Friday 30 August 2019

FIA WEC 2019/2020: LMGTE Am season preview

For the first time in the FIA WEC, the GTE Am class has a double-figure entry with no less than 11 cars.  3 manufacturers are represented this season: Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche. There could have been a fourth one with Ben Keating’s Ford GT, but his application apparently has been denied, by not making the initial deadline in May.  A shame really, but Keating now appears in one of the Project 1 Porsches. 

Racing wise, this will be the class to watch with a few strong and (very) experienced driver line-ups on the starting grid.  Aston Martin already vowed their ambitions to win both the GTE Pro and Am titles and shook up the #98 driver line-up for that.  Project 1 will do everything to defend their title from last season and brings 2 very strong and ambitious line-ups. François Perrodo is back in the GTE Class with Emmanuel Collard and will only have become better in his 2 seasons in LMP2, eager to win the championship again.  And then there’s the Dempsey-Proton Porsches, always fighting at the front of the field with strong and consistent line-ups. Salih Yoluc and TF Sport are also racing a new Aston Vantage, they might be one of the outsiders this season. 

A 4, 6, or 8-hour race in this class? Nailbiting stuff from start to finish if you ask us!

AF Corse
#54 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO

The silver/red “Vistajet” Ferrari is back for another season in the WEC.  No changes in the driver line-up with Thomas Flohr, Giancarlo Fisichella and Francesco Castellacci in control of the Ferrari.  Expect these guys in the middle of the AM class, and a possible podium contender when everything goes their way in the race. 

Team Project 1

#56 Porsche 911 RSR

#57 Porsche 911 RSR

Team Project 1 made quite an entry in the WEC last season, immediately going for the title in the AM class with Jörg Bergmeister, Patrick Lyndsey and Egidio Perfetti and a win at Le Mans.  Racing with Porsche for 25 years makes this one of the most experienced teams in the paddock, giving them the opportunity to adapt really quickly to the GTE cars and championship and growing stronger race by race. 

In June, the team announced it would enter a second car for the WEC, targetting another strong line-up that would also be able to challenge for the championship. The team is expanding its efforts even more, with another 911 RSR on its way to and a possible three-car entry at Le Mans next June. The parallel program in the ELMS is also believed to keep on going in 2020.

Egidio Perfetti will defend his title in the #56 Porsche 911 RSR, but will do so with two new co-drivers. Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Lyndsey won’t return to the team for the 2019/2020 season.  Porsche factory driver Bergmeister was one of the architects of last seasons title, he will now be replaced by Italian Matteo Cairoli who used to race with Dempsey-Proton Racing. Cairoli is a Porsche Young Driver and one of the quickest & most consistent guys around in a 911. David Heinemeier Hansson is a well-known face in the WEC paddocks, having raced in GTE as well as in the LMP2 class (with a win in Sebring past March). The Danish silver rated driver won the GTE-Am championship back in 2014 and will be poised to do that all over again this season. 

The #57 is one of the big stories in the Am class this season and should be one of the title favourites in season 8. Ben Keating won the Am class at Le Mans in June with his newly acquired Ford GT, only to be disqualified after scrutineering, promoting Project 1 to the top step of the podium.  The Texan had submitted an entry request to run in the WEC this season with his Ford GT, which was rejected by the ACO because it has been submitted past the deadline of May 21st. A bit of a strange decision, knowing that the same deadline might have been postponed for other teams who were looking at a possible WEC program. 

Why the organisers turned down an entry with a car that would have brought them a massive amount of publicity - as it did at Le Mans - we’ll never know. Keating then turned to Project 1 who announced a second car for the WEC and were looking at a driver line-up capable of fighting for the championship together with the #56 Porsche.   Joining Keating the Porsche will be his long-time co-driver Jeroen Bleekemolen and Felipe Fraga who raced with them in IMSA last season and at Le Mans. 

Red River Sport/Spirit of Race
#62 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO

Red River Sport, a motorsport mentoring and management agency, run by Johnny Mowlem is a new name in the WEC and has teamed up with Spirit of Race/AF Corse for their debut season.  

