Thursday, June 8, 2023

2023 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Am Preview

There are 21 GTE Am cars entered for this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, the final Le Mans will the GTE specifications. The class moniker dates back to the 2011 season, but the actual set of regulations date back to 1999, first known as Group GT before becoming GT2 in 2005. Starting in 2024, GT3 specifications will be used for the GT participants at Le Mans and in the FIA World Endurance Championship.  

This year's race will see four manufacturers compete, all past winners of this race. This year's race also features something different, a Garage 56 entrant that is more an invitation than an innovation, but one that still is turning heads. 

#16 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Ryan Hardwick (1st) Jan Heylen (2nd), Zacharie Robichon (2nd)
About This Team: Hardwick and Heylen were second in the IMSA GTD championship last year with a victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona. They were also co-drivers in Michelin Pilot Challenge in 2021. Heylen won the championship while Hardwick missed a few races due to injury. Together they sell won two races. Robichon was the 2021 IMSA GTD champion and he was 16th in class last year in his Le Mans debut. Hardwick and Robichon won the European Le Mans Series season opener at Barcelona in April.
Test Day: 18th
Qualifying: 17th

#21 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Simon Mann (2nd), Ulysse de Pauw (1st), Julien Piguet (2nd)
About This Team: Mann and de Pauw have finished fourth and fifth in the last two WEC races. Piguet is a a stunt driver, but he won the FFSA GT Pro-Am championship last year. Piguet competed in the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans with Team Project 1, the final classified car completing 313 laps.
Test Day: 8th
Qualifying: 7th

#25 ORT by TF Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Ahmad Al Harthy (1st), Michael Dinan (1st), Charlie Eastwood (4th)
About This Team: The #25 Aston Martin was third in the most recent WEC race at Spa-Francorchamps. Al Harthy is a double GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup Pro-Am champion, and he won the 2019 title with Eastwood. Eastwood won in his most recent Le Mans appearance, 2020 in GTE Am with TF Sport. Dinan won twice in class in GT World Challenge America last year
Test Day: 9th
Qualifying: 4th

#33 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R
Drivers: Nicky Catsburg (5th), Ben Keating (9th), Nicolás Varrone (2nd)
About This Team: Corvette leads the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMGTE Am drivers after two victories and a second in the first three races. Keating is the defending class champion and he won in this class last year with TF Sport. This is Castsburg's third Le Mans with Corvette. He was second in GTE Pro in 2021. Varrone was 17th in this class year with Iron Lynx. He won in the LMP3 at the 24 Hours of Daytona in January. 
Test Day: 15th
Qualifying: 3rd

#54 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Francesco Castellacci (8th), Thomas Flohr (7th), Davide Rigon (9th)
About This Team: This is the seventh consecutive year Castellacci and Flohr have run together at Le Mans. Their best class finish was second in 2018 with Giancarlo Fisichella. Rigon had run exclusively in GTE Pro prior to this year. Rigon's best class finish was second in 2015, and he was third in GTE Pro last year. 
Test Day: 2nd
Qualifying: 2nd

#55 GMB Motorsports Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Gustav Birch (1st), Jens Reno Møller (3rd), Marco Sørensen (9th)
About This Team: Sørensen won this race last year with TF Sport and his co-drivers Ben Cheating and Henrique Chaves, as the American-Danish-Portuguese trio took the WEC championship as well. Møller is making his first Le Mans appearance since 2006 when he drove a Lister Storm LMP Hybrid in LMP1. Birch and Møller are competing full-time in ELMS this year. Birch competed the last two seasons in the TCR Denmark Touring Car Series. 
Test Day: 21st
Qualifying: 6th

