GTE in 2016 (including IMSA’s closely associated GTLM class) means FIA WEC, ELMS and the IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship
FIA World Endurance Championship
LM GTE Pro
Ford: 2 x Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT
There’s little doubt that the big news is the arrival, or rather the return of Ford to the international Endurance racing scene with the new, and extraordinary, Ford GT.
The frontal aspect of the car presents a very familiar aspect, more than a hat tip to its Ford GT40 ancestor.
It’s twin turbo V6 Ford EcoBoost powerplant is a major difference from what has gone before but it’s the aerodynamics of Ford’s newest racing weapon that has really turned heads, put bluntly there has never been a GT car remotely close to this.
The teardrop shaped cockpit/ engine bay section and some very ‘trick’ detailing’ take the game on considerably.
The Multimatic developed racer will debut in the United States with a parallel two car programme for Chip Ganassi Racing for the full WTSCC (see below) with the WEC two car effort handled by a new team under ex Prodrive Team Principal George Howard Chappell.
The full season WEC driver announcement is due to be made on 5 January at the team’s new operating base near Banbury, Oxfordshire, this the ex Triple Eight base.
Industry sources and the Rolex 24 Hours provisional entry indicates that the much trailed full season WEC quartet will likely include Olivier Pla, Stefan Mucke and Andy Priaulx but that is still to be confirmed, with concurrent unanswered questions over the additional drivers for the all-important Le Mans seats though Sebastien Bourdain’ inclusion in the Daytona line-up indicates at least an endurance race seat for the Frenchman.
Ferrari: 2 x AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE
The Prancing Horse debuts the new twin turbo V8 powered 488 in 2016 and we’ll see at least a pair in the full FIA WEC as Ferrari look to reclaim the GT Manufacturers World Championship. No changes are expected to the factory-backed driver quartet with the 2015 #71 crew of James Calado and Davide Rigon now a fully-honed foil to the Bruni/ Vilander #51.
Development mileage has been piled on the new car in the latter part of 2015 with early powertrain concerns now (relatively) ancient history we believe. The advent of the new car changes the soundtrack of the Ferrari effort fundamentally but will bring both improved fuel economy and much improved torque delivery. If Ferrari have got their sums right, and they usually do, then this effort could well be the strongest opposition that Ford will see this season.
Aston Martin: 2 x Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE (2016)
We’ve already seen the 2016 version of the V8 Vantage GTE testing after the 2015 WEC finale in Bahrain, the rear wing/ diffuser combo and entirely new bodywork are reported to provide the desired reduction in lap times (see interview today with Darren Turner). Whether it will be enough to get the Vantage to grips with the Ford remains to be seen. (below the 2016 spec #97 compared to the 2015 spec #99).
For the WEC we expect a pair of factory entered cars in the Pro class, the #97 and likely the #95 Young Driver AMR entry returning with a likely reshuffled driver line-up that looks set to include Turner, Jonny Adam and Marco Sorensen.
With expected changes to the fuelling aspects of Balance of Performance and a basically stable mechanical package Aston Martin’s hopes for the season will be based at least in good in part on the relative lack of development for their principal opposition in the class. Could 2016 be a year when reliability in GTE plays a major part?
Porsche: 1 x Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR (2016)
Porsche had an on, off, sort of back on run in to their 2016 GTE Pro plans with the combination of the widely expected new car for 2017, concerns over the competitiveness of the current Porsche 911 RSR with the available 2016 upgrades (the rear engined Porsche unable to draw as much profit as the rest from the opportunity to utilise the ‘mahoosive’ rear diffuser) and, let’s not forget, some Group budgetary pressures.
So there’s no Porsche Team Manthey full season effort but instead we’ll have a singleton campaign in the Pro Class under the Dempsey Proton Racing banner with 2015 GTE Drivers Champ Richard Lietz joined by Michael Christensen.
No strength in numbers then but be in no doubt that there will be plenty of factory assistance for the effort. Don’t count this one out just yet!
Very sadly Jack Leconte’s concerted effort to bring a GTE Pro Corvette effort to the full WEC has failed with the Chevrolet powers that be unwilling or unable to provide a 2016 spec C7.R. Le Mans only it is, again!
