Third in the series of reviews of the first 50 races of the FIA World Endurance Championship looks at GTE Pro.
The class is designed for, and has been dominated by, factory-entered and backed teams with every title, and every race win having been taken by a team that fits the ‘factory’ descriptor in full – with one exception; we’ll come to that a little later!
A total of seventeen titles for manufacturers, teams and drivers has been awarded over the six years thus far of the WEC. In numerical terms that history has been dominated by a single marque, Ferrari, and its representative team AF Corse and drivers have taken no fewer than 12 of those titles with Porsche taking three, all in 2015, and Aston Martin a pair in 2016.
In terms of race wins the scores are somewhat different, Ferrari have taken 22 race wins from the 60 races, Aston Martin 13, Porsche 9 and Ford 5 with Corvette taking a Le Mans win as their sole success in a full WEC race in 2015.
2012 was unique in Championship history, with no Drivers Championship awarded in GTE
The first race at Sebring saw, rather oddly, a trio of drivers take the WEC win that have not taken a GTE Pro win since, Messrs Olivier Beretta, Andrea Bertolini and Marco Cioci getting early points on the board in the #71 Ferrari. (the BMW Team RLL M3 GT2 bears the Ferrari to the flag but was running in a different classification).
A run of four wins mid season for the sister #51 car, including Le Mans saw the Manufacturers title secured for Ferrari and the Teams title going the way of AF Corse.
The season also saw the first wins for Porsche and Aston Martin, Porsche taking two wins, to date the only Pro class wins for a non- factory team – Felbermayr Proton (counting AF Corse as the Ferrari factory effort) with Aston Martin taking their debut WEC win in the final race of the season.
Both Ferrari and Aston Martin have taken at least one class race win in each subsequent year, Porsche missing out on the top step in the past two seasons. Four different crews would score a win during the year.
Darren Turner would be a part of the Aston Martin debut win in Shanghai, he’s the one ever-present driver in GTE Pro for the first 50 races in the Championship’s history and is currently the third most successful driver in class history with seven class wins (behind Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander). DT has scored at least one win in every season bar one and scored a podium in that missing year!
2013 saw more Ferrari success, and a second consecutive season with four wins for the #51 458, Gimmi Bruni taking the inaugural Drivers’ title, Ferrari and AF Corse making it clean sweep of titles in the season, and at that point in WEC history!
Giancarlo Fisichella could have shared the title but in a somewhat acrimonious end to the season was swapped with Toni Vilander for the final race, the ex-F1 man taking second place in the Championship as a result.
Both Aston Martins took race wins in the season too, Fred Makowiecki taking a win for AMR, and his first step in a WEC record that, thus far, sees him as the only driver to take a race win for two different manufacturers in GTE Pro (Stefan Mucke has taken maximum WEC points for two manufacturers but finished behind his US Ford team-mates at Le mans in 2016).
Bruno Senna meanwhile became the first man in WEC history to take wins in the GTE Pro and Am categories, he’s still one of only three to do so (Nicki Thiim and Davide Rigon are the others) and the only man to do so in the same season.
It was another season where four different crews took at least a single race win.
And lest we forget it was the season where we lost Allan Simonsen at Le Mans, he’d surely have added many further chapters to the Dane Train stories in subsequent year. Rest in Peace Simmo.
2014 saw another extension of the Ferrari/AF Corse/Bruni domination and a third consecutive season where the #51 car would take a quartet of wins!
Toni Vilander stayed on board for the season and would share the drivers’ title with Bruni, well ahead of the chasing efforts of Porsche and Aston Martin. The season would also see James Calado’s arrival in the sister Ferrari – a future Champion.
Just one car apiece for Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin would take wins during the year, the #92 Porsche and #97 Aston taking a pair each.
2015 finally saw the Ferrari title domination broken, Porsche, Porsche Manthey Racing and Richard Lietz doing the honours in a clean sweep that came courtesy of season long consistency including a trio of wins.
Michael Christensen didn’t share the title with Lietz after missing Spa to compete in the USA.