#56 Project 1 – AO Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Matteo Cairoli (7th), P.J. Hyett (1st), Gunnar Jeannette (9th)
About This Team: Hyett and Jeannette are competing full-time in WEC and IMSA this year. A practice accident forced a withdrawal from the Spa-Francorchamps round. Hyett and Jeannette were second at Bahrain last year. This is Jeannette's first Le Mans appearance since 2012. He was second in GT in 2001 driving with Romain Dumas and Philippe Haezebrouck. He was third in LMP900 in 2023 driving a Panoz LMP01 Evo-Élan with Olivier Beretta and Max Papis. Cairoli has retired from four of his six Le Mans appearances. 
Test Day: 16th
Qualifying: 15th

#57 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Scott Huffaker (1st), Takeshi Kimura (5th), Daniel Serra (7th)
About This Team: The #57 Ferrari was third at Sebring in March. Huffaker has found great success in IMSA's LMP2 class with five victories in 13 starts, all coming in endurance races, three of which have been the 12 Hours of Sebring. Serra has two class victories and two class runner-up finishes at Le Mans. Kimura's best class finish was fifth in 2019.  
Test Day: 3rd
Qualifying: 5th

#60 Iron Lynx Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Matteo Cressoni (6th), Alessio Picariello (3rd), Claudio Schiavoni (5th)
About This Team: The #60 Ferrari has only one top ten finish this season in WEC, sixth at Sebring. Cressoni was third in this class in 2021. Schiavoni was fourth that year. Picariello's best Le Mans class finish was seventh in 2021.
Test Day: 11th
Qualifying: 13th

#66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Thomas Neubauer (2nd), Giacomo Petrobelli (1st), Louis Prette (3rd)
About This Team: Neuabuer won the Dubai 24 Hour last year and he was the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup Silver Cup champion last year. Petrobelli was out of motorsports from 2014 to 2020 but returned in the British GT Championship. Last year, he was full-time in ELMS' GTE class, where his best finish was third in Barcelona. Prette has spent the last two seasons competing in the Asian Le Mans Series.
Test Day: 1st
Qualifying: 19th

#72 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Valentin Hasse-Clot (1st), Arnold Robin (2nd), Maxime Robin (2nd)
About This Team: This is a full-time ELMS entry. The Robins competed together in 2021 driving an LMP2 car and finishing 14th in class. Hasse-Clot competed primarily in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup. He competed in the Asian Le Mans Series earlier this year. 
Test Day: 19th
Qualifying: 14th

#74 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Kei Cozzolino (3rd), Yorikatsu Tsujiko (1st), Naoki Yokomizo (1st)
About This Team: Cozzolino was fifth in class in 2019 and this is his first Le Mans start since 2020. Yokomizo has competed in Super GT's GT300 class since 2007. He was the 2012 champion with Kyosuke Mineo. Tsujiko is the CEO of PONOS, a video game company based in Japan. He currently drives in GT World Challenge Asia and he won a race last season in that series.
Test Day: 10th
Qualifying: 8th

#77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Julien Andlauer (6th), Christian Ried (14th), Mikkel O. Pedersen (2nd)
About This Team: Andlauer won on his Le Mans debut in 2018 with Ried as one of his co-drivers, and Andlauer was second in class last year. Ried was second in GTE Am in 2020. Pedersen retired from last year's race but he picked up his first WEC victory in last year's finale in Bahrain.
Test Day: 6th
Qualifying: 9th

#83 Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Luis Pérez Companc (8th), Alessio Rovera (3rd), Lilou Wadoux (2nd)
About This Team: The #83 Ferrari won the most recent WEC race at Spa-Francorchamps. Rovera won in GTE Am in 2021. Last year, he competed in LMP2, as did Wadoux. Pérez Companc makes his first Le Mans appearance since 2019. His best class finish is third, in LMP2 in 2012 and in GTE Am in 2014. 
Test Day: 12th
Qualifying: 1st

#85 Iron Dames Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Sarah Bovy (3rd), Rahel Frey (6th), Michelle Gatting (5th)
About This Team: This is the third consecutive year this trio is competing together at Le Mans. They were ninth in 2021 and seventh in 2022. They were third in the ELMS GTE championship last year with a victory in Portimão. They were third at Portimão in the WEC race in April.
Test Day: 20th
Qualifying: 12th

