silver driver Patrick Lindsey, another man who has spent a lot of time behind the wheel of a Porsche. Their bronze driver is Norwegian-licensed Egidio Perfetti, who has driven Porsches in Carrera Cup, Supercup and Michelin Le Mans Cup. With this much experience between the drivers, it shouldn’t take too much to get this team up to speed.
The water is clear
Hailing from Singapore, we first saw Clearwater Racing last season, and some of us fell immediately in love with their chrome, dragon-emblazoned Ferrari 488 GTE. The dragon is still down the side of the car, and the driver lineup remains unchanged as well. Malaysian Weng Sun Mok, Japan’s Keita Sawa and Ireland’s Matt Griffin return to contest the WEC again and hopefully upgrade their second-place finish in the championship to the top spot. Two wins and four podiums weren’t quite enough to topple Aston Martin Racing last year, but it won’t take much to turn the tables this time around.
Japanese team MR Racing are another new entry to the championship this year, bringing with them a Ferrari 458 GTE (which looks remarkably similar to that of Spirit of Race, remember this one is the #70 and has slightly more black in the livery.) Sharing driver duties will be bronze ranked driver, Motoaki Ishikawa, silver driver Eddie Cheever and platinum man Olivier Beretta. Ishikawa is the gentleman driver in this case, though brings Blancpain GT and Ferrari Challenge experience to the table. Formula One and IndyCar fans should know the name Eddie Cheever. Well, this one is Eddie Cheever III, son of the former, who has recently been trying his hand at IMSA, racing with Spirit of Daytona. Beretta has been driving for Ferrari teams since 2012 and switches to MR Racing this year from Spirit of Race; his teammates will no doubt learn a great deal from him!
The only two-car entry this season, we’re delighted to a second Dempsey-Proton Porsche 911 RSR join the grid. The team managed to finish third in the championship last year, achieving two wins at the Nurburgring and Mexico. Each car has one driver returning from last season, as well as two new faces. The #77 houses Christian Ried alongside newcomers Julien Andlauer, part of Porsche’s junior program, and Matt Campbell who comes over from Australian Supercars. The sister car features Italian driver Matteo Cairoli who is joined by former Abu Dhabi Racing driver Khaled al Qubaisi and ELMS racer Giorgio Roda. Thanks to the team’s association with a certain famous actor, the team is a fan favourite so expect plenty of support for this lot!
Orange and blue
That iconic livery is back once again, and the WEC is all the better for it! The lovely team down at Gulf Racing are bringing their Porsche 911 RSR out to play with two familiar drivers and one new face. Ben Barker and Michael Wainwright will be sharing driving duties for a third season, and this year they are joined by Australian Supercars driver Alex Davidson. Davidson has GT racing experience having competed in the Le Mans Series and American Le Mans Series in 2008, but this will be his first adventure in the 911 RSR. The team finished at the bottom of the championship table last year, so moving up the order will definitely be a high priority – as will ensuring the car finishes each race.
Still moving up
TF Sport are climbing their way up the endurance ladder at a breakneck pace. In 2016, the team were winning the GT3 championship in British GT. Fast-forward to 2018, and here they are in the World Endurance Championship (via a season in the ELMS.) Their faithful Aston Martin Vantage will line up on the grid with two of their ELMS drivers – the third was Nicki Thiim, and he’s already been spoken for by Aston Martin Racing. TF Sport have employed the services of Salish Yoluc and Ewan Hankey, who last year helped the team to second in the ELMS championship, and Charlie Eastwood, 2017’s Porsche Carrera Cup champion.
Given how well TF Sport did in their first year in ELMS, it would be easy to say that they’ll repeat that feat in the WEC, however here, there are more and probably tougher competitors.
Meet the defending champs
The counterpart to the GTE Pro entries, this Aston Martin Racing squad are still championing the old Aston Martin Vantage – the new one isn’t allowed in GTE Am yet. The familiar lineup of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda will be back in the car to defend their 2017 championship. Achieving a fantastic four wins and only finishing off of the podium once, these guys are really the team to beat.
What to expect
As with the other GTE class, even with small numbers, the racing was brilliantly close last year. Frequent swaps for the lead, and despite Aston Martin Racing finishing with a 19 point lead in the championship, second and third were split by a mere five points. With more entrants this year, this will definitely be an action-packed category, providing entertainment throughout the season.
Missed our other previews? Catch up here:
Free practice kicks off on Thursday, May 3rd at 12.00 local time, with GTE qualifying on Friday at 15.00. You’ll be able to follow timing via the FIA WEC website or app, and you can listen live with the fantastic team over at Radiolemans.