While rules and regulations have been constantly changed to maintain as equal a playing field as possible, the battle for class honors in each of the grand touring (GT) divisions at the 24 Hours of Le Mans have been consistently competitive affairs and 2015 should be no different. While the factory battles in the upper GTE-Pro category have garnered most of the attention, the battles between semi-factory and privateers in the lower GTE-Amateur group have been equally exciting and have produced some surprise outcomes.
Although several manufacturers are in the fold for the 2015 edition (Ford joins the party in 2016), the focus of most of the pre-race focus has been on the best of the bunch in the FIA World Endurance Championship, Aston Martin Racing, versus the best of the bunch in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and in the first two legs of the unofficial endurance racing triple crown to date in 2015, Corvette Racing. AMR was indeed present at both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, however the team only featured one car, with its Amateur team handling the majority of the driving duties. Things will be tougher for Corvette this time around in GTE-Pro, with Aston Martin providing three of its Vantage V8s against two Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs.
After fashioning the popular baby blue Gulf Oil liveries in recent years, Aston Martin has multiple paint jobs at Circuit de la Sarthe for 2015, including an impressive “art car,” which will be led by professional veterans Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke. The No. 97 entry was only a tenth up on the fastest Corvette in the paddock at the official test day at Le Mans, meaning race weekend performance and luck could be the winning difference in the upcoming battle.
As for the millennium yellow, Konica-Minolta backed Corvettes, both entries are capable of grabbing the first win for the American manufacturer at Le Mans since 2011. The faster of the pair at the test, is led by veteran Oliver Gavin who has been with Corvette for over a decade. Americans Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor are also capable of keeping the C7.R in contention as well. The second car, with Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, and Ryan Briscoe is a second title threat.
While they have struggled with both pace and durability in 2015, Porsche Team Manthey and AF Corse cannot be overlooked. AF Corse’s Ferrari 458 has won two of the last three GTE-Pro titles at Le Mans, while Porsche posted a 1-2 result with their 911 RSR in 2013.
If AMR cannot claim the crown in the Pro division, they are unquestionably the favorite in the Amateur division, led by the team that battled Corvette and the TUSCC’s best at both Daytona and Sebring. Former Formula One veteran Pedro Lamy is the leader, alongside Canada’s Paul Dalla Lana and young prospect Mathias Lauda for the favored ride entering the big event, but the second car with Stuart Hall as team leader is also around if the so-called top car hits trouble.
Ferrari is the most likely to derail the British marque in GTE-Am. AF Corse has three of the six 458s entered, while Russian-based SMP Racing can’t be underestimated, nor can TUSCC regular Scuderia Corsa, led by Townsend Bell. Two other teams in the Amateur class with TUSCC ties include the return of the Dodge Viper with Riley Motorsports, featuring the very fast Jeroen Bleekemolen, while actor Patrick Dempsey and professional Patrick Long team up in a Proton Porsche 911 RSR.
Also lurking is a Corvette C7.R belonging to Larbre Competition. As evidence by the factory Pro division team, the car is capable of success, but can a limited, amateur based trio of drivers get the most out of the car to challenge is the big question entering this weekend.