2017 Season Preview: LMGTE-Pro

The mouth-watering battle in GTE Pro continues for another season with a straight-up battle between four two-car factory (or at least factory-blessed) squads. One of the main bugbears of the 2016 season, the number of BoP adjustments over the course of the season, has been resolved with the addition of an “automatic” BoP system, based on a computer algorithm built around a delta lap time.

Tyres have also played a major role in the GTE Pro championship over the past couple of years, and the Michelin/Dunlop split continues in 2017. Ferrari, Porsche and Ford will all run Michelins, while Aston Martin have stuck with the tailored Dunlop tyre that took them to the drivers’ and teams’ titles last year. The number of available tyres has been reduced for 2017, with teams only allowed three sets in free practice and four in the race, plus two sets as spares.

This season also offers the added bonus of an official FIA World Championship for GT Manufacturers, which should add an extra edge to the title fight.

AF Corse

Ferrari 488 GTE

#51 – James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Lucas di Grassi (Le Mans only)
#71 – Davide Rigon, Sam Bird, Miguel Molina (Le Mans only)

Ferrari’s quasi-factory GT squad run by Amato Ferrari based in Piacenza are back for another tilt at the GTE manufacturers’ title it has won in four of the FIA WEC’s five seasons. A poor showing at Le Mans, with both cars retiring before Sunday morning will have been tempered by the championship win in the FIA Endurance Cup for GT Manufacturers, but AF Corse will surely want to put on a better showing against the factory Fords at Le Mans in 2017.

Ferrari stalwart Gianmaria Bruni’s shock departure to Porsche has left a great void at the AF Corse, with frequent stand-in driver Alessandro Pier Guidi given the opportunity to step up to the main squad. Davide Rigon and Sam Bird reprise their successful 2016 partnership, and will be joined by former Audi DTM driver Miguel Molina for Le Mans. Another former Audi driver, Lucas di Grassi, will join James Calado and Per Guidi in the #51 machine.

Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK

Ford GT

#66 – Stefan Mücke, Olivier Pla, Billy Johnson (selected races)
#67 – Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell, Luis Felipe Derani (selected races)

Ford’s return to GT racing as a works team last year was clearly all about Le Mans. Balance of performance may have played a (somewhat controversial) role, but in reality the Ford GT was built for one purpose and one purpose only: to win Le Mans. Ford didn’t quite achieve the clean sweep of the podium they had perhaps hoped for, with the Ferrari 488 of Risi Competizione somewhat crashing the party, so that may be the aim for 2017.

The only change to the driver line-up is the addition of Luis Felipe Derani in the #67. The Brazilian made a name for himself last season with some stellar drives at Daytona and Sebring and joins the #67 crew alongside Andy Priauxl and Harry Tincknell, but likely only for the first three rounds of the season at Silverstone, Spa and Le Mans.

Porsche GT Team

Porsche 911 RSR

#91 – Richard Lietz, Frédéric Makowiecki
#92 – Michael Christensen, Kévin Estre

Porsche are back from their one-year GTE Pro sabbatical with a full two-car works entry under the new Porsche GT Team banner. The brand-new 911 RSR (2017) sees the engine move forwards from the rear to the middle of the car, ahead of the rear axle.

It’s a break in tradition that may upset the purists, but the changes have allowed Porsche greater scope in terms of aerodynamics to put the car on a level with the turbocharged, mid-engined Fords, Ferraris and Aston Martins. Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki will partner up for the #91 car, while Michael Christensen is joined by Frenchman Kévin Estre in the #92 machine.

Aston Martin Racing

Aston Martin Vantage

#95 – Nicky Thiim, Marco Sørensen, Richie Stanaway (selected races only)
#97 – Darren Turner, Johnny Adam, Daniel Serra (selected races only)

Aston Martin Racing enjoyed a successful 2016, with Nicky Thiim and Marco Sørensen winning the drivers’ and teams’ titles for the British marque. It’s a step in the right direction, with the ultimate aim being a Le Mans victory (AMR’s last came back in 2009) and the GT manufacturers’ title (which they have never won in the WEC era).

Danes Nicky Thiim and Marco Sørensen continue their successful partnership in the #95 car, with Darren Turner and Johnny Adam set to take the helm in the #97 machine. Familiar face Richie Stanaway will join the Danish crew for Le Mans and selected other races, while 33-year-old Brazilian Daniel Serra, whose driving exploits have largely been confined to GT and stock car championship in his homeland, will be the third member of the #97 crew for selected races.