Le Mans: GTE Key News and Notes

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As the battle between the production titans raged on at the front of the field throughout the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the race to win the GTE Pro and GTE Am classes was also very hotly contested.

Ultimately, the win in GTE Pro went to Ferrari’s AF Corse team with the No. 51 car, piloted by Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander. However, the two lap margin of victory was rather generous following a supreme fight through the night between the No. 51, the No. 97 Aston Martin Racing car, and the No. 74 Chevrolet Corvette, with just three seconds separating the top three at points.

The AF Corse team managed to stay out of trouble, though, and led home the No. 73 Chevrolet Corvette of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor. Last year’s class winner, the No. 92 Porsche Team Manthey car, completed the GTE Pro podium. Ferrari F1 driver and this year’s race starter Fernando Alonso took to Twitter to send his congratulations to the AF Corse drivers.

For Aston Martin, it was another difficult race at the Circuit de la Sarthe. The No. 97 was in the mix to claim class victory after Bruno Senna put in a superb overnight stint to lead ahead of Vilander and Tom Milner in the No. 74, with the latter eventually being classified in fourth place in class. Eventually, Aston Martin came unstuck again due to a loose steering pipe. Senna made his frustration clear on Twitter, but vowed to return in 2015 for a third shot at endurance glory.

In the GTE Am class, it was an emotional victory for the No. 95 Aston Martin Racing car. The all-Danish troupe of Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier-Hansson and Nicki Thiim dominated proceedings to win just a year after their teammate, Allan Simonsen, died on lap two of the race. A late technical scare on the car threatened to hand the win to Porsche, but the team soon fixed the issue and brought the car home.

Patrick Dempsey’s third attempt at Le Mans did not go entirely to plan. The Grey’s Anatomy star put in a solid performance behind the wheel, but after setting his sights on a podium finish in the GTE Am class, fifth place will have come as a bitter disappointment for his No. 77 Porsche team and co-pilots Joe Foster and Patrick Long.

On the same weekend as the World Cup began, a former winner was trying his hand in the most famous motor race. Fabien Barthez played an instrumental part in France’s victory at the 1998 tournament, playing in goal, but was forced to settle for ninth place on his debut at Le Mans in the No. 58 Team Sofrev car alongside Anthony Pons and Soheil Ayari.

An honorable mention has to go to the No. 79 Prospeed Competition car, which was fored to switch to GTE Pro at the last minute due to the withdrawal of its bronze-rated driver. Despite only having two drivers, the car ran well to finish fifth in class with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil sharing duties behind the wheel.

Backing up its class victory in GTE Pro, AF Corse secured a podium finish in GTE Am with the No. 61 car finishing third behind the No. 88 Proton Competition Porsche.

However, the early leader in the GTE Am class for AF Corse, the No. 81 car of Sam Bird, Stephen Wyatt and Michele Rugolo, got caught up in the incident between the No. 3 Audi and the No. 8 Toyota during the first rain shower on Saturday afternoon.

Just as it was a classic race at the front of the field in the LMP1 class, the GTEs certainly put on a show. The three GTE Pro cars dancing in the dark down the Mulsanne straight will remain as one of the greatest sights from this year’s race, and for the Danes in the No. 95 Aston Martin, this might just be the sweetest victory of all.

The FIA World Endurance Championship now begins its summer break, with the next round taking place at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin on the 20th September.

McLaren unveils 2018 F1 car, the MCL33

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McLaren F1 Team became the latest to launch their 2018 challenger on Friday, taking the covers off their new MCL33 chassis early on Friday morning.

McLaren endured a difficult 2017 season of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, with their partnership with Honda eventually dissolving after a troublesome power unit saw them plagued by unreliability and low power.

A switch to Renault power units is expected to see them get an uptick in form, and the MCL33 chassis itself is actually an evolution on last year’s MCL32. Still, the team highlighted areas to improve upon, and aims for a return to prominence in 2018.

“The McLaren team was created by a brave pioneer, and has had bravery at its core ever since. Whether it’s been with brave drivers, brave leaders or brave fortune, this team has always fought back. And we definitely view 2018 as the year when McLaren will move closer to the front, fighting teams and drivers as we improve our fortunes,” said Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group.

Brown also highlighted the car’s new papaya orange livery, a throwback to some of the most popular color schemes that have adorned McLaren entrants in a variety of disciplines. Brown indicated that this came about from requests of fans who wanted to see such a livery return to the McLaren marque.

“Our return to a papaya orange livery for this year wasn’t simply an emotional decision; it demonstrates that we are listening to our fans, building deeper engagement with them and the Formula 1 community as a whole. We want McLaren to earn respect on and off the track, and this felt like a good starting point. We want to show everyone what makes this team special, whether that’s our fans or our partners – there’s room for more on our journey.”

The team’s racing director Eric Boullier expressed optimism about the team’s potential for 2018, but also acknowledged the season will be sure to see its fair share of challenges.

“I think the whole team feels proud of this car,” he asserted. “The design, engineering and aerodynamic departments have done an incredible job delivering a new car with a new power unit in an extremely short timeframe. We never took the easy route or looked to shortcut a process or a solution; and the result is a car that is neat and well-resolved.

“That said, we are under no illusions that it will be difficult to splinter the hegemony at the front; and that the midfield will be full of well-funded, experienced outfits with plenty to prove. We are humble about the challenge ahead, but feel we’ve prepared well, have a solid package that we can build upon and exploit as the season progresses, and have two excellent drivers who will make the difference in races.”

The MCL33 took to the track on Friday for filming at a test track in Spain, and will be run in anger for the first time when testing begins next week at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

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