#86 GR Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Ben Barker (8th), Riccardo Pera (3rd), Michael Wainwright (8th)
About This Team: This trio was fourth last year, the best finish for Barker and Wainwright, who have been co-drivers in all seven of their prior appearances. Pera was second in GTE Am on debut in 2020. Barker and Wainwright have never won in WEC competition despite competing full-time since 2016. They have started 46 races. 
Test Day: 4th
Qualifying: 10th

#88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Jonas Ried (1st), Harry Tincknell (10th), Don Yount (1st)
About This Team: Ried is the son of Christian Ried, meaning father will compete against son for the class victory. Jonas Ried has spent the previous two years competing in Formula 4, but he made his ELMS in April driving an LMP2 car was sixth amongst the pro-am teams. Tincknell was Christian Ried's co-driver last year. A two-time Le Mans class winner, Tincknell won in LMP2 in 2014 and GTE Pro in 2020. Yount makes his Le Mans debut having not won in IMSA competition since Watkins Glen 2018.
Test Day: 5th
Qualifying: 20th

#98 NorthWest AMR Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Ian James (3rd), Daniel Mancinelli (1st), Alex Riberas (1st)
About This Team: James, Mancinelli and Riberas took over this entry after Paul Dalla Lana abruptly retired from competition in April. Riberas has four IMSA victories, including two last year at Long Beach and Watkins Glen. James returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2006 when he was third in LMP2 driving a Courage C65-AER LMP2 entry with Andy Lally and John Macaluso on Kumho Tires. James won in the GTD class at the 24 Hours of Daytona this January. Mancinelli was a race winner in Pirelli World Challenge and has spent recent years competing in the Italian GT Endurance Championship.
Test Day: 17th
Qualifying: 18th

#100 Walkenhorst Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Andrew Haryanto (3rd), Chandler Hull (1st), Jeff Segal (6th)
About This Team: Haryanto has finished seventh and 11th in his two Le Mans appearances. Segal won in GTE Am in 2016. He has three class podium finishes at Le Mans, but did not finish in his last trip to Le Mans in 2020. Hull won the Asian Le Mans Series GT championship this year with Walkenhorst.
Test Day: 13th
Qualifying: 11th

#777 D'Station Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Tomonobu Fuji (3rd), Satoshi Hoshino (4th), Casper Stevenson (1st)
About This Team: This team's best finish this season is tenth at Sebring and Spa-Francorchamps. Fuji and Hoshino's best finish was sixth in class in 2021. Stevenson spent last season competing in the GT World Challenge Europe series, competing in the Silver class. 
Test Day: 7th
Qualifying: 21st

#911 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Michael Fassbender (2nd), Richard Lietz (17th), Martin Rump (2nd)
About This Team: Lietz picked up his fourth Le Mans class victory last year in GTE Pro. It was his first class victory since 2013. Rump was 11th on his Le Mans debut last year and Fassbender was 16th. Lietz and Fassbender were co-drivers in ELMS last year as well as being co-drivers again this year.
Test Day: 14th
Qualifying: 16th

Garage 56
#24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Drivers: Jenson Button (2nd), Jimmie Johnson (1st), Mike Rockenfeller (11th)
About This Team: The invitational entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in partnership with NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports, a modified NASCAR Cup Series car is included in this year's race. It features Johnson, a seven-time Cup Series champion, with 2009 World Drivers' Champion Button and 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans overall winner Rockenfeller. The entry is unclassified and will start at the rear of the field regardless of its qualifying time. 

