Let's get down to brass tacks.
There has been an interesting development in GTE-Am recently. The FIA has recently approved both the 2012 and 2013 spec Aston-Martins for the class, and because the team hasn't made any modifications to the car over the winter means that the GTE-Am car will be racing in the same specification as the cars racing in GTE-Pro. This is significant because a car has to run in at least a one year old specification to be permitted to race in Am, and this is the first time this complication has ever come up in the four year history of the class since the cars have always been improved year on year. Aston-Martin Racing team Principal John Gaw has said that they will race the 2013 spec V8 Vantages, so we will have to wait and see how this plays out over the season.
Moving on to the teams. RAM Racing has entered a second Ferrari 458 GTE for Johnny Mowlem, Mark Patterson and Ben Collins (yes, THE Ben Collins). You can pretty much disregard Collins' Silver ranking; The Artist Formerly Known as The Stig is a proper racing driver, Mowlem carries years of experience in all sorts of cars (as well as winning the ELMS GTE championship last year), and Patterson finished second in last year's British GT championship with a win at Donington Park and a best finish of 4th overall at Daytona in 2011 with Michael Shank Racing. So we have two very good drivers and a gentlemen who's a safe pair of hands, but no the fastest amateur out there. At first glance the lineup in the #53 appears to be very solid, and to a high degree it is, but their amateur driver just doesn't have the speed when compared to the other drivers of his rank.
AF Corse didn't have anything of a dream 2013 in the GTE-Am category, having not won a single race and finishing second to last in the championship. To settle their unfinished business they have again entered two cars into the class with the #61 featuring the driving talents of former WRC driver Luis Perez-Companc (stepping down from the LMP2 car he raced last year), Marco Cioci and Mirko Venturi, and in the #81 we have Stephen Wyatt, Michele Rugolo, and Sam Bird. Perez-Companc is another driver who is graded below his level of talent. As a former works-blessed Ford WRC driver, he possesses no small level of talent, I remember him at Spa in 2012; coming from a lap down to take the LMP2 victory in only the team's second race with their Oreca 03, and in first year that Michelin ever made tires for LMP2. The #81 has the flashy name with Mr. Bird, but the talent really isn't as deep as it is on the sister car.
Vicente (Enzo) Potolicchio has won a championship in every year of the World Endurance Championship so far; in 2012 he won the LMP2 title (as well as a Le Mans and Sebring class wins) with Starworks Motorsport, then capturing the GTE-Am teams' championship with his own 8Star team a year later. Last year he seemed to have a revolving door of third drivers, only Enzo and Rui Águas drove the whole season. Águas is gone for 2014, and Enzo is joined by Gianluca Roda and his usual driving partner Paolo Ruberti. Enzo is another "Sportsman" driver in the mold of DHH and Nick Leventis of Strakka. But what really interests me is that he went for another bronze driver (Gianluca Roda) while most of the competition features a bronze and a silver along with their professional. As we know from last year, the 2013 Ferrari 458 is a very potent machine, but like last year, it may be down on overall pace to the Vantage. The Belgian Prospeed Competition squad is a real unknown this year. They're the only team that has entered a 997 model Porsche 911 GT3 RSR for 2014 with François Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Matthieu Vaxivière driving the #75. The most recent 997 RSR (2012 and 2013) is a very hard car to setup, but when its setup well it's very fast, but it's quite frankly an awful car to drive when it's not. That kind of hot and cold performance will play havoc with a team of professional drivers, so imagine what it will be like with two amateurs and one pro. The widebody means that the GT3 is draggy and slower on the straights, but it also makes the car more aggressive in the corners. And as a whole, the driving lineup is above average, but nothing special.
Proton Competition are special in that they are the only team in the world to receive a 2013-spec Porsche 991 RSR for any GTE championship. To that end they have called upon Christian Ried, Klaus Bachler and Khaled Al Qubaisi to drive the #88 entry. This is an incredibly interesting team, we have never seen this car in private hands before, and it didn't prove to be the most robust of racing cars while it was under the factory's wings. The car doesn't have the highest top speed which was shown at the Prologue when it set the second slowest GTE top speed of the test at 268.7kph. Porsche won Le Mans last year through a combination of the insanity of the race itself, and the fact that they had been given a rather favorable BoP break. With a year under this car's belt, a team as professional as Proton and what has to be said is a quite delicious driver lineup, they very well could be in the championship hunt at the end of the season.
After coming up four points short in the GTE-Am team's championship but winning the drivers' with Stuart Hall and Jamie Campbell-Walter, Aston Martin Racing hopes to go one better than last year and capture both. For their hunt this year AMR has enlisted Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeir Hansson (formerly of Conquest Endurance in 2012 and OAK Racing in 2013), and Nicki Thiim in the all Danish #95, and Paul Dalla-Lana (rightly leaving IMSA and coming to play with the big boys), Pedro Lamy and Christoffer Nygaard in the #98. As explained earlier, the team is racing the same specification of car in both GTE-Pro and GTE-Am, which means that there is a mountain of data gathered last year as well as new data that's been collected this year as well. The #95 set the slowest GTE top speed of the Prologue at 268.0kph, and had a fastest lap of 1:59.475; only good enough for second to last in the GTE-Am field… which was only fast enough for second to last on Friday afternoon. In fact, the car didn't run on Friday night or Saturday afternoon. Again demonstrating the problems that the V8 Vantage seemed to suffer that weekend, but I expect them to be back on the pace by this weekend. As for the drivers, the #95 is the stronger of the two, Thiim (the 2013 Porsche Supercup champion) joined the team last year after the tragic death of this countryman Allan Simonsen, and made a great first impression when the team won the Am class at the final round in Bahrain. The newcomer to the Danish car, DHH is another one of those "Sportsman" drivers- he may be a gentlemen and bringing money, but he's blooming quick, and Poulsen is a safe pair of hands that has some pace there as well. The #98 carries a very good driver in Lamy, but while Dalla-Lana is a solid driver- he isn't as good as the other bronze and silver drivers on the team, additionally this is his first full year in a GTE car, as well as being his first year in a car that isn't a Turner BMW Grand-Am GT car in a very long time.
Now for the season predictions. For the driver's championship: #95 Aston-Martin as the champion (#WinItForAllan), the #61 AF Corse Ferrari (Scandinavian Flick not required) in 2ndand the #53 RAM Racing Ferrari (Some say… that he's required by the FIA to have a 50mm air restrictor) in 3rd. And for the team's championship I'm going for Aston Martin Racing in 1st, AF Corse in 2nd, and then RAM Racing in 3rd.
So there you have it, my 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship preview. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to rest up for this weekend.
Article republished with permission by Patrick Palony.