Friday 15 April 2016

WEC Silverstone : GTE preview


Since the announcement of Fords return to Le Mans and the WEC, most of the focus towards the GTE-Pro class has been on the new Ford GT. Ford is aiming for a podium finish at their first race in Europe, but they will face fierce competition from all other manufacturers.

50 years after the first win of the Ford GT40 at Le Mans, Ford returns to endurance racing with a stunning new race car. Chip Ganassi Racing runs both teams in Europe and the USA. The #66 Ford GT will be driven by Olivier Pla and Stefan Mücke, coming over from Aston Martin. They will be joined by American Billy Johnson, who has successfull been racing in IMSA series and was one of the first development drivers of the new Ford GT. In the #67 Andy Priaulx, who left BMW behind after a long and succesfull career at the German brand, leads the driver squad and will be joined by Scotsman Marino Franchitti. In Silverstone, Spa and Le Mans, Harry Tincknell will join the team.

AF Corse fields 2 factory backed brand new Ferrari 488 GTE's. No more atmospheric engines in the Ferrari, as the 488 is turbo engined. Long time Ferrari driver Gianmaria Bruni will drive the #51 again, this year joined by James Calado, who raced in the team's #71 last year. In the 2016 #71 Sam Bird, who raced succesfully in LMP2 last year at G-Drive Racing, is now racing as a Ferrari factory driver and will join Davide Rigon in the 488 GTE. As for both Porsche and Aston Martin, Silverstone will be the first race in Europe for the new Ferrari.

Aston Martin, no longer in the blue/orange Gulf livery but back to their iconic British Racing Green colors, enters two V8 Vantage GTE's. Aston switched from Gulf to Total branding and races on Dunlop tyres instead of Michelin this season. With an updated aero package and a huge rear diffusor, the Vantage seems ready to take on the fight in the GTE-Pro class. The #95 will be driven by Nicki Thiim and Marco Sörensen who will be joined by Darren Turner this season. Fernando Rees, Richie Stanaway and Jonny Adam will race the #97 in blue/yellow livery (except for Silverstone, with Jonny Adam racing at Brands Hatch this weekend in British GT).

No official Porsches this season, as the German team is working on the development of the new for 2017 911 RSR. Dempsey-Proton Racing will race in the Pro class with a 911 RSR for reigning WEC GT champion Richard Lietz and his works driver colleague Michael Christensen.


No SMP racing anymore in GT to defend their title, focussing on their BR01, and a grid of 6 cars in Silverstone.

We'll see 3 Porsches in the GTE-Am class this season. Abu Dhabi – Proton Racing leading the Porsche armada with the #88 911 RSR. In their third season in the WEC, the car will be driven again by Khaled Al Qubaisi. He will be joined by David Heinemeiner Hansson and Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, who raced aside Patrick Dempsey last year. Long however will be replaced by Klaus Bachler in Silverstone, as he has other racing commitments in the USA this weekend.

KCMG returns to the WEC, not in the LMP2 class as last year but in GTE-Am with a Porsche 911 RSR. Proton Competition will run the car in the KCMG colors. The #78 will be driven by Porsche factory driver Wolf Henzler who will contest his first complete season in WEC after racing in the States for 11 years. He will be joined by Proton boss Christian Ried and Joel Camathias.

The third Porsche will be fielded by UK team Gulf Racing Porsche. The team has been active in ELMS the past seasons and now steps up to the WEC. The blue/orange car in Gulf colors will be driven by Adam Caroll, Ben Barker and Mike Wainwright.

There are single entries for 3 other constructors: Corvette, Aston Martin and Ferrari. AF Corse fields one F458 Italia for Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas in #83. After an attempt to step up to GTE Pro that ultimately didn't come through, Larbre Competition is back with their Corvette C7R again. Paulo Ruberti, Yutaka Yamagishi and Pierre Ragues will drive what is probably the best sounding machine on the GTE grid. Finally there's the Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda, which retains the same drivers as last year. Two major differences though, Dunlop rubbers instead of Michelin and no more Gulf colors, following the switch to Total by Aston Martin.

Kristof Vermeulen