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Season Review

SPORTSCAR365: GT Drivers of the Year

Sportscar365 staff selects the year’s best GT drivers across the different categories…

Photo: Ferrari

GTE/GTLM – Alessandro Pier Guidi

Ferrari factory driver Alessandro Pier Guidi had a fairly understated 2018 after the supreme highs of winning the World Endurance GTE Drivers’ Championship the year before.

However, the Italian regained his momentum this year and churned out performances that made him a standout in the intensely competitive global GTE ranks.

Pier Guidi was instrumental in Ferrari regaining the 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE-Pro trophy after four winless attempts and was quickest of the victorious No. 51 crew – also featuring James Calado and Daniel Serra – on average.

The same trio then went on to claim a famous win for Risi Competizione in October’s Motul Petit Le Mans.

But it wasn’t just on the world stage and in the biggest races where Pier Guidi shined.

Partnered with new Ferrari works driver Nicklas Nielsen and French racer Fabien Lavergne, he helped the young Luzich Racing team to earn the European Le Mans Series GTE title on its debut.

The trio ran dominant throughout the year, scoring four victories out of six, and Pier Guidi was at the center of it all with two fastest laps and consistent pace at the sharp end.

Ferrari knew it had a potential star on its books when it offered Pier Guidi the chance to replace the Porsche-bound Gianmaria Bruni as its ‘top Italian’ in 2017.

The manufacturer is now reaping the rewards for its choice.

Honorable mentions: Kevin Estre (WEC GT world champion), Laurens Vanthoor & Earl Bamber (IMSA GTLM champions), Antonio Garcia (Corvette star, 3rd in GTLM), James Calado (Pier Guidi’s WEC teammate won Le Mans, Petit and Asian LMS)

Photo: Dirk Bogaerts/SRO

GT3 – Andrea Caldarelli

Andrea Caldarelli’s driving inputs alone would have been enough for the Italian to be one of our end-of-year award winners.

But his achievements as team manager of the Chinese-entered Orange 1 FFF Racing squad, which took a stunning triple crown of the European Blancpain GT overall titles, cemented the 29-year-old at the top of the GT3 nominations list.

Caldarelli and his co-driver Marco Mapelli were devastatingly consistent all year and were the only pairing to finish in the top ten of every Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup race.

This form transferred over into the GT World Challenge Europe sprint competition where they took two victories and three further podiums to beat Mercedes’ Luca Stolz and Maro Engel on countback.

Achieving the endurance and sprint double inevitably landed Caldarelli and Mapelli the overall drivers’ title while the FFF squad amassed piles of additional silverware.

While it was a group effort that was responsible for the team’s unprecedented rise from the Asian regional ranks to European domination, Caldarelli was essentially the architect of it all.

His mix of management, strategy, motivation and sheer pace behind the wheel of the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo made him an influential figure in the paddock this year.

Honorable mentions: Kevin Estre (standout drives in 24H Spa and Nürburgring 24), Kelvin van der Linde (ADAC GT Masters champion, Suzuka 10H winner), Luca Stolz (Mercedes-AMG star rarely finished off the podium), Dennis Olsen (IGTC champion)

Photo: Audi

Class One – Rene Rast

DTM champions rarely win titles by much: since ITR’s iteration of the championship was launched in 2000, ten of the 19 seasons have been decided by six points or less.

One person who’s contributed to that statistic is Rene Rast, who won the 2017 crown by three points before narrowly missing out on defending his title last year by a four-point margin.

But this time around, it was evident that the Audi star was quite fed up with being involved in tense championship run-ins.

That was proven by his crushing 72-point margin of victory over teammate Nico Mueller in the 2019 standings, which was numerical evidence of a dominant year.

Rast’s season started with consecutive cases of one good, one bad at Hockenheim and Zolder where he failed to finish in race one before turning things around to win in race two.

But from round three onwards, he was consistent across full events and set off on a remarkable run of high-flying finishes that included four double-podium weekends.

By the end of the year, Rast was a clear champion and the poster boy for Audi’s remarkable success in the first year of the Class One package that Super GT will soon adopt.

Honorable mentions: Kenta Yamashita (Super GT champion), Nick Cassidy (second in Super GT), Marco Wittmann (3rd in DTM as best BMW driver)

Photo: Audi

GT4 – Alec Udell

Recent years have seen the GT4 category rise to become one of the most competitive and popular sports car arenas in the world.

One of the toughest championships to win is the GT4 European Series and young American racer Alec Udell was likely well aware of that when he committed to the full season with BMW outfit MDM Motorsport.

Udell’s previous racing experience had largely focused on North America, but even then he had made very few appearances in GT4 machinery.

Finding instant success in the formula’s ‘homeland’, then, would have seemed like a tall order at the start of his adventurous transatlantic campaign. But Udell managed it.

Unlike his predominantly European rivals, the 24-year-old had zero race experience on most of the tracks he visited in 2019 including Monza, Brands Hatch and Misano.

Paired with Dutch racer Simon Knap, who himself had a terrific year, Udell claimed two wins on the same weekend at Paul Ricard and notched up another triumph at Zandvoort.

This set the duo up for a shot at the Silver class title, which they duly delivered on countback after tying on points with Leipert Motorsport’s Jan Kiesel and Max Koebolt.

Honorable mentions: Jeff Westphal & Tyler McQuarrie (Michelin Pilot Challenge GS champions), Ian James (Pirelli GT4 America Sprint champion), Spencer Pumpelly (3rd in GT4 America Sprint), Tom Canning (British GT4 champion now supported by Aston Martin)

Photo: Drew Gibson/Ford

Best Bronze: Ben Keating

There can be little doubt that Ben Keating will look back on 2019 as one of his busiest and most memorable years of racing to date.

The Texan has never shied away from high-profile projects but his orchestration of the first-ever customer Ford GT entry into the 24 Hours of Le Mans was surely on another level.

While the post-race disqualification was galling, Keating nonetheless made a sterling impression on this year’s race which he contested with Riley Motorsports.

The iconic Ford GT outing was one of three major motorsport projects that Keating embarked on in 2019.

The second was a full-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship campaign with a Riley-prepared Mercedes-AMG GT3 that saw him and Jeroen Bleekemolen finish seventh in the standings.

Keating’s third venture was a move to the WEC to contest the 2019-20 season with a Porsche 911 RSR run by Team Project 1: the outfit that ultimately beat him at Le Mans.

There were some teething issues at the start for Keating, who hadn’t raced a Porsche in six years, but it didn’t take long for him to become one of the top Am competitors.

His best individual drive came in last weekend’s 8 Hours of Bahrain, where he bolted away from the Am pack and held his own against the Pros whilst doing the lion’s share of the driving.

That kind of winning performance, just a few weeks before he tackles the Rolex 24 at Daytona in two cars, suggests that Keating has firm plans to carry his driving form and passion for the sport deep into 2020.

Honorable mentions: Richard Heistand (back-to-back IMSA GTD wins at Mid-Ohio and Detroit), Egidio Perfetti (WEC GTE-Am champion at the first attempt)

The latest news, photos and video features from the trusted Sportscar365 web staff.

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