Wednesday 12 April 2017

FIA WEC 2017: 6 Hours of Silverstone - GTE Preview

4 manufacturers, each with two cars, are present in the GTE-Pro class this season, ahead of BMW's return in 2018. The big story in the class this season is the return of Porsche with a brand new and very impressive 911 RSR. As from this year, the GT teams are now fighting for a World Championship, since the FIA gave full World Championship status to the GTE drivers and manufacturers titles.

As in LMP1, the tyre allocation per race has also been altered in the GTE Pro class. In practice only three sets of rubber (instead of four) are available per car. For the race and qualifying, the amount of sets has been reduced to four instead of six.

Another new feature this season in the Pro class is the introduction of a new automatic BoP system. It's expected this will be more effective and honest after last year's sandbagging ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The new system will be applicable for all rounds of the 2017 WEC except for Le Mans which will be treated separately.  The first adjustments won't be made until after the first two races though, so will only be applicable at the fourth round in Germany.

The "not-to-be-called-mid-engined" new Porsche 911 RSR is an amazing piece of kit. The engine has been place forward a few inches (i.e. in front of the rear axle) for better weight distribution and to create space for a big diffuser under the rear bodywork. The only part on the whole car that didn't change compared to the last RSR is the doorhandle. The new Porsche already showed its pace and reliability in the IMSA championship, and was fastest around Monza during the FIA WEC prologue.

Four works drivers tackle the GTE-Pro class with the new 911 RSR for the Porsche GT Team at the season-opening round in Silverstone. Sharing the cockpit of the #91 vehicle are Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki who returns to the FIA WEC after a year in IMSA. Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre man the #92 car.

Aston Martin Racing is set for another five seasons in the FIA WEC, as it has committed to the championship until 2021. 2 AMR Vantage V8's will race in 2017 again, ahead of the development of a brand new GTE race car, which will be based on the next generation Vantage.

Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen defend their 2016 GT Drivers championship in the #95 Vantage and will be joined by Richie Stanaway. Darren Turner and Jonny Adam return to the #97 car, together with newcomer Daniel Serra from Brazil. The Aston Martins haven't been the fastest all round last season, but their consistency and reliability have put them always in the top end of the leaderboard. Let's see if they can hold that position this season against the new Porsche and last years competition from Ferrari and Ford.

Ford returned to Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship with a win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 2017 Ford has set it sights to the World Championship and a second consecutive win at Le Mans. The Ford GT is basically the same as last season, apart from a few little tweaks.

Stefan Mücke & Olivier Pla are back in the cockpit of the #66 Ford GT and will - as last year -  be joined by American racer Billy Johnson at Silverstone, Spa and Le Mans. In the #67 Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell will be joined by a Pipo Derani for the first three races of the season.  Derani impressed last year with Extreme Speeds Motorsports in the FIA WEC and IMSA championship, claiming victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring.

AF Corse returns with 2 Ferrari F488 GTE's, this year in the historic Ferrari red celebrating 70 years of Ferrari.  The Italians have been raving about last years Balance of Performance, at a certain point even threatening to leave the championship. Let's see of the new automated BoP will serve them better.

Perhaps the biggest story over the winter was Gianmaria Bruni leaving AF Corse for Porsche. After several months of rumour and speculation, the transfer was officially announced at the end of February.  Bruni will be replaced by new factory driver Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 Ferrari, joining James Calado. The crew of the #71 has been unchanged with Davide Rigon and Sam Bird.

A part of Bruni's transfer stipulated that he wouldn't be able to race in the FIA WEC at least until after Le Mans. In the meantime Bruni has been confirmed for the IMSA championship, paired with Laurens Vanthoor ... a line-up that already has been rumoured to come over to the FIA WEC next season.


2 new teams will make their debut in the GTE-Am class in the World Endurance Championship. Both will run a Ferrari F488 GTE, with technical support of AF Corse.

First there's reigning Asian Le Mans Series champions Clearwater Racing from Signapore. The team made their firs appearance at Le Mans last year, since then talks about moving up to the FIA WEC have been ongoing. Regular Clearwater drivers Keita Sawa and Weng Sun MoK are joined by Ferrari factory driver Matt Griffin for their first season in the championship.

The second newcomer is Swiss based Spirit of Race of Thomas Flohr. Flohr has been racing in ELMS and most recently in the Le Mans Cup last season. He will be joined in the #54 Ferrari F488 GTE by Francesco Castellaci and former DTM driver Miguel Molina.

In the GTE-Am class, the Porsche customer team Dempsey-Proton Racing campaigns a 911 RSR from last season with the Porsche Young Professional Matteo Cairoli (Italy), Christian Ried (Germany) and Marvin Dienst (Germany) sharing driving duties in the #77. 

The second Porsche in the class is the #86 Gulf Racing 911 RSR, which returns for its second season in the FIA WEC. Michael Wainwright and Ben Barker return to the wheel of the bleu/orange Porsche and will be joined by youngster Nicholas Foster. 

Paul Dalla Lana returns to the Am class with an upgraded V8 Vantage GTE to 2016 specification. Looking to build on their success towards the end of last season after winning five of nine rounds last season, the driver line-up in the #98 is unchanged with Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy joining Dalla Lana again.

Missing in the class is the Larbre Corvette this season. Jack Leconte has been moving heaven and earth again to get a (factory supported) entry in the GTE Pro class together, but his plans collapsed right at the end.  The team has got in invite for Le Mans though and is expected to attend the second ELMS race in Monza to prepare for the 24 Hours.

Useful links for the weekend:

Kristof Vermeulen.