Drivers – Gianmaria Bruni – Mika Salo – Jaime Melo
326 laps completed
What to watch for in 2009
Ferrari v Porsche
Pro-am v No-am
Perhaps no class at this year’s Le Mans has changed so much since the February entry list was revealed. However, it wasn’t, as in other classes, because of withdrawals. It was because many of those withdrawals bumped another GT2 team into the final field as the three top teams on the reserve list were all cars that slotted into the field.
Those added cars went some way to redressing the Porsche-Ferrari balance, with two 997s and a single 430, but despite this the class remains heavily weighted in favour of the Italian marque with nine entries to five from Stuttgart.
Partly simply due to the numbers, but mostly down to the dominance of the teams running them, it is highly, highly likely that the class winners will come from this number. However, there are two other cars running in the class.
The now venerable Spyker C8 continues to garner entries (or an entry in this case) for Le Mans, despite never having endangered the podium, in fact it very infrequently endangers the chequered flag. Also joining the class is a single Aston Martin, entered by Drayson Racing, who have been developing the car in the American and European Le Mans Series’ over the last 18 months, and an entry that also marks the first time a driver who is registered blind in one eye (Paul Drayson himself – who is also a British government minister) has competed at La Sarthe.
Drayson is also a part of a dwindling number of amateur racers at Le Mans, especially in this class, with Porsche and Ferrari filling seats in teams with their works drivers – of the 10 current works Porsche drivers, six of them are packed into 997s here. Thus while LMP1 can rejoice (barring miracles of performance balancing) a sub class for the petrol cars, GT2 can be split between the Pro-Am cars, with team founders and rich businessmen driving and the No-Am entries, designed for maximum speed and surely destined for a class win.
#70 IMSA Performance Matmut – Porsche 997 GT3 RSR
Drivers – Michel Lacourt – Horst Felbermayr Jr – Horst Felbermayr Sr
The first car on the list is the first beneficiary of the withdrawals in other classes, and “what are the two guys called Felbermayr, doing in a team that isn’t?” And the answer is “I don’t know”.
However, in the Austrian father and son pairing IMSA have landed two very experienced Porsche drivers with four Le Mans starts between them as well as numerous other GT races under their belt. Add that duo to Michel Lacourt, a regular racer for IMSA Performance, and you have a promising trio of drivers for keeping a car on the grey stuff, if not for drinking the bubbly stuff at the end.
Also look out for a no doubt close battle between Horst Snr and Paul Drayson for “Fastest Politician”.
#75 Endurance Team Asia – Porsche 997 GT3 RSR
Drivers – Darryl O’Young – Phillipe Hesnault – Plamen Kralev
Another team that has graduated from the reserve list to the race, and cynically a team that’s only there to drum up interest in the Asian Le Mans Series, but we shall overlook my cynicism and take them seriously (have you noticed how the closest “Team Asia” gets to an Asian driver is a guy from Honk Hong, who’s actually from Canada?). That man – O’Young – is another driver who has logged many a mile in a Porsche, but his two teammates are less promising, and could fall victim of Le Mans.
#76 IMSA Performance Matmut - Porsche 997 GT3 RSR
Drivers – Raymond Narac – Patrick Pilet – Patrick Long
Another strong line-up from IMSA, arguably stronger than their first car, with three drivers with mountains of experience, including multiple Le Mans class wins from Narac and Long, including a victory together with IMSA in 2007.
Long, a Porsche works driver, has more recent experience in the Penske Porsche P2 team and Pilet too has experience at the highest level, having raced for Flying Lizard in the US, with some success.
With these three drivers and a team and car that can last twice around the clock you can expect them to last the distance, and if others don’t they could be one of the teams to take advantage.
#77 Team Felbermayr Proton - Porsche 997 GT3 RSR
Drivers – Marc Leib – Richard Lietz – Wolf Henzler
If you were to write a list of Porsche drivers you’d want in your team, the three wheelmen of the #77 would most definitely be in the top five or six. As three of the Porsche works drivers there is not a lot that these men haven’t won in one of their cars – Sebring, Le Mans and Nurburgring endurance races as well as endurance championships with top teams, while this year a Leib and Leitz pairing have often been the class of the Le Mans Series field, winning the opener in Barcelona and setting pole at Spa.
All of this means that on paper this is pretty clearly the strongest Porsche driving line-up in the race this year, and it’s them who are most likely to take the fight to the Ferrari armada.
#78 AF Corse – Ferrari F430 GT
Drivers – Gianmaria Bruni – Luis Perez Companc – Matias Russo
The first of the Ferraris and the first real dark horse team in the class. In my opinion Gimmi Bruni is one of the best GT drivers around, despite often being overlooked in favour of the Porsche works or Risi drivers whilst Companc (a former rally driver) was a complete revelation when he (as part of the same trio here) took second place at Sebring in March.
