Drivers from the two privateer GTE-Pro entries in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans are taking an optimistic approach, knowing that a podium finish could be in reach under the right circumstances.
WeatherTech Racing and HubAuto Racing are each fielding a Porsche 911 RSR-19 for the first time in the largely factory class, which sees works efforts from Ferrari, Porsche and Corvette Racing.
Cooper MacNeil, who makes his third GTE-Pro start and second consecutive after an outing in a Scuderia Corsa-run Ferrari 488 GTE Evo last year, said he’s set to take a similar approach to 2020 despite having a new team and co-drivers behind him.
The Silver-rated driver, fresh off GT Le Mans class honors in last weekend’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Road America, is joined by 2019 IMSA GTLM champions Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber at the wheel.
“I was pretty confident last year,” MacNeil told Sportscar365. “Without Toni [Vilander’s] off I think we would have been P4 and with a little luck, on the podium.
“We’re hoping for something similar this year minus the crash.
“It’s going to be a race of longevity. We’re not going to be the fastest with outright pace, obviously, with me being a Silver in the car.
“It’s just going to be about keeping the thing on track, out of the garage and running consistent lap times.
“I think [Larry and Earl] will get a lot of driving time.
“We’ve got a good chance. In the Pro class, these guys always push so hard every corner of every lap and it just takes one little mistake and the race is over for them.
“We have to be running nine-and-a-half tenths and not 10/10ths.”
Dries Vanthoor, who along with Alvaro Parente and Maxime Martin make up HubAuto’s all-pro lineup, said he hopes to give the factories “a hard time.”
The 2017 Le Mans GTE-Am class winner is making his debut in Porsche machinery.
“It’s going to be very hard, as we all know,” Dries told Sportscar365. “We can be optimistic and say we can go for a very nice result and hopefully give them a hard time.
“But you’re driving against factory Porsche and Ferraris, who know what they’re doing. They’re doing this year-in, year-out on a full-season as well.
“They know the car, but for us it’s a new thing. Small things can end to a different result.
“But we can be optimistic. We all want to have a good result. [We’re] maybe even more motivated than others because we want to show that we can really do a good job.
“Anything can happen, especially at Le Mans. I don’t want to say that we’re going to be there, but you never know.”
Vanthoor’s older brother Laurens, who is part of the Proton Competition-run WeatherTech lineup, said they will need to have a bit of luck go their way.
Bamber, meanwhile, said he believes a podium would feel “more like a victory” for the American-flagged effort.
“We’re racing against real factory teams and pro lineups,” Laurens told Sportscar365. “That’s a different mindset but it doesn’t mean we don’t have a shot at it.
“It’s definitely not like Spa where there’s a lot of safety cars or in America [with wave-bys].
“We’ll have to be smart and have a little bit of luck with how the race goes. You saw last weekend with their win at Road America, it’s never impossible.
“We’ll have to play it by ear and do the best we can.”
MacNeil, the only non-Gold or Platinum rated driver in the eight-car class, said his European Le Mans Series effort in one of Proton’s Porsches this year was specifically used for Le Mans prep, in order to get additional seat time with the car under ACO rules.
The 28-year-old teamed with Porsche factory driver Matt Campbell for victory last weekend in IMSA competition, beating both of the factory Corvettes for the first time on pace.
“We had three races under my belt in ELMS leading up to this one with a nice win at Road America last weekend in the car,” MacNeil said.
“It was a new car for me earlier this year but I’ve definitely come to grips with it and happy to be racing a Porsche back at Le Mans.”
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report