FIA World Endurance Championship

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 2:  Gianmaria Bruni of Italy and Minardi keeps an eye on the timing monitors during practice for the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at the Bahrain Racing Circuit on April 2, 2004 in Sakhir, Bahrain.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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Gianmaria Bruni’s switch to Porsche made official

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Gianmaria Bruni’s future has formally been settled, with Porsche confirming Sunday the Italian will join the manufacturer after his past run at Ferrari starting in June.

The move settles months of speculation about the end of his time with Ferrari, where he’s achieved a wealth of success in the last decade in GT racing with Risi Competizione and AF Corse.

He’ll test in June and begin racing in July for the Porsche GT Team in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and both the timing and placement of his new role is intriguing.

There was no official comment from Bruni in the release, only one from Head of Porsche Motorsport, Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser.

“We’re delighted to welcome Gianmaria Bruni, one of the world’s top GT pilots, into our squad,” Walliser said. “He fits perfectly into our strong circle of works drivers and will join us for the second half of the season.”

So about the placement. Here’s where Porsche factory drivers have already been assigned this year:

LMP1 – 919 Hybrid #1

Neel Jani (32), Switzerland
André Lotterer (35), Germany
Nick Tandy (32), Great Britain

LMP1 – 919 Hybrid #2

Earl Bamber (26), New Zealand
Timo Bernhard (35), Germany
Brendon Hartley (27), New Zealand

GT works drivers

Jörg Bergmeister (40), Germany
Michael Christensen (26), Denmark
Romain Dumas (38), France
Kévin Estre (28), France
Wolf Henzler (41), Germany
Richard Lietz (32), Austria
Frédéric Makowiecki (36), France
Sven Müller (24), Germany
Patrick Pilet (35), France
Patrick Long (35), USA
Laurens Vanthoor (25), Belgium
Dirk Werner (35), Germany

Of the GT drivers, Pilet and Werner (No. 911) and Estre and Vanthoor (No. 912) had been assigned to the season-long GT Le Mans class Porsche 911 RSR entries. As Bruni is set to replace one of the four, it’s worth noting Pilet is the only holdover from last year with the other three having raced either in different series (Estre) or for different manufacturers (Werner with BMW, Vanthoor with Audi) last year. Makowiecki (No. 911) and Lietz (No. 912) were announced as the respective third drivers at endurance races.

In the FIA World Endurance Championship, Makowiecki, Lietz and Christensen are three of the four full-season drivers for those pair of 911s in GTE-Pro. With Bergmeister and Henzler having full-time GT Daytona seats in IMSA and with Long being full-time in Pirelli World Challenge, it would seem to leave at least one of the other as-yet-unassigned works drivers – Dumas or Müller – in the catbird’s seat for the fourth WEC seat. However, Bruni’s IMSA arrival could see one of the IMSA drivers move to the WEC. Time will tell.

Bruni, as it is, won’t be able to race for Porsche until after Le Mans.

Sam Bird: FE/WEC clash needless, jeopardizes race contracts

MARRAKECH, MOROCCO - NOVEMBER 12: In this handout image supplied by Formula E, Sam Bird (GBR), DS Virgin Racing, Spark-Citroen, Virgin DSV-02 during the FIA Formula E Championship Marrakesh ePrix at the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan on November 12, 2016 in Marrakech, Morocco. (Photo by LAT Photographic/Formula E via Getty Images)
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Sam Bird has expressed his disappointment in the scheduled clash between Formula E and the FIA World Endurance Championship in July, saying there is “no need for it”.

Bird is one of a number of drivers who races in both championships, with the two series previously enjoying a gentleman’s agreement to avoid clashes and keep grids boosted.

However, both the WEC 6 Hours of Nürburgring race and the New York City ePrix are planned to take place over the July 16 weekend, leaving drivers with a dilemma.

Bird races for DS Virgin Racing in Formula E, but must prioritize his duties with AF Corse in the WEC over that weekend; a choice that he is disappointed to have been forced to make.

“It’s a shame, and I wish someone would budge. I think there’s no need for it,” Bird told NBC Sports.

“There’s a weekend there where somebody could move and it makes it very difficult for us drivers.

“I understand that running a championship is extremely difficult and co-ordinating it is very tough. I understand this but I thought that we had an agreement that the two would not clash. It’s already broken down.