The ‘third’ Aston Martin, entered under the Aston Martin Racing V8 moniker (by now teams were restricted to two cars under an individual license) took a solo win and eventually ended up the best placed of the Astons in what would prove to be AMR’s low point in season terms.
It was though, another year that saw four different crews take race wins, five if you include the Le Mans-winning Corvette, the marques only win in a WEC Pro field.
2016 saw another turnaround, and the most even contest thus far with no fewer than six different crews, now across four manufacturers with the introduction of Ford to the fray, though Porsche was represented only by a solo car for Dempsey Proton Racing.
In fact the Porsche was the only car not to take a points win, though the #66 Ford’s ‘win’ actually saw it beaten by a non-WEC entered car, the sister #68 Ford.
The sister #67 did though take wins late in the season for Messrs Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx.
Perhaps against the odds, though with the heavily revised Vantage GTE at their disposal, the ‘Dane Train pairing of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen secured both the Teams’ and Drivers’ titles, aided and abetted by new technical partners Dunlop, and came very close too to taking the Manufacturers’ title for Aston Martin too.
They were fended off though at the last by Ferrari, some teething problems for the new 488 solved in time to take the crown they wanted the most after Le Mans.
2017 saw another immensely close contest – Aston Martin had a poor year in Championship terms but took the immensely popular and valuable win at Le Mans in the Vantage GTE’s final season in the class. That was one of five cars that took a race win in the class together with the sister #95 car, both Ferraris and the #67 Ford.
The Drivers’ Championship came down to a three crew battle with the early season leaders in the #67 Ford, Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx, supported in the early year races by Pipo Derani, fading with poor results in mid-season but fighting back.
The debuting mid-engined screamer from Porsche, the new 911 RSR, failed to score a win but ran Ferrari close in a season that saw the two manufacturers at odds over the departure Gimmi Bruni from the Italian marque to the German and a contractual solution that saw the multiple WEC Champion counted out of the Championship for the season.
That meant that it was a new look #51 crew, James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, that became the first FIA GT World Endurance Drivers Champions, the GTE Pro class gaining full World Championship status for the first time in 2017.
Counting Le Mans class winners as de facto WEC race winners the GTE Pro class has seen no fewer than 36 drivers take at least one class win in the first 50 races of the Championship.
16 of them have taken only a single class win, though Romain Dumas has taken wins, and a World Championship, in LMP1.
Only one man has race wins in double digits, Gianmaria Bruni with 13, all for AF Corse and Ferrari though he’s set to return with Porsche next season! He’s also the only double drivers Champion.
Toni Vilander, Bruni’s full season Championship winning partner in 2014, has eight wins to the seven of Darren Turner, Giancarlo Fisichella and 2015 Drivers Champ Richard Lietz. Fred Maokwiecki and Stefan Mucke have five apiece. Sam Bird, 2017 Drivers World Champion James Calado, Andy Priaulx, Davide Rigon and Harry Tincknell all have four wins whilst 2016 Drivers Champs Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen, 2017 Drivers World Champion Alessandro Pier Guidi and Marc Lieb (later to become 2016 LMP1 World Champion) all sit on three.
Patrick Pilet, Richie Stanaway and Bruno Senna all have two class wins to their names.
Whilst Ferrari have the most race wins in the class at 22, they are spread between the howling 458 GTE (14 wins) and the newer twin turbo V8 488 GTE (8 wins).
Aston Martin have the next highest total, 13 wins, but all have come the way of the Vantage GTE, albeit in two different versions.
Porsche currently have nine wins across three different versions of the 911, though none as yet for the latest, mid-engined – 911 RSR
Ford’s GT has thus far claimed five championship race wins
And the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R has a single win at Le Mans in 2015
Have been conspicuous by their absence in the class for much of the WEC’s history.
In the Ferrari ranks 2012 saw a full season planned programme from Luxury Racing fall almost immmediately whilst 2015 saw then reigning ELMS Champions RAM Racing fail to get beyond Le Mans with their planned full-season effort.
Only Porche have added to the privateer ranks, albeit with some factory support, Team Felbermayr Proton racing for the marque in 2012 and scoring a pair of wins, with the same squad fielding a solo Pro class car in 2016.