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Season Review

Sportscar365’s Rookie of the Year

Sportscar365 staff selects Yifei Ye as its rookie driver of the year for 2021…

Photo: Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific

Sportscar365 is recognizing its top competitors and moments from 2021, starting with the Rookie of the Year for drivers who raced full-time for the first time in a series or category. Check back over the coming days for more awards and highlights.

Rookie of the Year – Yifei Ye

Chinese racer Yifei Ye started 2021 as a sports car racing newcomer but ended it as a double LMP2 champion and a Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific contracted driver.

It was a fruitful year for the former Renault Sport Academy member, who arrived in sports cars looking to recalibrate his career off the back of a single-seater spell that peaked with an FIA Formula 3 term and a Euroformula Open title in 2020.

The first signs that Ye would become the latest Silver-rated sports car star emerged in February when he won the Asian Le Mans Series with G-Drive Racing and Algarve Pro.

He was immediately fast in G-Drive’s Aurus-badged Oreca 07 Gibson, setting comparable lap times to his co-drivers Ferdinand Habsburg and Rene Binder. The trio swept the opening weekend in Dubai before sealing the title in Abu Dhabi the following week.

Spurred on by that initial success, Ye was recruited by Team WRT for the prolific Audi GT3 squad’s first proper foray into prototypes.

Chosen as the designated Silver for the team’s European Le Mans Series roster, he partnered ex-Formula 1 star Robert Kubica and former F2 regular Louis Deletraz.

The trio had a phenomenal season, with Ye’s double stints often proving to be key in the four-hour races. A notable drive occurred at Spa, where Ye made a brilliant pass for the lead on Manuel Maldonado at Les Combes before extending the gap to tee up a win that guaranteed the title.

But arguably Ye’s best performance of the year came at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he was one of the fastest LMP2 drivers outright in a field of huge names and put WRT’s ELMS crew in a winning position. An electrical gremlin on the final lap saw victory slip away, but that agonizing conclusion didn’t detract from the quality of Ye’s drive.

Having been picked up by Porsche, and with hopes to become one of the brand’s future LMDh drivers, Ye is on course to have an established and successful sports car career.

Honorable Mentions

***The feathers of experienced GT3 and DTM hands alike were ruffled this year by teenage sensation Liam Lawson, who almost won the title with a captivating campaign in his Red Bull AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020. The FIA Formula 2 ace led most of the season’s second half and took three wins in total, including a sweep at the Red Bull Ring. Despite losing out on the championship to Maximilian Goetz at a dramatic and controversial season finale, it was a blinding GT debut from the New Zealander.

***From winning Italian GT last year to clinching an FIA World Endurance Championship GTE-Am class title in 2021, Alessio Rovera has enjoyed a rapid rise over the last 12 months. The 26-year-old Italian’s performances with AF Corse in his first full year of GTE competition quickly piqued the interest of Ferrari, which moved fast to sign Rovera to a factory contract for 2022.

***Like our Rookie of the Year recipient, Franco Colapinto was one of LMP2’s early head-turners in Asian Le Mans. The Argentine teenager displayed wicked pace – two poles and three fastest laps – and maturity beyond his years in racing scenarios aboard the Oreca 07 Gibson. He went on to have a strong ELMS campaign with G-Drive, highlighted by a pole at Monza. A much-hyped talent within the paddock, Colapinto showed several times that he can deliver.

***One of the more experienced sports car drivers with rookie status this year was Kevin Magnussen, who started life after F1 with a solid campaign for Chip Ganassi Racing’s Cadillac DPi squad. The Dane gradually found his feet in the ultra-competitive IMSA field and claimed his maiden win at Detroit in June. Four more podiums and a 24 Hours of Le Mans LMP2 outing alongside his father Jan added up to form a solid season that gave a taste of Magnussen’s sports car credentials before he heads to Peugeot.

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

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