“It’s a big shame for us and it jeopardizes our contracts.”

Bird thinks that drivers would still be able to balance duties in Formula E and WEC so long as the agreement remained between the series, but admits doing so will be difficult in the future if more clashes occur.

“If there was the understanding still that we had initially then I think it could [be possible to do both series],” Bird said.

“How much longer that could last? I don’t know. It’s looking more difficult.

“I’m not saying that it’s not a definite no-no that you can’t, but it’s looking more difficult than before.”

Lucas di Grassi ‘likely’ to make Le Mans, WEC appearances in 2017

Lucas di Grassi
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Lucas di Grassi says that he is “likely” to race in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans despite Audi’s withdrawal from the FIA World Endurance Championship at the end of 2016.

Di Grassi previously balanced duties between Audi’s LMP1 team and with its affiliated ABT Schaeffler operation in Formula E, with the latter now becoming his priority for 2017.

A number of drivers involved in both WEC and Formula E face dilemmas over which to prioritize later in the year.

Most notably, the New York Formula E double-header clashes with WEC’s visit to the Nürburgring, ruling out a number of drivers from the electric event including Sebastien Buemi, Jose Maria Lopez and Sam Bird.

Di Grassi believes it will be hard for Formula E to avoid clashing with other series as it expands, and thinks that drivers will need to fully commit to the championship down the line.

“With Formula E expanding, I think it will be hard not to have clashes in the future. I hope there are no clashes,” di Grassi told NBC Sports.

“For me with Audi, they told me: ‘The priority is Formula E. If you want to do one or two other races, you can.’ They even told me if you want to do WEC, you can, but the priority is Formula E. You have to miss the WEC.

“It’s a very clear, straightforward view for us, for ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport. For the team the priority is Formula E. That I understand and I agree that Formula E is getting to a level where it is getting very complicated, very detail oriented, so you need to focus on that.”

When asked if he would be racing at Le Mans and making other WEC appearances, di Grassi said it was “likely”.

“My interest is in the Pro categories. Either LMP1 or GTE Pro,” di Grassi added.

“I think GTE is the future. P1, you have very little cars, only two manufacturers. For GTE the tendency is to grow. GTE is very interesting in a career point of view.

“But still to be discussed if Audi would release me or not to do it.

“But normally Audi understand quite well if I want to do another race in which they don’t compete.”

American team presence again represented at Le Mans

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It’s a nearly identical presence for this year’s American teams racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans compared to 2016 within the entries revealed for the 2017 race. A total of seven teams and 12 cars entered under the U.S. flag comprise a full 20 percent of the 60-car field.

Teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship racing are in the GTE classes. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing (four cars), Corvette Racing (two) and Risi Competizione (one) make up seven of the 13 cars entered in GTE-Pro, while Scuderia Corsa adds two cars in GTE-Am.

Ganassi’s four cars come from the two Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK, one as an auto-invite for winning with one of the Team USA entries last year (the Joey Hand/Dirk Mueller/Sebastien Bourdais No. 68 car), and a fourth as a full-time IMSA entrant.

“When we came to Le Mans last year there was a lot of pressure on the team to deliver a win to commemorate the Ford GT40 1-2-3 finish in 1966,” said Raj Nair, executive vice president of Global Product Development and chief technical officer, Ford Motor Company. “It was fantastic to win but we will not rest on our laurels. We return to Le Mans in June with another year of experience racing the Ford GT behind us, seven wins including the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours and the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, and we can’t wait to compete again at this incredible event.”

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

Corvette and Risi, as full-time IMSA entrants, also gained spots in the field.

Corvette, a regular Le Mans contender and race winner, won last in 2015. Last year, Risi provided the only realistic threat to Ford in GTE-Pro as a single-car entry, up against the phalanx of Fords.

Scuderia Corsa gains two entries, one as an automatic entry for winning GTE-Am last year and a second as an at-large invite from IMSA. This gives them two Ferrari 488 GTEs in the 16-car class.

The LMP2 class sees three U.S. teams present among the 25 cars.

DragonSpeed. Photo courtesy of IMSA
DragonSpeed. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Elton Julian’s DragonSpeed team will make its Le Mans debut; the European Le Mans Series full-time entrants have run in two marquee U.S. races at Sebring (fourth overall in 2016) and Daytona last weekend but not yet at Circuit de la Sarthe.