LM GTE Am
Ferrari: 1-3 x Ferrari 458 Italia/ 488 GTE
We expect a return from the #83 AF Corse effort with Francois Period and Manu Collard, likely in a 458 Italia.
AF Corse, as is their won’t, could just as easily turn up with an additional WEC Am effort, or two, or nine!
The 2015 Championship winning SMP Racing effort may well return, or might emerge in GTE Pro with a new 488 GTE, or just possibly, we might even see both!
JMW Motorsport’s WEC ambitions seem not to have come to fruition for 2016.
Aston Martin: 1 x Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE
The ever enthusiastic Paul Dalla Lana will return in the #98 Aston that dominated the opening battles of the 2015 Championship, and is expected to field an unchanged trio with Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda for the full WEC.
Porsche: 1-2 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR
Already confirmed is the return of the #88 Abu Dhabi Proton effort with Khaled Al Qubaisi joined for 2016 by Patrick Long and David Heinemeier Hansson. The possibility of a second car for a part (or less likely) full season still exists with the door still being left open for a race or two for Patrick Dempsey should his schedule permit.
Corvette: 1-2 x Larbre Competition Chevrolet Corvette C7.R
Jack Leconte’s squad had a 2015v jam packed full with terrible bad luck. and his 2016 effort started in similar vein with hopes of a GTE Pro effort dashed by GM. There is though a distinct possibility that we’ll see a pair of the uber fan favourite bellowing Vettes as Larbre push hard to find customers for the one remaining available 2015 spec C7.R
IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship
Ford: 2 x Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford GT
IMSA ’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona gets the privilege of welcoming Ford’s hugely anticipated new Ford GT to racing. Chip Ganassi racing field a two car, full season effort with ex BMW duo Joey Hand and Dirk Muller the full season names in the #66 car, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in the sister #67 – Sebastien Bourdain joining the #66 for Daytona, Stefan Mucke the #67.
With such a new effort there as a huge number of unknowns but there’s little doubt that a massive amount of testing and development has been undertaken. The IMSA Series though is a massively high quality GT racing environment to blood a new effort in, this is going to be good!
Ferrari: 1 x Risi Competizione, Ferrari 488 GTE (Full Season), 1 x Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE (NAEC), 1 x SMP Racing (Daytona Only)
Ferrari’s new turbo V8 weapon also gets its racing debut at Daytona with AF Corse (running as SMP Racing) in a one-off joining Scuderia Corsa (NAEC programme) below and full season Risi Competizione combining to outnumber the Fords in Florida, Ferrari vs Ford a repeat of the sixties stories that started the legends!
Risi Competizione continue their Ferrari love affair into the 488 era with a full season effort though the team will miss out on the Roar Before the 24 as the team work at Michelotto to complete the build of their new car.
Scuderia Corsa field Alessandro Pier Guidi, Alexandre Premat and Daniel Serra for the four race NAEC, an intriguing trio that should have real pace, Pier Guidi one of the fastest of the legion of Italian Ferrari specialists, Premat with his ex Audi factory heritage and Brazilian Serra coming off the back of a huge amount of tyre testing with Dunlop.
Porsche: 2 x Porsche Motorsport North America, Porsche 911 RSR (2016)
With the factory team stepping back from full season WEC GTE Pro this year there was much relief that the US-based operation would continue. Core Autosports still pop the cars as they did faultlessly again in 2015.
On the driver front the loss of a third LMP1 car has very much been IMSA’s gain with the #911 car shared for the full season by 2015 Drivers Champion Patrick Pilet and 2015 overall Le Mans winner Nick Tandy. At the longer, Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup races (24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans), the pair is set to receive support from Porsche factory new boy Kévin Estre.
The #912 car will see a full season pairing of Frédéric Makowiecki and 2015 Le Mans winner Earl Bamber. These two will be joined by Michael Christensen at the four IMSA long distance classics.