Even though Sebring’s GT2 field was a fraction of that for Le Mans (in competitiveness, if not number) such a result shows promise, and there’s a reason why many teams use Sebring to test Le Mans equipment.
#80 Flying Lizard Motorsports – Porsche 997 GT3 RSR
Drivers – Jorg Bergmeister – Darren Law – Seth Neiman
Perhaps one the most iconic teams and cars in modern GT racing, the enigmatically named Flying Lizards have been scaled back to a single car effort, and their chances have suffered for it.
No-one can deny the talents of Jorg Bergmeister (yet another of the Porsche works stable), or to a lesser extent Darren Law, who has been a long term Lizard driver with little to write home about.
However, it is the pro-am nature of the team that lets it down in the addition of Seth Neiman, one of the team’s founders, in the driving seat (especially when Johannes van Overbeek (another founder) is a better driver). Of course part of the GT2 class is to be the pro-am class, but against outfits with no-am it is going to be impossible to compete.
#81 Team Seattle Advanced Engineering – Ferrari F430 GT
Drivers – Joe Foster – Patrick Dempsey – Don Kitch Jr
Probably the car that will get the most disproportionate amount of coverage for their speed, simply due to that name in the middle, without considering the attention it will garner for its fundraising for Seattle Children’s Hospital.
This team is a three-way assault on Le Mans, with Dempsey’s Grand-Am outfit, Kitch Jr.’s Team Seattle and a car from Advanced Engineering (who are also responsible for the AF Corse entry) uniting. This patchwork gives a dilemma for prediction their fate.
Again the pro-am nature of the team precludes them a genuine chance at the podium, but the Advanced Engineering connection links them to a team who can prepare and preserve a Ferrari through an endurance race. However, there are things that not even they can save a car from.
#82 Risi Competizione – Ferrari F430 GT
Drivers – Jaime Melo – Mika Salo – Pierre Kaffer
Arguably the best GT2 team around at the moment Risi have lined up their best drivers in order to try and defend their class title, which Melo and Salo won along with Gimmi Bruni. However, as Bruni has jumped ship to the AF Corse effort Risi have brought Pierre Kaffer from their 2009 ALMS campaign, where he is the regular partner to Melo, to reform the driver trio that took class honours at Sebring.
In doing so they have put together one of the strongest driving teams in the class, along with the Felbermayr Porsche and one other team we’ll get to later. Add that to a team that has an enviable record in the race, having recorded two class victories in four starts and two big steps to a third victory are firmly in place.
The third, and final, step is luck, and they might get some of that, if they’re, er, lucky.
#83 Risi Competizione – Ferrari F430 GT
Drivers – Tracy Krohn – Nic Jonsson – Eric van der Poele
The second Risi car, and the one that will undoubtedly run in the green and blue of Krohn Racing that should be familiar to any GT racing fans from their Grand-Am team and previous co-op campaigns with Risi.
The team and the three drivers will be looking to improve on their 2008 race, which saw them complete only 12 laps, finishing dead last. In reuniting the same three drivers Risi have again stuck with the familiar, with the same three drivers competition together at Sebring (with better results than last year’s Le Mans).
While, of course benefiting from Risi expertise the Krohn car will have to battle Pro-am against No-Am in order to spring a surprise. However, this is probably the best Pro-Am entry, largely thanks to the quality of the Pro parts of the team and the Risi team.
#84 Team Modena – Ferrari F430 GT
Drivers – Leo Mansell – Peirre Ehret – Roman Rusinov
A team that, in a complete contrast to Risi, has undergone a complete change in the last 12 months. A team that last year ran a GT1 Aston this year joins the GT2 Ferrari ranks, and with a totally new driving line-up to boot.
From previous years, and from their victory at the unofficial 24 Hours test that was the Le Mans Series race at Spa-Francorchamps, it is clear that the team can engineer a car that can last. However, I have serious doubts about the men due to step in the car. Mansell, son of 1992 World Champion Nigel, has been aboard for both of this year’s LMS races, so could take some of the kudos for their success . However, he has been the very junior driver to Antonio Garcia and Jaime Melo, both of whom have drives elsewhere for Le Mans.
As understudies Ehret and Rusinov (the latter a driver that would have expected to be in the IPB GT1 car) are strong, with GT success, Ehret’s run of three consecutive podiums in the class being a stand out. However, in such a class, and with Mansell, who is the weak link in the three, I feel it might be three and out for the German.
#85 Snoras Spyker Squadron – Spyker C8 Laviolette GT2R
Drivers – Tom Coronel – Jarek Janis – Jeroen Bleekemolen
One of my faviourite GT2 teams for many years, and not because they’re any good.
The Audi engined Spyker has been turning up at Le Mans for many years and continually walking away with nothing, the fact that it often has to be towed away – exactly no Spykers have finished the race in the last four years, from seven attempts – is a constant problem.
