Although GTE doesn’t boast the same quantity of different manufacturers as GT3 worldwide seemingly does, there’s still bound to be a heavyweight fight between the four manufacturers who are entered at this year’s Le Mans.
Ferrari holds the best odds, with 14 of its F458 Italias now spread across GTE-Pro and GTE-Am’s 28 total entries. There’s three Pro entries in up-to-date 2014-spec chassis, while 11 older entries make up the majority of the Am-class field. Some have the latest Ferrari aero updates for GTE-Am, and others don’t.
Sorting the contending Ferraris from the ones there to make up the numbers isn’t the easiest task, especially in the Am class where reliability can often trump outright pace over the course of 24 hours.
Still, AF Corse has a hand in no less than seven of the 14 Ferraris, and the team should be considered the best contender in either class.
Lead Pro car No. 51 of Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella features one of the most complete and Le Mans-tested lineups.
Meanwhile the sister No. 71 of Davide Rigon, James Calado and Olivier Beretta features two young guns high on upside but low on experience in 24-hour races (both Rigon and Calado are Le Mans rookies). It’s not something that fazes Beretta, though.
“James and Davide are very good, very quick and very clever. I am not worried at all,” Beretta told Sportscar365. “They’re very good people. They will be OK. I have no worry for that. They’re good guys and they’ll fit right in.”
Of AF Corse’s four Am class cars, the WEC-entered No. 61 (Luiz Perez Companc, Marco Cioci, Mirko Venturi) and No. 81 (Stephen Wyatt, Michele Rugolo, Sam Bird) should be headline generators. Bird, who like Calado is a GP2 graduate now in sports cars, is a star-in-waiting in the No. 81.
“We’re very happy with where we are at the moment,” Bird said. “The track’s extremely green and hard to comment on overall pace, but we’re competitive from the off. As the weekend goes, the track will get rubbered in and will be better as we’re learning.”
AF Corse also runs 8Star Motorsports No. 90 458 in GTE-Am, and that car features a very capable driver lineup in Frankie Montecalvo, Gianluca Roda and Paolo Ruberti.
Ram Racing’s pair are more wild cards than outright contenders, especially in the Pro category where the No. 52 (Matt Griffin, Alvaro Parente, Federico Leo) is the only privateer entry up against the factory mights.
Still, that shouldn’t discount Dan Shufflebottom’s effort for the team’s first Le Mans, and in the Am class-entered No. 53 of Johnny Mowlem, Mark Patterson and Archie Hamilton they have a definite podium contender.
JMW Motorsport’s lineup is another potential GTE-Am podium challenger, in the hands of Flying Lizard Motorsports TUDOR United SportsCar Championship regulars Seth Neiman and Spencer Pumpelly, and Abdulaziz Al Faisal.
“This is a new challenge for us but so far, Seth and I have both liked it,” said Pumpelly, who races the Audi R8 LMS Ultra in the TUDOR Championship. “The car I’m used to in the States really slides around. But here, the Ferrari GTE is really stuck. I can tell Abdulaziz is switched on. I don’t know if we’re the car to beat, but we might be the car to beat the car to beat.”
The other Am class Ferraris – Krohn Racing, Team Sofrev ASP, Team Taisan, SMP Racing and the remaining Nos. 60 and 62 AF Corse entries – lack the punch on paper to battle for class victories. That said, this is Le Mans, and anything is possible.
Overall, Ferrari has only one Le Mans class win since switching in 2011 to the now veteran F458 chassis, and that came in 2012 with the AF Corse No. 51.
But there’s a good chance we’ll be hearing more from the Prancing Horse on track in both categories. Perhaps that’s fitting considering as of Wednesday’s first qualifying, the No. 51 and No. 72 Ferraris captured provisional poles.