Wednesday 1 February 2017

FIA WEC 2017: LM GTE Pro and Am latest news & entry list predictions

Tomorrow afternoon, at an interactive press conference, the selected entries for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, FIA World Endurance Championship and the European Le Mans Series will be announced by the ACO.

Time to take a final look at the latest news and rumours about teams participating in the FIA World Endurance Championship.  Part 1: LM GTE Pro and Am. 


2017 sees the return of Porsche to the GTE Pro class with their brand new - mid-engined - 911 GTE. Porsches new weapon already showed some fierce competition at Daytona last weekend and seems ready to take on the challenge with Ford, Aston Martin and Ferrari. With BMW arriving in 2018 and other manufacturers talking about a possible step up to GTE Pro in the next years, GTE has some very healthy prospects in the future !

Aston Martin Racing will be back to defend their 2016 FIA WEC World champion title. Despite being the "oldest" car on the grid, the # 95 of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorenson took last years title in Bahrain. Two cars are expected on the grid again, the team most likely retaining the #95 squad, and Darren Turner in the #97.

After a one year absence, Porsche returns to the FIA WEC with their all new - and mid-engined - 911 RSR. The first mid-engined Porsche racecar since the GT1 in the late nineties. 

Drivers confirmed so far for LMGTE Pro class are Michael Christensen, Frédéric Makowiecki  and Richard Lietz. The final driver for a full season effort is still to be announced, Porsche has several options open after their driver shake up in LMP1. Another name that has been buzzing around in the past months is current Ferrari factory driver Gianmaria Bruni. For the Le Mans 24 Hours, 2 drivers of the IMSA line-up will be added. We expect Laurens Vanthoor to get one of those seats. 

AF Corse will return with 2 factory Ferrari F488's to the FIA World Endurance Championship. The Ferrari's seemed to be the best package at the beginning of last season, but struggled throughout all the BOP adjustments. Even to a point where the future of AF Corse in the FIA WEC became uncertain. Sam Bird, Davide Rigon and James Calado all are expected to be back behind the wheel this season. As stated above, the future of Gianmaria Bruni is still unclear; will he stay at Ferrari or
make the move to Porsche ?

Ford returns to the WEC with a two car effort run by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. In their comeback season the new Ford GT immediately won its class at Le Mans, Fuji and Shanghai. No driver changes are expected in both cars. Stefan Mücke & Olivier Pla are expected in the #66 and Andy Priaulx & Harry Tincknell in the #67.

Larbre Competition again showed its intentions to step up to the GTE-Pro class with a Corvette CR7. Since december it has been awefully quiet about their plans, so expectations were for Jack Leconte to be back in the Am class this year.  Until last weekend, when Leconte was spotted in Daytona, meeting up with General Motors several times. Will we (finally) see a Corvette in the GTE Pro class during the whole FIA WEC championship ? We'll know tomorrow afternoon ... 


The Am class will look a little different compared to last year.  It's still unclear if we'll see any Porsches in the class this season without Al Qubaisi around and doubts about Proton Competition entering a Porsche. Clearwater Racing is the "new kid in town". The Malaysian based team debuted at Le Mans last year and now steps up from the Asian Le Mans Series to the FIA WEC in 2017. 

The first team in the Am class to confirm their entry was Aston Martin Racing, with Paul Dalla Lana returning in the Vantage V8 with Matthias Lauda and Pedro Lamy.

The Ferrari F488 GTE is now eligible to race in the AM class, 2 cars have already been confirmed by AF Corse. Last years LMGTE-Am champions François Perrodo and Emmanuel Collard are moving up to LMP2 with TDS-Racing, leaving 2 seats open for the first car. Rui Aguas is expected to return behind the wheel of the Ferrari.

Clearwater Racing announced its move to the FIA World Endurance Championship in the GTE-Am class. The Signapore based team is racing in the Asian Le Mans Series and made its debut at Le Mans last year, finishing fourth in class. Their Ferrari F488 GTE will be run by AF Corse and driven by Matt Griffin, Wok Meng Sun and Keita Sawa. Clearwater will be the first southeast Asian team to enter the FIA WEC for a full season effort.

Gulf Racing UK hasn't confirmed their entry yet, but it seems likely the British team will return in their Porsche 911 GTE. Whether Proton Competition will be back on the grid in April still remains to be seen. They were best in class twice last year, but with the arrival of the new Ferrari's in the Am class, the Porsches might be in for a big struggle to be competitive.

No Khaled Al Qubaisi at the start of the WEC season this year. At the Dubai 24 Hours, Al Qubaisi - who tested the Aston Martin in Bahrain last november - announced he won't enter the World Endurance Championship this year due to business commitments.