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SPORTSCAR365: GT Drivers of the Year

Sportscar365’s second end-of-year review profiles the top GT drivers of 2018…

Photo: Porsche

GT racing fans were treated to some exceptional competition in 2018, with plenty of drivers standing out across the different categories.

Following on from the top prototype drivers of the year, Sportscar365 picks out the GT drivers who starred around the world.

GTE/GTLM – Kevin Estre

Estre turned 30 this year and enjoyed one of his most successful periods of racing to date. The Frenchman overturned his record of never finishing the 24 Hours of Le Mans by dominating the 2018 edition with Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor in the ‘Pink Pig’ Porsche 911 RSR.

He also scored more WEC podiums this year than in all his previous seasons combined and could always be found at the business end of the timing sheets.

With equally strong inputs from Christensen, Estre and the No. 92 Porsche dominated the first calendar year of the 2018-19 WEC season with five straight podiums.

Despite the automatic GTE-Pro Balance of Performance system keeping things close between the manufacturers, and with fewer points on offer to the Le Mans winners, the pair have still managed to build a huge 43-point lead with three races to go.

Estre’s performances in the Porsche 911 RSR were backed up by excellent results in the German marque’s 911 GT3 R, which included a class podium in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 hour, victory in the VLN season opener and a win for Timo Bernhard’s team in ADAC GT Masters. 

Honorable mentions: Richard Westbrook (second in IMSA GTLM), Harry Tincknell (starred in Ford’s GTE-Pro lineup), Jan Magnussen (defended IMSA GTLM title with seven straight podiums), Patrick Pilet (won 12H Sebring, 24H Nurburgring and Petit Le Mans).

Photo: Mercedes-AMG

GT3 – Raffaele Marciello

Across the global GT3 competitions this year, one individual stood out. Blancpain GT Series champion Marciello was a revelation in Europe, excelling in both the sprint and endurance formats.

In Sprint Cup, Marciello and Michael Meadows overtook the Audi crew of Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas in the mid-season and bolted away to clinch the title with a string of excellent results in the second half of the year, including main race victories at the Hungaroring and the Nürburgring.

Marciello just missed out on the Endurance Cup title to Mercedes team-mates Luca Stolz, Maro Engel and Yelmer Buurman, but showed terrific consistency with finishes in the top six at all rounds bar the Monza opener.

When those two sets of results combined, he was a clear Blancpain GT overall champion.

Most importantly, the former Ferrari F1 junior looks to have found a real home with Mercedes-AMG and showed his maturity as a first-year factory driver despite a busy globe-trotting schedule that also took in Blancpain GT Series Asia and even a one-off outing in Pirelli World Challenge.

While Marciello’s 2017 sports car debut was about getting the feel for the discipline after a strictly open wheel upbringing, this year marked the proper arrival of GT racing’s latest global star.

Honorable mentions: Bryan Sellers (IMSA GTD champion), Mathieu Jaminet (ADAC GT Masters champion), Christopher Mies (second in Sprint Cup and Blancpain GT overall), Kelvin van der Linde (podiums in Endurance Cup, Sprint Cup, GT Masters, 24H Spa and Stock Car Brasil).

Photo: Mercedes-AMG

GT4 – Owen Trinkler

Three wins in the final five races ensured Owen Trinkler and Hugh Plumb took this year’s IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge title.

Coming off the back of a successful five-year spell in ST with Sarah Cattaneo, Trinkler made the switch to the GS class for his first run in the series’ top category since 2007. Despite entering less familiar territory, the 42-year-old’s debut campaign with the Mercedes-AMG GT4 package was a resounding success and he showed consistency from start to end, with only one finish outside the top-10 all year.

After Kyle Marcelli and Nate Stacy dominated the first half of the season, Trinkler and Plumb rose into contention halfway through with the Team TGM pairing taking their first win at Lime Rock Park in July.

This was swiftly followed by a stellar victory at Virginia International Raceway where Trinkler laid down a mammoth 1 hour, 15-minute opening stint in tough conditions, before Plumb took a smash-and-grab win on last lap in the penultimate race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to tee up their championship success.

Honorable mentions: James Sofronas, (PWC GTS Sprint and SprintX champion) Milan Dontje, (pole, fastest lap and 2nd in GT4 International Cup) Ian James (multiple wins in PWC GTS Sprint), Jack Mitchell (won British GT title by a point).

Photo: Mercedes-AMG

Best GT Bronze – Kenny Habul

Habul raced here, there and everywhere in 2018, and found success in most places he visited. The Australian claimed the Intercontinental GT Challenge Bronze Cup championship which put him an impressive 13th in the overall drivers’ standings, in amongst the usual factory names.

Second overall at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour was his primary highlight, driving the instantly recognizable SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 supported by Scott Taylor Motorsport with Marciello, Tristan Vautier and Jamie Whincup.

Habul also took a Pro-Am victory in a Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup cameo at the Hungaroring with overall IGTC champion Vautier, one week after the pair won their class at the Suzuka 10 Hours.

His commitment to GT3 racing was commendable, most notably the lengths he would go to compete around the world. Habul raced exclusively in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship last year but racked up the air miles in 2018, encountering new circuits, racing in different environments and partnering numerous top Pro drivers along the way.

There’s very little doubt that 2018 was his toughest, but most rewarding, year of racing to date.

Honorable mentions: Ben Keating (third in IMSA GTD standings, third in GTE-Am at 24H Le Mans), Christian Ried (Le Mans GTE-Am winner, repeat Porsche Cup winner).

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

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