Henrik Hedman’s journey from Ferrari Challenge to Pirelli World Challenge and now to the ELMS, sees the Florida-based Swede the nominated driver of the team’s No. 21 DragonSpeed 10 Star Oreca 07 Gibson.

Ben Keating now will race at Le Mans under his own banner of Keating Motorsports, as the second of IMSA’s at-large invites. Keating raced under the TI Automotive/Riley Motorsports flag in 2015 in the final competitive outing of the Dodge Viper GTS-R in GTE-Am, and a year ago made his first LMP2 start at the race in the open top Oreca 03R with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Goossens for Murphy Prototypes. Now, the Texan will be in his No. 43 Riley Mk. 30 Gibson.

Lastly, Zak Brown’s United Autosports team is entered under the U.S. banner. Brown and business partner Richard Dean have long desired and dreamed of racing at Le Mans and will do so with its No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson. Mazda Road to Indy veteran and TCU student Will Owen is the team’s nominated driver with Swiss teenager Hugo de Sadeleer the second driver, those two having been confirmed at Autosport International last month.

Usual U.S. teams Extreme Speed Motorsports and Krohn Racing are among the notable absences this year, with ESM focusing instead on its Nissan Onroak DPi program in the States and Krohn Racing off a Le Mans entry list for the first time since 2005.

Michael Shank Racing, which made its Le Mans debut last year, now has its Acura NSX GT3 program it’s focusing on.

Already a good amount of FIA WEC, Le Mans entry list details are known

LE MANS, FRANCE - JUNE 18:  The Chip Ganassi Racing Team Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon and Richard Westbrook leads a pack of cars at the start of the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 18, 2016 in Le Mans, France.  (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
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The release of the FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans entry lists on Thursday provide full details and car numbers to what have trickled out in announcements over the last couple months.

So while there’s designated drivers that are listed today, that doesn’t mean they’re the only drivers that are known.

By class, here’s a breakdown of what drivers are known for the FIA WEC and Le Mans. Bold drivers are the designated ones from the Le Mans entry list.

LMP1

All that’s left to fill here is the third seat at ByKolles and second and third seats in the third Toyota. For the first time since its WEC arrival in 2012, Toyota has the majority of the entries in LMP1.

1-Porsche LMP Team-Neel Jani/Andre Lotterer/Nick Tandy, Porsche 919 Hybrid
2-Porsche LMP Team-Timo Bernhard/Brendon Hartley/Earl Bamber, Porsche 919 Hybrid
4-ByKolles Racing Team-Robert Kubica/Oliver Webb, ENSO CLM P1/01 NISMO
7-Toyota Gazoo Racing-Mike Conway/Kamui Kobayashi/Jose Maria Lopez, Toyota TS050 Hybrid
8-Toyota Gazoo Racing-Sebastien Buemi/Anthony Davidson/Kazuki Nakajima, Toyota TS050 Hybrid

9-Toyota Gazoo Racing-Stephane Sarrazin, Toyota TS050 Hybrid

LMP2

Gustavo Menezes (Signatech Alpine) and Renger van der Zande (Keating) are two of the names you’d expect to see added here. Manor was a round-robin last year of drivers, while the Jackie Chan DC Racing team now has a technical partnership with Jota Sport.

13-Vaillante Rebellion-Nelson Piquet Jr./Mathias Beche/David Heinemeier Hansson, Oreca 07 Gibson
31-Vaillante Rebellion-Nicolas Prost/Bruno Senna/Julien Canal, Oreca 07 Gibson
24-CEFC Manor TRS Racing-Tor Graves, Oreca 07 Gibson
25-CEFC Manor TRS Racing-Roberto Gonzalez, Oreca 07 Gibson
26-G-Drive Racing-Roman Rusinov/Pierre Thiriet, Oreca 07 Gibson
28-TDS Racing-Francois Perrodo/Emmanuel Collard/Matthieu Vaxviere, Oreca 07 Gibson
35-Signatech Alpine Matmut-Stephane Richelmi, Alpine A470 Gibson
36-Signatech Alpine Matmut-Nicolas Lapierre, Alpine A470 Gibson
37-Jackie Chan DC Racing-David Cheng, Oreca 07 Gibson
38-Jackie Chan DC Racing-Ho-Pin Tung, Oreca 07 Gibson

