In prototypes and GTs, endurance races and sprints, and across several top-level sports car championships in the U.S., Europe, Asia and beyond, many drivers stood out in 2017.
After selecting the best races of the season, Sportscar365 counts down the top 10 sports car drivers of the year:
10. Filipe Albuquerque – To say the 32-year-old had a busy season would be no overstatement. Albuquerque made a name for himself as one of the top LMP2 drivers in the world and became the first to drive three of the new-generation LMP2 chassis (Oreca 07 Gibson, Ligier JS P217 Gibson and the Dallara-chassised Cadillac DPi-V.R). He scored two European Le Mans Series victories and three podium finishes in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, including the win at Watkins Glen while driving both Action Express Cadillac DPis.
9. Kamui Kobayashi – While ending up winless in WEC this year, the Japanese driver’s blazing 3:14.791 qualifying lap at Le Mans will likely remain in the record books for years, and perhaps decades to come, amid the LMP1 hybrid era. Kobayashi had other standout drives throughout the season, showing the speed and consistency in the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, but ultimately not having the luck.
8. Antonio Garcia – En route to the WeatherTech Championship GT Le Mans class title, Garcia won three races alongside long-time Corvette Racing co-driver Jan Magnussen. He also scored a podium finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in a season that saw the Spaniard produce repeatedly strong results. A single fifth-place finish was the only time Garcia and Magnussen finished outside the top four in GTLM, making them the most consistent pairing in the very closely-matched class.
7. Patrick Long – Long was crowned Pirelli World Challenge champion after a fairly dominant season in his Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R in which he scored 13 podium finishes and four wins. While he did miss out on SprintX title honors, the American Porsche factory driver won both the Sprint and overall titles. He also took the Pro-Am victory and overall runner-up position at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour while making appearances with three different Porsche GT Daytona teams in the WeatherTech Championship.
6. Markus Winkelhock – The Intercontinental GT Challenge champion was one of the most successful GT3 endurance racers of the year, scoring victories in three of the biggest GT races on the planet: the Nürburgring 24, Total 24 Hours of Spa and inaugural California 8 Hours. As an Audi factory driver, the German raced with a different team (Land Motorsport, Sainteloc Racing, Magnus Racing) in all three of these races, showing his adaptability. What’s more, he came runner-up in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup with four podium finishes and came ever-so-close to winning the title.
5. Mirko Bortolotti – The Blancpain GT Series champion came of age this year in his Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3, where he was consistently one of the quickest drivers on track, allowing he and his teammates to score four consecutive race wins early in the Blancpain GT season. Bortolotti’s dominance in various stages of the season was made even more impressive by the unprecedented level of competition in the series, and he and the Grasser crew would have been with a strong shot at winning Spa if not for an accident that took the car out of the running after leading earlier in the race.
4. James Calado – Along with his co-driver Alessandro Pier Guidi, Calado became the first-ever GT World Endurance Drivers’ Champion after scoring four WEC class wins with AF Corse. Calado proved himself to be one of the quickest drivers in the GTE-Pro field all season and put in memorable performances elsewhere as well, with GTLM podium finishes at both Daytona and Sebring. He also claimed pole for the 24 Hours of Spa with a spectacular lap in a very close-fought Super Pole session.
3. Sebastien Buemi – While being Toyota’s standout pilot, with five victories in nine races, Buemi and co-drivers Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson were unable to capitalize on their dominant WEC season, due to a MGU failure in the double points-paying Le Mans round. What’s more, when combined with the Swiss driver’s success in the FIA Formula E Championship, Buemi wound up title-less in 2017, despite boasting a 47 percent win ratio.
2. Ricky Taylor – The Taylors enjoyed a dominant start to the WeatherTech Championship season in their Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R but it was elder brother Ricky who had multiple career-defining moments over the course of the year. WTR won the first five races, including Daytona and Sebring, before securing the Prototype title, and Ricky scored all five of the team’s poles. He was also heavily involved in the Cadillac DPi’s development, with his success not having gone un-noticed, having been signed by Acura Team Penske for next year.
1. Brendon Hartley – The Kiwi finished runner-up in our top 10 driver rankings last year but takes the top spot in 2017 after an incredible season that saw him win both the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Motul Petit Le Mans, as well as the 24 Hours of Dubai, all with different teams and types of cars. Hartley and co-drivers Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard won four successive WEC races in the middle of the season, enough to secure them the championship in the final year of Porsche’s LMP1 program. His race-winning drive at Petit Le Mans should also be commended as he stayed out of trouble in the hectic final 30 minutes to take the Tequila Patron Nissan Onroak DPi to victory. His talents showcased in sports car racing this year haven’t gone unnoticed, with the 28-year-old signed for the full Formula 1 season in 2018 with Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Honorable Mentions: Neel Jani (Porsche LMP1 pace-setter), Thomas Laurent (24H Le Mans LMP2 winner, WEC LMP2 runner-up), Bruno Senna (WEC LMP2 champion), Jules Gounon (24H Spa winner, ADAC GT Masters champion), Kelvin van der Linde (N24 winner)