Endurance Racing News and Stories

Le Mans preview, part 2: LMGT3 makes its debut

Phil Oakley

GT3 cars at Le Mans. It was inevitable at some point, with GTE cars expensive to manufacture only to be able to race them in a single championship, as IMSA abandoned the ‘GTLM’ class, which was based on the GTE regulations, for the 2022 season.

Nevertheless, as you may expect, the GT3 class looks very healthy for its inaugural appearance at the French endurance classic. 23 cars — the same as in Hypercar — have been entered, from nine manufacturers. All but five of these cars are full season FIA World Endurance Championship regulars, with two cars, from Proton Competition and Inception Racing, being invitational entries.

Looking down the list, it’s as tricky as ever to pick a winner. The Manthey Porsches have performed incredibly well in the opening three rounds of the WEC, each winning a race at Qatar and Spa respectively. The Imola race winner was the #31 WRT BMW, crewed by Darren Leung, Sean Galael, and Augusto Farfus.

With race wins in the season already, these three have to be in contention for a win at Le Mans — to discount them would be foolish.

Manthey have been very successful this year, winning 2 races. Image: Photo Julien Delfosse / DPPI

Looking further down the list, you have the AF Corse Ferraris; always a force to be reckoned with, whether at Le Mans or elsewhere.However, they’ve somewhat struggled this year, not finishing on thre podium in the previous rounds this year, with a highest finishing position of fourth in Imola, for the #55 crew of François Heriau, Simon Mann, and platinum-rated Alessio Rovera.

Speaking of driver ratings. The rule is you must have one bronze driver and one silver driver. The other can be rated however you’d like. 

While there may not be necessarily too much difference in speed and pace between gold-rated and platinum-rated drivers, the teams with platinum drivers will obviously be a little more highly-regarded, just by nature.

Thus, teams such as the #82 Corvette, which will feature Daniel Juncadella, or the Le Mans-only #155 Spirit of Race Ferrari, with Jordan Taylor at the wheel, may be prime picks.

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However, while platinum or gold drivers can be the teams’ ringers at the end of the race, the strength of the team is largely dependent on the bronze driver. So, a team like Iron Dames, with the now-very-familiar driver trio of Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting, and Rahal Frey, may be in a strong position, given how strong Bovy is as a bronze.

To put evidence to that, she was going to be upgraded to a silver-rated driver this year, but successfully managed to appeal this in order to stay as a bronze. Her opening stint at Spa in May, though, saw her make a gap of well over 30 seconds by the end of the first hour, over James Cottingham in the #59 United Autosports McLaren.

The two Aston Martins in the race, from D’Station Racing and Heart of Racing, should also be competitive. The former have Marco Sorensen alongside Satoshi Hoshino and Erwan Bastard, while Heart of Racing has team owner Ian James racing with Daniel Mancinelli and Alex Riberas. Both have taken podiums this year and the Vantage AMR GT3 Evo has competitive where it’s raced this year.

We can’t fail to mention WRT in relation to GT3 this year. Often described as one of the best GT3 teams in the world, it took them a while to get to Le Mans as their former manufacturer partner, Audi, never developed a GTE car to race in the GTE class. However, now partnered with BMW, WRT is here in full force with two cars.

WRT took home a 1-2 in Italy. Image: Clément Luck / DPPI

As already mentioned, the #31 has been competitive this year, winning in Imola. The other car, the #46, has also been competitive, finishing second at Imola, giving WRT a 1-2 finish. This car has Ahmad al Harthy, a very quick amateur driver, plus Maxime Martin and Valentino Rossi, the motorcycle legend-turned racing driver.

Rossi has wanted to race at Le Mans for years; indeed, he raced in the Road to Le Mans support races last year, also for WRT, and won one of them. He’s quick and, as you’d expect from a nine-time motorcycle world champion, hugely ambitious.

Rossi will make his debut at Le Mans this year. Image: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

Proton have three Fords this year after their partial split with Porsche for 2024. Two are the regular full season cars, while one is one of the two invitational cars. It’ll be crewed by John Hartshorne, Ben Tuck, and Christopher Mies. Bronze-rated, 67-year-old Hartshorne has been present for many years in sportscar racing, and is currently driving for JMW Motorsport in the European Le Mans Series.

Alongside him, both in ELMS and at Le Mans, will be Ben Tuck, 40 years Hartshorne’s junior. The silver-rated driver has been driving GT3s for a few years after some time in various GT4 series, but this will mark his debut in the 24 hour race in France.

Christopher Mies, meanwhile, should need no introduction. A factory driver for Audi for what seems like forever, with the slow winding down of the German manufacturer’s sportscar programme, Mies has joined Ford to spearhead its factory programme in Europe. Rather incredibly, the 35-year-old has never raced at Le Mans, so this will mark his debut too — and means Hartshorne is the only driver of the three with a Le Mans start.

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TF Sport and United Autosports, both experienced WEC competitors, will also be there or thereabouts in their Corvette and McLaren machines respectively. Both have had decent pace this year, learning more about their new cars with every race, and although they languish towards the back of the points tables at the moment, it doesn’t feel like they’ll be there long.

The Akkodis ASP Lexus team have somewhat struggled this year, with just one point between both cars. The Lexus RC F GT3 is by far the oldest car on the grid, and while it may look competitive in IMSA, in VasserSullivan’s hands, this is largely down the team’s extensive knowledge of the car, plus Balance of Performance. 

Whatever happens in LMGT3 this year, it will likely depend on three things: how fast a team’s bronze is in the early stages of the race, whether teams can survive the night, and how quick the team’s gold or platinum-rated ringer is at the end.

As ever, it'll be a fascinating race, made all the better by the depth of variety in the class.

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