Bonamy Grimes is the principal driver in the 8-race campaign with the rest of the team built around him.  Grimes is a gentleman driver who competed in a huge amount of events in a wide variety of GT and LMP machinery ranging from Britcar and GT Cup, to the Asian Le Mans Series, and he is ready for this next challenge. He will be joined by Johnny Mowlem and Charlie Hollings. 

“It will be a new season with a new partnership and challenges in which we will try to gain other successes", Amato Ferrari said.  "The FIA WEC is the most competitive endurance championship in the world with the highest level of drivers: The victories are possible only thanks to hard work. Everyone in Spirit of Race team will pour so much effort and commitment into this new adventure with Red River Sport, Bonamy Grimes, and it is nice for me to be able to welcome Johnny Mowlem back into the Ferrari family. We are excited to finally fight on track from September".

MR Racing
#70 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO

MR Racing returns for its second season in the championship, with the technical support of AF Corse.  Their best result last season was fifth place in the 1000 miles of Sebring. 

Bronze rated Japanese driver Motoaki Ishikawa will again be joined by Olivier Beretta. Eddie Cheever III won’t race for the team this season and is replaced by Kei Cozzolino.  Cozzolino is a Japanese born Italian racing driver who raced successfully in the Asian Le Mans Series last season.  Together with James Calado and Takeshi Kimura he won all four races in the Car Guy Ferrari and made his debut at Le Mans in June. 

AF Corse
#83 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO

After 2 seasons in the LMP2 class with TDS Racing, François Perrodo returns to the GTE Am class. Despite a few good results over the past 2,5 years, the Frenchman decided to return to the GTE where he will be able to race again with several other bronze drivers. The lack of Bronze rated drivers in the LMP2 class and very fast Silver drives makes it (very) tough for the real gentlemen drivers to be competitive.  

2016 GTE AM champion Perrodo will be joined again by Emmanuel Collard who he has been racing with for a long time before he moved to the prototype class.  The two Frenchmen will be joined by 22-year-old Nicklas Nielsen from Denmark. Nielsen is no stranger to the Ferrari 488 as he won the 2018 Ferrari Challenge Championship.  He also races in the European Le Mans Series with Luzich Racing, where he leads the championship after winning the opening race at Le Castellet and the 4 Hours of Barcelona last month. 

Dempsey-Proton Racing
#77 Porsche 911 RSR
#88 Porsche 911 RSR

Dempsey-Proton Racing had a strong start in the super season but got into the middle of a storm when at post-race scrutineering Japan, irregularities were found in the data logging of the fuel system in both cars. Additional coding was added to the data logging system resulting in false reading in the fueling times. Both Porsches had their points taken away after the 6 Hours of Fuji in November, dropping them out on contention for the title in the Super Season. 

Christian Ried is now the only driver left in the WEC who has raced in every race since its inception. He will drive the #77 Porsche 911 RSR together with Matt Campbell and Ricardo Pera. Campbell is a 24-year-old Australian Porsche Junior Driver who started racing with Dempsey-Proton in 2018, winning the Le Mans Am class that year.  Later in the season, they were victorious in the 1000 miles of Sebring.  Italian Ricardo Pera raced with Ebimotors in the Michelin Le Mans Cup and European Le Mans Series before joining Dempsey-Proton in the ELMS this season. He will now also race alongside Ried and Campbell in the WEC. 

The #88 Porsche will be driven by Porsche junior driver Thomas Preining, Ricardo Sanchez and Gianluca Giraudi.

Young Austrian Thomas Preining converted an impressive, growing maturity into great success in 2018. The youngster claimed a remarkable ten race victories on his way to the title in the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland. Preining also impressed in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup. The Austrian was still in contention for the title right up to the season finale in Mexico City. Together with champion Michael Ammermüller, he won the Team Championship for the Lechner Racing team. In 2019, Preining drove the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Porsche customer team Gulf Racing UK. 

