Sportscar365 is recognizing some of the top competitors and moments from 2021. Next up is the GT drivers of the year per category, as selected by website staff.
GTE – Kevin Estre
It’s difficult to stand out in GT racing, such is the level of competition in a performance-balanced discipline. But one driver has consistently demonstrated that he has the right stake a claim to being the fastest of them all.
Kevin Estre has been Porsche’s main man in recent years, winning the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the manufacturer’s works GTE-Pro program.
This year the Frenchman was again on top form in the WEC, even if he ultimately fell short of clinching the title with his new co-driver Neel Jani.
Estre was largely the quickest driver in the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR-19 during the races and was, most impressively, peerless in qualifying.
He took five out of six pole positions as the WEC’s new single-driver qualifying system enabled his raw speed to shine through more so than the old average-based format.
A season sweep was denied by a crash on his out-lap at Le Mans but he made up for it in the race as the No. 92 squad earned a podium with a new chassis.
Other notable drives included unrivalled stints at Spa, holding off the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo to win at Monza and seizing the lead from the same rival twice at the Bahrain decider, only for the title to slip away at the last.
Honorable mentions: Antonio Garcia (Sealed another IMSA GTLM title with Corvette Racing), Alessandro Pier Guidi (World champion and Ferrari’s star man), James Calado (Together with Pier Guidi, won a second WEC title and Le Mans)
GT3 – Alessandro Pier Guidi
Ferrari factory driver Pier Guidi only contested 10 races in GT3 this year but was a standout performer in all of them.
The 38-year-old Italian is highly respected in both the Ferrari and rival camps for his sheer pace, his thorough approach to car setup and his all-weather abilities.
This year Pier Guidi demonstrated each of those traits during the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup season with Iron Lynx.
He arrived as the defending champion and arguably had an even better year this time around as he earned a second title that he shared with his co-drivers Nicklas Nielsen and Come Ledogar.
Pier Guidi’s finest moment was his daring pass around Dries Vanthoor at Blanchimont to win a wet TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa, but he was also strong at the other four stops on the Endurance Cup calendar.
As the designated final stint driver, Pier Guidi was responsible for banking the No. 51 crew’s points in a series where consistency is hard to come by.
A significant drive was his contribution at the Barcelona decider, where Ferrari seemed to struggle with dialling in its 488 GT3 Evo 2020s. But Pier Guidi held firm in the points during a critical stage of the race to score enough for the title.
He was also excellent at the Indianapolis 8 Hour where he claimed pole before running up a lead of almost six seconds in the opening stint until a safety car intervened.
Honorable mentions: Ross Gunn (IMSA front-runner and 24H Spa podium), Ricardo Feller (ADAC GT Masters champion, mixed with GTWC overall contenders in Emil Frey’s Silver Lambo), Kevin Estre (Porsche’s hero at Nürburgring 24), Bill Auberlen (strong again in Turner’s outgoing BMW M6 GT3), Jan Heylen (GTWC America Pro-Am, IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup champion), Dennis Lind (British GT champion in rebound year), Dries Vanthoor (GTWC Europe Sprint, overall champion)
GT4 – Jan Heylen
It’s not often a driver is still crowned a series’ champion after missing a race but that’s what happened to Jan Heylen in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge this year.
The Belgian took the GS class title in his Wright Motorsports Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport despite only starting his championship pursuit at the second round of the season at Sebring, due to an accident for co-driver Ryan Hardwick in practice at Daytona.
Heylen showed to be the class of the field, particularly in the second half of the season.
Hard-fought battles with Bill Auberlen resulted in victories at the final three races of the season, including the title-decider at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
Honorable mentions: Colin Mullan (Pirelli GT4 America front-runner), Bailey Voisin (GT4 European Series champion), Charlie Fagg (GT4 European Series champion)
GT500 – Sho Tsuboi
TOM’s Toyota driver Tsuboi has displayed his abilities many times in the past as a Super Formula and GT300 race winner, but this year was his most decorated since sealing the Japanese Formula 3 title in 2018.
The 26-year-old claimed his first top-level Japanese series crown in Super GT, sharing the No. 36 Toyota GR Supra with his more experienced co-driver Yuhi Sekiguchi.
The pair kicked off with second at Okayama, in a race highlighted by Tsuboi impressively piling the pressure on eventual winner Kenta Yamashita.
Another podium came in round three at Motegi, while the pair finished in the points at all but one of the eight rounds among a rich GT500 field.
The season highlight was capturing the title at the Fuji Speedway finale. Sekiguchi was arguably the driving force courtesy of a terrific start to take the lead, but Tsuboi did equally well to soak up the pressure in the run to the checkered flag.
It will be interesting to see how Tsuboi fares next season when takes on team leader responsibilities with the arrival of a new younger co-driver in Giuliano Alesi.
Honorable mentions: Nirei Fukuzumi (runner-up alongside Tomoki Nojiri) Yuhi Sekiguchi (Tsuboi’s co-champion) Nobuharu Matsushita (solid GT500 debut with Nissan), Naoki Yamamoto (defending champion third this time)
Best Bronze – Francois Perrodo
Last year this publication selected Perrodo as its Bronze-rated GT driver of the year, an accolade that the U.K-domiciled Frenchman retained for his title-winning efforts in 2021.
He won’t be up for it again in 2022 because Perrodo is returning to prototypes after achieving his second straight FIA World Endurance Championship GTE-Am crown and the 24 Hours of Le Mans with AF Corse.
Perrodo has cemented himself as one of the top amateur drivers in GT racing, with a reputation for consistency behind the wheel and affability to boost morale the garage.
Perrodo, Nielsen and Alessio Rovera won four out of six WEC races including the double-points Le Mans to give them a healthy points lead that they successfully defended at the Bahrain finale.
Perrodo also tackled an ELMS campaign, scoring wins alongside Rovera and Emmanuel Collard in Austria and Belgium. They ended up third in the standings but probably would have been higher if they hadn’t missed the season-opener due to a positive COVID-19 test in the AF Corse camp.
Perrodo’s upcoming LMP2 switch reflects his belief that he has completed what he needs to do in GT racing, much to the relief of the Bronze drivers who have gone up against him.
Honorable mentions: Rino Mastronardi (ELMS champion and leading GT3 Bronze), Miguel Ramos (GTWC Europe Sprint, combined Pro-Am champion), Fred Poordad (upgraded his 2020 GTWC America Am title to a Pro-Am title this year), Michael Fassbender (vast improvements in second year of GTE with Proton)