The #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Daniel Serra was victorious in the GTE Pro class at the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans. Porsche wrapped up second and third in class, while Keating Motorsports prevailed for Ford in GTE Am.
The GTE Pro class battle was one of the most fascinating at the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, the race was marred by a series of unfortunate safety-car deployments that split the field up. With most of the cars incredibly evenly matched, it was almost impossible for lost time to be recovered on pace unless cars ahead suffered mechanical issues.
A group of around 10 cars set the pace at the front of the field in the early stages of the race. Among them were a gaggle of Ford GTs, the pair of factory Corvettes, the quartet of Porsches and the pair of AF Corse Ferraris. The Aston Martin Vantage V8s quickly fell down the field as their strategy of double-stinting tyres failed to pay off, with too much performance being lost at the end of their second stints.
Big accidents for Corvette and Aston Martin
The first major incident of the race impacted the GTE Pro battle, with the #64 Corvette Racing C7.R driven by Marcel Fässler had a major accident in the Porsche Curves following contact with the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR. The damage to the front end was severe, leading to on-the-spot retirement and a trip to the medical centre for Fässler.
The #95 Aston Martin also crashed heavily, this time at Indianapolis in the darkness. Driver Marco Sorensen lost the rear end and careered into the tyre barriers. The Dane was given a checkover in the circuit medical centre but was later released without issue.
Gradually the field was whittled down as the race progressed, but artificial splits were created for various safety car incidents. The first major split came after ten hours of the race, when Egor Orudzhev crashed his #17 SMP Racing BR01 in the Porsche Curves. This gave the #51 AF Corse car and the #92 Porsche 911 RSR of Laurens Vanthoor, Kévin Estre and Michael Christensen a 90-second lead of the rest of the class field.
Safety cars split up field
It appeared to be a straight Ferrari-Porsche fight for the remainder of the race, but disaster struck the #92 car in the early hours of Sunday morning. A crack was discovered on the exhaust, forcing the team to conduct extensive repairs in the garage.
Another safety car brought the #63 Corvette back into contention, but it had to pit during a brief safety car midway through Sunday morning, whereas the #51 on an out-of-sync pit strategy didn’t. This put the Corvette back one safety car behind and gave the #51 AF Corse 488 an advantage that it would not relinquish.
AF Corse celebrated their class victory at Le Mans since 2014, while Daniel Serra finished on the top step of the podium for the second time in three appearances. Maiden class wins at Le Mans for James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi handed the Ferrari pair second in the GT Drivers’ Championship.
The #91 Porsche 911 RSR recovered from early safety-car-related setbacks to finish second, but drivers Richard Lietz and Gianmaria Bruni, while third went to the IMSA-run #93 Porsche 911 RSR of Nicky Tandy, Patrick Pilet and Earl Bamber. The GT Drivers’ Title also went to Porsche, with Kévin Estre and Michael Christensen managing to finish the race and score the single point they required to secure the championship.
Keating Motorsports celebrates GTE Am success
There was a surprise in GTE Am with a class win for the #85 Keating Motorsports Ford GT on the team’s maiden appearance racing the Blue Oval. A clever strategy, aided by safety car splits, in the early stages of the Le Mans 24 Hours gave the crew a significant advantage that they maintained throughout the night.
Pro drivers Jeroen Bleekemolen and Felipe Fraga took on most of the legwork in the first few hours. This ensured that the #85 was the quickest car in the GTE Am while other teams cycled through their bronze-rated amateur drivers in order to complete minimum driver times of six hours per driver.
Team owner and driver Ben Keating took over driving duties on Sunday morning and quickly found a quick and consistent pace in the Ford. A penalty for wheelspin in the pitlane brought the Ford GT back to within touching distance of the second-placed #56 Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR. However Bleekemolen’s final stint was quick enough to hold off the Porsche to secure a memorable win.
Second place for the Perfetti/Bergmeister/Lindsey-driven #56 Porsche wrapped up the GTE Am titles for the drivers and Project 1 in their maiden FIA WEC season. Third position went to the #84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 of Jeff Segal, Wei Lu and Rodrigo Baptista.
Images © WEC-Magazin (Walter Schruff / Ton Kerdijk)