Ricardo Sanchez is a 29-year-old Mexican driver who got into racing through karting and the GT Academy competition which he won in 2014.  Since then he made his race debut in the 2015 Dubai 24 hours where he finished an impressive second in class with a Nissan GT-R Nismo. Since then his racing career has only gone upwards, now racing with Team Rocket RJN in the Blancpain Endurance Series with a Honda NSX. The 4 Hours of Silverstone will be his debut in the FIA World Endurance Championship, as well as for his new teammate Gianluca Giraudi. 

50-year-old Gianluca Giraudi has been racing with Porsche in the Carrera Cup Italia, where he finished third in the championship in 2013 and 2014.  Since 2018 he drove in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo with Antonelli Motorsport and also in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup, including the 24 Hours of Spa with the same team.  

Gulf Racing UK
#86 Porsche 911 RSR

Michael Wainwright is back for his fourth season in the FIA WEC, once again with the blue and orange Gulf Porsche 911 RSR. 

Wainwright will be joined again by Benjamin Barker, who has been with Gulf Racing since the beginning of their WEC journey.  Andrew Watson will feature as the third driver this season. The 24-year-old, Belfast born will make his debut in the FIA WEC in Silverstone.  The former Aston Martin Young Driver is also active in the Blancpain Endurance Series with one of the Garage 59 Aston Martins.

Andrew Watson: “Racing in the World Endurance Championship is honestly a dream come true for me. If you said that I would be on the grid, even a few months ago, I would have never believed it. I’m still pinching myself at the fact that I’ll be taking part in so many iconic races around the world. I'm really grateful for this opportunity on many fronts. Thank you to everyone at Gulf Racing for putting their trust in me, it’s a real confidence boost! The team and brand are so iconic and that just makes it extra special. I'm really excited about continuing to work with all the great people that I’ve met there already.”

TF Sport
#90 Aston Martin Vantage AMR

TF Sport is another team that returns to the FIA WEC for its second campaign.  After winning the Michelin Le Mans Cup (2016) and finishing second in the ELMS (2017), going for gold in the WEC is obviously one of the goals of Salih Yoluc and his crew. 

Yoluc will once again be joined by Aston Martin junior driver Charlie Eastwood. They both also race in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup with Oman Racing, where they won their class in last month’s Spa 24 Hours. Aston Martin Racing works driver Jonny Adam, who competed with the team in four rounds of the Super Season joins them as the third driver for season 8. Together the trio secured two podiums at Silverstone and Fuji and the Scotsman has previously enjoyed notable title success with TF Sport in the British GT and Blancpain GT Championships

The car made its first public outing at the Prologue in Barcelona last month, shedding off its blue livery and looking rather striking in red. 

Aston Martin Racing
#98 Aston Martin Vantage AMR

Aston Martin is chasing down both titles in the WEC this season, in the Pro class as well in the Am class. Now in its second season, the new Vantage V8 will make his debut in the Am category, with a totally different driver line-up.  

No more Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda next to Paul Dalla Lana after five successful seasons in the FIA WEC and the Am class title in 2017.  The Canadian gentleman driver will be joined by factory drivers Darren Turner and Ross Gunn.  For Ross Gunn It will be his first full season in the FIA WEC, Turner returns to a full WEC campaign after racing only in a part of the Super season. 

Paul Dalla Lana: “I’ve been looking across the garage with envy for the past 18 months at the new Aston Martin Vantage GTE and now I finally get to race it myself in the GTE Am class. We are coming into the new season with a fresh look and a new driver line-up determined not only to regain the championship title we won in 2017 with the #98 but also to try and finally take that class win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I would like to pay tribute to my old team-mates Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda, who have been brilliant throughout the years. They have helped us win so much as a team and the 2017 title is the highlight of my career. But looking to the future, Darren is the most decorated GT driver in the team and has the pace and experience to guide us forward, while Ross is super-fast and very talented. I’m very excited about our new line-up and what we can achieve together."