This is not the first time NASCAR entries have participated in Le Mans. In 1976, two entries were in the race. a Dodge Charger with Hershel and Doug McGriff completed only two laps while a Ford Torino with Dick Brooks, Dick Hutcherson and Marcel Mignot completed 104 laps but retired after 11 hours. 
Test Day: 41st overall, ahead of the fastest GTE Am entry.
Qualifying: 37th overall

Wednesday Recap
The first official practice day for the 91st 24 Hours of Le Mans set the participants for the Hyperpole session in each class. 

Ferrari went 1-2 with the #50 Ferrari 499P topping the charts with a lap at 3:25.213, 0.199 seconds quicker than the #51 Ferrari. Toyota took the next two spots on the timesheet. The #7 Toyota was third, 0.272 seconds off the #50 Ferrari with the #8 Toyota 0.536 seconds slower.

The #5 Porsche was sixth, just over 6/10th of a seconds back with the #3 Cadillac and #2 Cadillac each making it through. The #75 Porsche took the eighth and final Hyperpole spot, 1.376 seconds off the #50 Ferrari, but over 3/10th of a second quicker than the #6 Porsche in ninth.

The rest of the grid is set in class. Peugeot has its #93 entry starting tenth and the #94 Peugeot in 11th. Glickenhaus had its #708 entry take 12th on the grid ahead of the #311 Action Express Racing Cadillac with the #709 Glickenhaus in 14th. The #4 Vanwall will occupy 15th. The #38 Team Jota Porsche was not able to participate in qualifying due to a hybrid issue. 

The good news for Jota is its #28 Oreca topped the LMP2 session at 3:34.751, 0.002 seconds faster than the #41 Team WRT Oreca with the #63 Prema Racing Oreca 0.042 seconds back. There was tie for the fourth-fastest time between the #10 Vector Sport Oreca and the #48 IDEC Sport Oreca. Both cars had a time of 3:34.985. Both cars advance to Hyperpole but for technical purposes, the #10 Vector Sport entry is classified in fourth. 

Cool Racing had its #47 Oreca advance, 0.354 seconds slower than Jota's top time. Prema had its #9 Oreca advance as well while the #14 Nielsen Racing Oreca took eighth, 0.702 seconds off Jota but 0.125 seconds quicker than the #45 Algarve Pro Racing Oreca. 

United Autosport could not get either of its cars through to Hyperpole. The #22 Oreca will start 10th while the #23 Oreca will start 14th. 

The #13 Tower Motorsports Oreca was unable to participate in qualifying after Steven Thomas ran into the stationary #777 D'Station Racing Aston Martin of Casper Stevenson in the opening practice. Both drivers were fine after the incident. The #777 Aston Martin was also unable to participate in GTE Am qualifying. 

The #83 Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari led the session at 3:51.877 with the #54 AF Corse Ferrari second, 0.037 seconds off. The #33 Corvette suffered a practice-ending accident early in the team but the team repaired the car in time for qualifying and wound up third, 0.351 seconds off the #83 Ferrari. 

The #25 ORT by TF Aston Martin was fourth, 0.554 seconds off the top, but 0.028 seconds ahead of the #57 Kessel Racing Ferrari. The #55 GMB Motorsport Aston Martin was only 0.025 seconds behind the #57 Ferrari. The #21 AF Corse Ferrari and the #75 Kessel Racing Ferrari rounded out the top eighth. 

Porsche will not have any participants in the GTE Am Hyperpole session. The top Porsche was in ninth, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing entry was 0.218 seconds off advancing. The #86 GR Racing Porsche rounds out the top ten. 

The Garage 56 entry, the #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ran an impressive 3:47.976 lap in qualifying. It was 37th fastest overall, but 3.901 seconds faster than the #83 Ferrari's top time in GTE Am. 

Thursday begins with a three-hour practice at 9:00 a.m. ET. Hyperpole qualifying will take place at 2:00 p.m. ET before a one-hour night practice at 4:00 p.m. ET. 

There will be a 15-minute warm-up at 6:00 a.m. ET on Saturday June 10 with the 91st 24 Hours of Le Mans beginning at 10:00 a.m. ET.