Kevin Estre says that GTE drivers found themselves getting “stuck behind” the FIA World Endurance Championship’s slowed-down prototype machines through part of the twisty second sector at Spa-Francorchamps during the Prologue test earlier this week.
Restrictions on weight, power and downforce designed to accommodate the introduction of the Le Mans Hypercar platform have reduced prototype performance since last season, while the GTE vehicles have remained at broadly the same level as in 2019-20.
The new technical measures are affecting the prototype machinery in the second sector which is full of corners, unlike sectors one and three which are dominated by straights.
Estre, the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance GT champion, explained that he and other GTE drivers ended up following and matching the prototypes through the sequence of corners after Les Combes at the end of the Kemmel Straight.
“They have more power than us and are faster on the straights,” he told Sportscar365.
“If they catch you in sector one or sector three, it’s no big issue. In sector two, if they don’t overtake us into Les Combes, we kind of push them up to turn nine.
“We are in their gearbox. In these technical parts, they don’t have an advantage to us with the Le Mans [low-downforce] kit and the weight they have now.
“GTE has always had a very good mechanical balance, but now that the weight from the LMP is closer to our weight, they don’t really gain in these corners. We are stuck behind.
“I think we’ll unfortunately see a lot more GTE cars blocking LMP cars just before [Les Combes] because if they don’t overtake us there, we’ll lose a lot of time which was not the case before.
“So I think it’s not great, but I spoke this morning to [LMP2 driver] Loic Duval and he said it’s going to be tough. He said, ‘we know you’re going to block us, so we’re going to be aggressive.”
Estre indicated that the top GTE drivers in both the Pro and Am classes are facing a significant time loss when they come up against amateur drivers in the LMP2 cars.
“This is even worse,” he said. “If a gentleman overtakes us, we lose one to 1.5 seconds on a lap. With the tight competition we have here normally you can’t afford to lose that.
“I think it’s going to be tough. You can also see that they fight more with the car, also Toyota for the speed they have in the corners. You can really see that they fight the cars more.
“Life is harder for them and the gap between all classes is smaller. It’s going to be a challenge.”
When asked how the prospect of rain might impact the on-track dynamic through sector two, Estre said: “In the rain, the difference is always smaller between us and these cars.
“They are heavier and have less downforce. We have very good tires. They have good tires, but I think ours are better. So I think the difference will be even smaller.
“I think in the rain the amateur guys will not pass us. And the Pros will have a hard time.”
Slower Overtakes Make Traffic Racing “Harder”
Ferrari GTE-Pro driver Alessandro Pier Guidi added that the prototypes’ different on-track attributes after restrictions have given the GTE fields something “to think about”.
The Italian noted that the way prototypes pass GTEs is “more normal” now because of increased closing times and a lack of boost out of the corners for the top category, but suggested that this doesn’t necessarily make the process of being overtaken any easier.
“In the past, as you soon as you saw the LMP1 in the mirror, even if it was far, after a couple of corners it was there and going to overtake you,” Pier Guidi told Sportscar365.
“Now you have more time. The way to expect how this car is coming is a bit slower.
“For them to overtake you is more normal, because in the past in LMP1 they were overtaking you around the outside at Blanchimont on the marbles.
“The speed and the grip was so high when it was passing, but now it’s not like this.
“I think it will be a bit more difficult to share the track now than before, even if in the past the difference of speed was huge.”