And this year that is a shame because in the right car the three drivers could rival the best in the class, with Bleekemolen – the reigning Porsche Supercup champion and part of the 2008 P2 winning team firmly amongst the best in class (if not the race). I say in the right car. The right car is a Porsche (especially for Jeroen) or a Ferrari. Not a Spyker. Which is a shame.
#87 Drayson Racing – Aston Martin Vantage V8
Drivers – Paul Drayson – Jonny Cocker – Marino Franchitti
The other “other” car, and sadly one that stands about the same chance of victory as the Spyker. Drayson and his team have reportedly almost single handed developed this car and their results have suffered because of it. Occasionally promise is shown with their speed – especially at the wet sessions before Sebring – turning a few heads.
However, their reliability, while improving is still an Achilles Heel, with that same Sebring ending with the car parked up with an engine problem. And they are improving – both their European outings this year have gone the distance (it is worth mentioning that the US and European cars run by the team are different chassis), and with Drayson himself improving behind the wheel with every outing and Franchitti, who is fast emerging from his brother’s shadow, joining the team this is definitely their best, although very slim, chance of upsetting the established names. However, if any reliability doubts remain Le Mans will find them.
#89 Hankook-Team Farnbacher – Ferrari F430 GT
Drivers – Dominik Farnbacher – Allan Simonsen – Christian Montanari
I was going to call this team the dark horse for the class victory, but I’m not sure they are. I’m not sure that any car that pairs Farnbacher with Allan Simonsen, who I rate very highly driving anything, and even higher in a Ferrari that increasingly his home. Back with the team that bears his name Farnbacher too is back in the car he has had most success with from his season with the now defunct Tafel Racing in the US and while Dominik spent his season elevating an ancient Panoz to a place it has no right being in America the team have been scoring podiums in Europe – with Montanari and Simonsen in Barcelona and Farnbacher himself at Spa.
So, like Risi, the right combination of drivers and team appear to be in place and it’s down to luck again, and where the luck falls the trophy may rise.
#92 JMW Motorsport – Ferrari F430 GT
Drivers – Rob Bell – Tim Sugden – Andrew Kirkaldy
The team’s own PR declaring the driver line-up as one of the strongest this year may be over doing it a little, but it is far from the weakest. Rob Bell, has been the team’s regular driver in the opening two Le Mans series rounds (after opening his year in Drayson’s Aston at Sebring) and has taken the car to back-to-back second places, and the top of the class point standings.
The incoming Sugden and Kirkaldy both have near endless experience to bring to the table (not that Bell doesn’t) and in Sugden and Bell they have two thirds of last year’s Virgo team that had a very strong finish taken from them by a late race engine failure, perhaps showing what they are capable of. Whether they can repeat that is a matter for mid-June.
#96 Virgo Motorsport – Ferrari F430 GT
Drivers – Sean McInerney – Micheal McInerney – Michael Vergers
In stark contrast to the father-and-son Felbermayrs the McInerneys’ have little more than 10 races experience at a level anywhere near that they will face at Le Mans.
That said they have appeared to not be hopelessly out of their depth at the two Le Mans Series races, finishing both events for the team. However, despite this they may be the weakest driver line-up in the class.
They are only lifted to “may be” by Michael Vergers, a Dutchman who has raced just about everything in his time, but is arguably at his best in endurance races. Another positive is the experience of the team at Le Mans, but the chances of them rising to the same heights as last year are slim. Very slim.
#97 BMS Scuderia Italia – Ferrari F430 GT
Drivers – Paolo Ruberti – Matteo Malucelli – Fabio Babini
Amongst all the Ferrari teams BMS are the sole Italian squad. And unfortunately they are set to be left in the wake of the more international teams.
The team spends the regular season competing in the FIA GT series, where Ruberti and Malucelli have shared a car this season, where they have come up second best to a number of notable names including AF Corse, a team they will have to pass if they want to win.
Babini is the one shining light of the team, with Le Mans success on his CV from last year with a second place in GT2.
A second place he gained with this same team.
With the two same driving partners.
Which just goes to show anything can happen.
#99 JMB Racing – Ferrari F430 GT
Drivers – Manuel Rodrigues – Yvan Lebon – Christophe Bouchot
Gone is last year’s tie in with Ben Aucott, and probably any chance of repeating last year’s fourth place. Here the quality of the two drivers says masses about the fate of the team, with Rodrigues currently racing in the FIA GT3 series while research has failed to find Lebon in any series for 2009. The late, late (May 31) addition of Christophe Bouchot brings the level of quality up a little. However, to stand any chance he would need to do the 24 hours. Which he can’t.
If you haven't already the LMGT1 preview can be found here.
The 77th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours take place over the 13th and 14th of June, with TV coverage varying. However, there will be full, live-from-La-Sarthe commentary from Radio Le Mans, at www.radiolemans.com (or 91.2 FM at the track if you're lucky enough to be going).
Other Le Mans Class-by-Class previews