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Le Mans Test Day Preview, Part 3: GTE

A look over the Pro and Am classes

DSC’s final part to its 2017 Le Mans Test Day Preview, looks at the two GTE divisions, which for this weekend, will see new drivers, a couple of new cars and a sprinkling of new teams take on the Circuit de la Sarthe for the first time.

Part 1 which covers LMP1 is available HERE, and Part 2, focusing on LMP2 can be seen HERE.

Below, is a look at what to watch for on the GTE half of the 60-car entry:

How will the BoP fare?

This year has seen a new ‘Automated’ BoP system used for GTE Pro in the WEC, but it won’t come into play at Le Mans. The big race has its own BoP.

Last year Ford came away from the Test Day off the pace, then at Le Mans for the race… Well, we all know what happened.

The current BoP sees the Fords get 15 kilos and a marginally reduced turbo pressure compared to the values for the opening rounds of the 2017 FIA WEC.

The Aston Martins get a marginal (10kg) weight hike and a 0.4mm larger air restrictor with the factory Corvettes also getting a power boost with a 0.7 mm larger restrictor.

The Ferraris remain essentially unchanged with the new Porsches up in weight by just 10 kilos.

Minor changes are made in fuel capacity across the board to effectively maintain a parity across the class in the number of laps per tank of fuel each can manage.

As with last year the FIA/ACO have the option to make further changes based on observed performance at any point prior to the race proper.

Plenty of new faces in new places

After impressing in the opening rounds of the ELMS, reigning British GT champion TF Sport is just one of the two teams set to make its Le Mans debut this weekend. The British team, which will race with Salih Yoluc (the first ever Turkish driver to compete at the 24 Hours), Euan Hankey and McLaren factory driver Rob Bell – on loan – is down to just two drivers for the test, Bell off racing at Zolder this weekend.

Bell, and his McLaren colleague Alvaro Parente will not be in attendance despite having the option to compete in both events, because Platinum driver are not required to set laps at the Le Mans Test Day (even as rookies).

DH Racing is also a new face to the Le Mans paddock. The team, run by AF Corse, Is another to make the jump to racing Europe after competing in the burgeoning Asian Le Mans Series, winning an invite last season, after taking the GT title.

Spirit of Race is another team which hasn’t appeared on a Le Mans entry list prior to this year, but it is a re-badged AF Corse effort, flagged Swiss for financial efficiency.

Other faces to look out for include Miguel Molina and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the GTE Pro AF Corse Ferrari 488s and 2016 Sebring 12 Hours and Rolex 24 winner Pipo Derani racing in the #67 Chip Ganassi Ford. All three will be getting to grips with La Sarthe in GTE machinery for the first time.

Laurens Vanthoor will also be in attendance, despite not having a seat for the race. The Belgian – who races in IMSA with Porsche – is down to drive both GTE 911 RSRs at the Test Day, as well as the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 07.

DSC understands that Vanthoor will complete a maximum of 10 laps at the test for G-Drive, to get track time ahead of a race appearance with the Russian-flagged P2 outfit ahead of WEC round at the Nürburgring. Australian driver John Martin – who was originally slated to test with the team at Le Mans and race for the team in Germany in place of Formula E-bound Alex Lynn – will now not make the trip for either event.

When Vanthoor races for the team at the ‘Ring, it will be just his fourth ever LMP2 start, and first non-Le Mans WEC race, after two Le Mans appearances in Ligiers, and a one-off ELMS drive with WRT at Spa last year.

Porsche’s new challenger

When the Ford GT led, others inevitably followed. The first factory to take full advantage of the evidently now rather more liberal GTE regulations, has been Porsche. With its brilliantly executed 2017 911 RSR, now mid-engined – a first for any derivative of any 911 since the GT1 days – and with styling reminiscent of those halcyon late ‘90s days when GT cars ruled the roost.

This weekend will mark the first step for Porsche, in putting behind it what was a low-key GTE Pro effort last year at Le Mans. Neither car in 2016 showed front-running pace, and retired early in the race.

Clearwater’s second Prancing Horse to debut

This Sunday Clearwater will run two GTE cars for the first time, with its full-season FIA WEC 488 joined by a second chrome-livered example. In the second car Richard Wee and Hiroki Katoh will share driving duties, with McLaren GT factory star Alvaro skipping the test.

Parente will instead wait until race-week to join the team, as this weekend he’s racing with Strakka Racing in the Blancpain Sprint Cup round at Zolder.

JMW’s new ride

Another Ferrari to make its first appearance is that of JMW Motorsport, the British outfit debuting its brand new 488 GTE at Le Mans. It will therefore be a crucial day of running for the team, which will still be getting up to speed with its new kit throughout race-week too.

Driving the car will be Jonny Cocker – who raced with the team at Monza and will help with the initial testing – Rob Smith and team debutants Will Stevens and Dries Vanthoor, the latter pair opting to do double-duty this weekend, racing at Zolder and testing and Le Mans

Krohn and Jonsson return

After two years racing a Ligier in the LMP2 class, Tracy Krohn and his long-time teammate Nic Jonsson are back in the GT ranks, and in a Ferrari.

This Sunday will mark the duo’s first taste of La Sarthe in a Ferrari 488 GTE, the last run being in a 458 Italia GT2 back in 2014. Things have moved on a bit since then!

Ford IndyCar clashes

With Sebastien Bourdais out of Le Mans due to his injury sustained in Indy 500 Qualifying, Ford has had to call on Tony Kanaan, who raced with the team at the Rolex 24 Hours back in January. He won’t get extra track time before the 24 Hours though, to get him up to speed on the full Le Mans circuit, which he is yet to drive.

Both Kanaan and Ford Ganassi Scott Dixon are out in Detroit for the next IndyCar race on the streets of Detroit. The supporting IMSA race is on the Saturday though, so many of the WeatherTech SportsCar drivers can hop across the pond in time to make the test after the flag falls.

So thankfully, there are only two big omissions from the Belle Isle race meeting.