17-IDEC Sport Racing-Patrice Lafargue, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
21-DragonSpeed-10 Star-Henrik Hedman, Oreca 07 Gibson
22-G-Drive Racing-Memo Rojas, Oreca 07 Gibson
23-Panis Barthez Competition-Fabien Barthez, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
27-SMP Racing-Mikhail Aleshin, Dallara P217 Gibson
29-Racing Team Nederland-Jan Lammers/Rubens Barrichello/Fritz van Eerd, Dallara P217 Gibson
32-United Autosports-William Owen/Hugo de Sadeleer, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
33-Eurasia Motorsport-Chris Hoy, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
34-Tockwith Motorsports-Nigel Moore, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
39-Graff-James Allen, Oreca 07 Gibson
40-Graff-Enzo Guibbert, Oreca 07 Gibson
43-Keating Motorsports-Ben Keating, Riley Mk. 30 Gibson
45-Algarve Pro Racing-Mark Patterson, Ligier JS P217 Gibson
47-Cetilar Villorba Corse-Roberto Lacorte, Dallara P217 Gibson
49-ARC Bratislava-Miro Konopka, Oreca 07 Gibson

GTE PRO

Sam Bird (AF Corse Ferrari), Fred Makowiecki (Porsche) and Giancarlo Fisichella (Risi) are expected back at those places, with Corvette Racing’s Le Mans lineup also rumored to be similar in nature to past ones. Porsche has a number of GTE works drivers it could plug-and-play to fill its two works cars. Gianmaria Bruni’s status within the category arguably remains its biggest question mark at the moment.

51-AF Corse-James Calado, Ferrari 488 GTE
71-AF Corse-Davide Rigon, Ferrari 488 GTE
66-Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK-Stefan Muecke/Olivier Pla/Billy Johnson, Ford GT
67-Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK-Andy Priaulx/Harry Tincknell/Pipo Derani, Ford GT
91-Porsche GT Team-Richard Lietz, Porsche 911 RSR
92-Porsche GT Team-Michael Christensen, Porsche 911 RSR
95-Aston Martin Racing-Nicki Thiim/Marco Sorenson, Aston Martin Vantage
97-Aston Martin Racing-Darren Turner/Jonny Adam, Aston Martin Vantage

63-Corvette Racing-Jan Magnussen, Corvette C7.R
64-Corvette Racing-Oliver Gavin, Corvette C7.R
68-Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA-Joey Hand/Dirk Mueller/Sebastien Bourdais, Ford GT
69-Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA-Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook/Scott Dixon, Ford GT
82-Risi Competizione-Toni Vilander, Ferrari 488 GTE

GTE AM

Quite a lot remains to be filled in in the GTE-Am class, with only a handful of cars having more than just the designated driver listed.

54-Spirit of Race-Thomas Flohr/Francesco Castellacci, Ferrari 488 GTE
61-Clearwater Racing-Mok Weng Sun/Keita Sawa/Matt Griffin, Ferrari 488 GTE
77-Dempsey Proton Racing-Christian Ried, Porsche 911 RSR
86-Gulf Racing-Michael Wainwright, Porsche 911 RSR
98-Aston Martin Racing-Paul Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy/Mathias Lauda, Aston Martin Vantage

50-Larbre Competition-Ricky Taylor, Corvette C7.R
55-Spirit of Race-Duncan Cameron, Ferrari 488 GTE
60-Clearwater Racing-Matt Griffin, Ferrari 488 GTE
62-Scuderia Corsa-Cooper MacNeil, Ferrari 488 GTE
65-Scuderia Corsa-Christina Nielsen, Ferrari 488 GTE
83-DH Racing-Riccardo Ragazzi, Ferrari 488 GTE
84-JMW Motorsport-Robert Smith, Ferrari F458 Italia
88-Proton Competition-Wolf Henzler, Porsche 911 RSR
90-TF Sport-Salih Yoluc/Euan Hankey/Rob Bell, Aston Martin Vantage
93-Proton Competition-Patrick Long, Porsche 911 RSR
99-Beechdean AMR-Andrew Howard, Aston Martin Vantage