Corvette: 2 x Corvette Racing, Chevrolet Corvette C7.R
Back for another shot at the title are Corvette with a pair of new for 2016 C7.Rs with all the new season trimmings and an unchanged full season line-up, though the enduros will see Corvette first timer Mike Rockefeller join Messrs Garcia and Magnussen in there #3 and returning talent Marcel Fassler joining Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in #4
With the advent of the ‘turbo-tastic efforts from Ford, Ferrari and BMW the epic B=V8 soundtrack of the Corvettes will stand out all the more!
BMW: 2 x BMW Team RLL, BMW M6 GTLM
The final factory pair are from BMW with yet another new machine, this a GTLM version of BMW’s new GT3 weapon the M6 with yet another turbo power plant. The longer wheelbase M6 is much more of a GT than the car it replaces and gives a less ‘hot rod’ stance than the outgoing Z4.
With new machinery to bed in the team have taken the sensible choice of sticking with their 20-15 driver line up for the season Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner the full season duo for the #25 with Augusto Farfus for the longer races and Bruno Spengler for Daytona.
The #100 M6 GTLM has John Edwards and Lucas Luhr for the full season with Kuno Wittmer for the NAEC races and Graham Rahal at the Rolex 24.
European Le Mans Series
ELMS have, in recent years, produced surprise after surprise in the GTE stakes, healthy grids being a constant theme since LMEM took over the reins.
The Pro-Am nature of the grid though makes it rather more difficult to track and confirm what too expect when we hear the season entry list.
ELMS features Dunlop spec rubber with the men in yellow having put in huge efforts during 2015 to the extent that at least one WEC factory team is taking a good hard look, if not for 2016 then potentially beyond. It would not be a surprise to see a Dunlop shod car or two at Le Mans.
Ferrari: 3-5 x Ferrari 458 Italia
Formula Racing, the Danish 2015 Championship winners are set to return to defend their title with Mikkel Mac and Johnny Laursen.
JMW Motorsport were interested in putting together a WEC programme for 2016 but that seems, at present, to have stalled so another season in the ELMS likely beckons for the world’s most successful yellow GTE Ferrari.
AT Racing: Talkanitsa father and son, who took a race win in 2015, look likely to return
No confirmation as yet of how many of the total production run of Ferrari 458s will be fielded by AF Corse but fewer than a couple would be a surprise
Aston Martin: 1-2 V8 Vantage GTE (2015)
Beechdean Motorsport made a perfect start to their current GTE adventure with a podium finish in their Estoril toe in the water, AMR support will likely see this effort run very well through the season.
There’s a possibility too that we’ll see a second car, TDS Racing stepping up from their GTC title winning effort with the BMW Z4 (below) and weighing up the pros and cons we believe between Ferrari and Aston Martin.
Porsche: 1 x Gulf Racing UK Porsche 911 RSR
We believe and expect that Mike Wainwright and co. will return in the gorgeous Gulf Racing UK Porsche 911 RSR, rumours of a WEC effort from the team being somewhat wide of the mark.
Corvette: 0-1 Chevrolet Corvette C6.R
Long-time Porsche specialists Prospeed Competition have obtained one of the 2015 factory Corvette C7.Rs and will field a full season ELMS effort.
Le Mans 24 Hours
Le Mans is set to see a titanic tussle with the expected seven WEC regulars set to be joined in France by up to six full season IMSA cars with Ford and Corvette set to field their US based cars (making a likely total of four Ford GTs in their attempt to win again on the 50th anniversary of their first win with the GT40 and a potential total of five Corvettes, the two Pro cars and up to three in Am!).
Porsche’s proposed Le Mans entry for the US-based effort is rather more controversial with no factory-based WEC effort but the factory making it clear that they’ll look for both US-based cars to be invited.
Scuderia Corsa will race in Am in their new 488 GTE and Formula Racing get an auto entry in GTE Am in a 458 Italia.
The Asian Le Mans Series title looks likely to go the way of Clearwater Racing, having won both of the first two races, the GT3 spec McLaren of course won’t be eligible but Clearwater are BIG Ferrari customers.
There still seems to be a possibility that Ben Keating will try to get another entry at Le mans for the SRT Viper GTS.R.
Beyond that little lot, and of course the full season WEC entries it’s all down to the ACO Selection Committee as to which of the ELMS full season teams get the email with the ‘Oui’ to the ‘Non’