Tracing the GTE storylines at the WEC Prologue

Image by JEP/LAT

Tracing the GTE storylines at the WEC Prologue

Le Mans/WEC

Tracing the GTE storylines at the WEC Prologue

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RACER has looked at all the talking points in LMP1 and LMP2 at this week’s FIA WEC preseason Prologue Test in Barcelona, and now it’s time to shift focus to the GTE ranks.

While there are plenty of new cars and driver crews to look out for this year, there’s only one new-for-2019 chassis, and that’s Porsche’s new 911 RSR 19, which will race in a somewhat depleted GTE Pro class that rumbles on without Ford or BMW. As a result, Porsche’s new challenger is the talk of the town in GTE Pro. The fact that the German marque was so eager to develop a new car and race it after such a successful Super Season in which it won the championship and the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours did surprise some in the paddock.

“Porsche really don’t mess about, do they?” one GTE Pro team member told RACER.

“We’ve designed the new Porsche 911 RSR from scratch,” said Pascal Zurlinden, the Director of Porsche’s factory GTE team. “We used the (pre-season) tests to prepare meticulously for the upcoming challenges. Now we finally get the chance to meet our competitors in the FIA WEC.

“As world champions, we’re heading into the new season feeling confident. However, in the lead-up to the Prologue, we still have a few unanswered questions because we’ve never driven at Barcelona. I’m curious to see how well our new car performs on this racetrack.”

AF Corse arrives fresh from its Le Mans win and hungry for more success this season with the Ferrari 488 GTE Evo which, James Calado was keen to remind RACER, was considered to be no better than the previous iteration.

“It’s not that long ago since we won Le Mans,” he said. “We haven’t had much time to recover and get the new cars ready for the new season. The original package we had was fantastic, but for BoP reasons most of the developments were taken away. We didn’t actually gain anything – if [anything], we lost a bit of performance.

“We lost downforce. We have no front flaps on the car. They were good, but they took them away so we lost a lot of front downforce, and that changed the way the car reacted to set up changes. So we had to compensate. We didn’t really gain anything.”

Aston Martin will only run a single Pro car during the Prologue. Image by JEP/LAT

Aston Martin only brought a single Pro class Vantage AMR to Spain, in part because most of its driving crew need to leave after Day 1 to attend the Spa 24 Hours, and also because it only has a limited selection of the 2019 Michelin tires.

Alex Lynn told RACER that the Vantage AMR’s biggest struggle in its debut season was with tire performance. It is therefore imperative for the new Michelins to work well with the car in Year 2.

“We’ve got a limited set of the new tires, enough to get back-to-back feeling, with the older rubber,” he explained. “We’ve been working extremely hard with Michelin to develop tires this year. We had to make a quick decision last year with what construction and compound we wanted.

“Unfortunately, the decision to switch to Michelin (from Dunlop) was quite late, so we did have to rush the process of developing a tire. We paid the price for it in quite a few races, particularly the hotter ones. But it’s made us hungrier to get it right this time.”

Prior to the Prologue, Aston Martin Racing told RACER that it wouldn’t have any of the new-spec Michelins available, although a last minute change has resulted in the team being handed a small selection. Porsche, meanwhile, has no 2019-spec tires for this test. There is still plenty of value in the team logging significant mileage though, as its car is still so new.

In the huge 11-car GTE Am class, there have been plenty of developments since the end of last season. The driver line-up for Aston Martin’s No.98 Vantage is one of the key storylines in Spain. RACER understands that the two seats next to Paul Dalla Lana are open, with Ross Gunn, Darren Turner, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Mathieu Vaxiviere all testing so that the team can make a decision before the season-opener at Silverstone.

Vaxiviere’s program for the Prologue is understood to have come together late. The Frenchman, who has experience in LMP2 and with Aston Martin racing for R-Motorsport in GT3, was due to test a Rebellion Racing LMP1 car too, and is believed to have had a seat fitting with the team prior to this week.

The Swiss outfit changed its plans at the 11th hour, though. Vaxiviere has to leave Spain early to head to Spa for the 24 Hours, and there was concern about whether there was enough time for him to fulfill his requirements in both of the cars he was entered to drive.

Aston Martin Racing’s other customer effort in Am, with TF Sport, is also under the spotlight. The British team, which is also running the current Vantage GTE for the first time this season (the current car wasn’t eligible by regulation to race in the ‘Super Season’), received its car shortly before heading to Spain.

Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc are unable to attend the test and drive with the team due to their Spa 24 commitments, and Eastwood was only able to complete a brief shakedown before the brand new car was transported to continental Europe. As a result, prior to the first session of the day, it only had a handful of miles on the counter.

Jonny Adam is curious about how success ballast will play out in GTE Am. Image by JEP/LAT

Jonny Adam, who will drive for the full season with TF in 2019/20, is steering its Vantage solo here in Spain. He spoke to RACER about the WEC’s implementation of success ballast in GTE Am for this season.

“The only championship I have raced in that has had success ballast as a rule in the past is British Touring Cars,” he said.

“They’ve put this in place, and we’ve seen that in ELMS (this season) it seems to level the field out a bit. It will be an interesting development. In any championship, consistency on results is a key thing. As a result TF will look to find other ways to improve to make up for it, things like making pit stops cleaner, because the cars are so balanced on performance.”

As for the Ferrari and Porsche teams, there is also plenty going on as the season-opener draws closer. The AF Corse Ferrari fleet in Am now features some rather notable chassis. The No. 83 AF Corse 488 is the ex-No. 57 Car Guy example from Le Mans, while the No. 62 Red River Sport 488 GTE was the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’ No. 51 GTE Pro car, which won GTE Pro at Le Mans. (AF’s two Pro cars, as usual, are brand new for the new season.)

Elsewhere, the two returning 488s – the No. 70 campaigned by MR Racing and No. 54 from Spirit of Race – are the same chassis used last season.

Finally, there’s been little rest, or indeed time for celebration, for reigning WEC GTE Am champion and Le Mans class-winning outfit Team Project 1, which today received its Le Mans 24 Hours trophies for winning the GTE Am class (after Keating Motorsports’ Ford GT was excluded from the results after the race). It is busy running both its full-season 911 RSRs in Spain, and was one of six teams that have stayed in Catalonia after last weekend’s European Le Mans Series race to take part in the Prologue. The team is still waiting for its third Porsche to be delivered; when it does, it will relieve the pressure of managing both its two-car WEC and single car ELMS programs, which run parallel with each other.

The only Porsche team here that didn’t race in Spain last weekend was Gulf Racing, as Dempsey Proton Racing also competed in the GTE class of the ELMS.

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