PWC: 2015 driver/team rundown, GT, GTA, GT Cup

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While yesterday we did a general primer of the Pirelli World Challenge classes, today we’ll look more in depth at the drivers competing in the championship.

Here’s a breakdown by team:

GT/GTA

  • Cadillac Racing: Johnny O’Connell (No. 3) and Andy Pilgrim (No. 8) will share the two new Cadillac ATS-V.Rs. It remains to be seen how Cadillac’s new car handles; O’Connell is the three-time defending series champion and Pilgrim seeks a return to winning after a rare winless campaign a year ago.
  • CRP Racing: Mike Skeen (No. 2) was a multiple race winner a year ago and series runner-up. Likely the best bet among the Audi R8 LMS ultra drivers.
  • K-PAX Racing with Flying Lizard Motorsports: Kevin Estre (No. 9) is a McLaren factory standout shifting into PWC; Robert Thorne (No. 6) actually won the season finale at Miller last year. K-PAX might have new cars in the pair of McLaren 650S GT3s, but their potential and the race-winning caliber of operation assembled by Flying Lizard Motorsports should see this team as a viable title contender.
  • GMG Racing: Just two years ago James Sofronas (No. 14) almost won the title. It’s a deeper field this year but either he or Madison Snow (No. 21) are top-six contenders in their Audi R8 LMS ultras. Alex Welch (No. 76) and Brent Holden (No. 44) will run partial GTA seasons.
  • Bentley Team Dyson Racing: For first time since 2011 ALMS title, Dyson enters a year with realistic title hopes. Expect either or both of Chris Dyson (No. 16) and Butch Leitzinger (No. 20) as a race winner, depending on the circuit, with the Bentley Continental GT3s a formidable and more developed threat.
  • Blancpain Racing: Nick Catsburg (No. 25) should surprise throughout the year in the Lamborghini Gallardo FL2; GTA drivers Maximilian Voelker (No. 37) and Marcelo Hahn (No. 0) in fellow Lamborghinis are possible class race winners.
  • M1 Racing: Guy Cosmo (No. 23) a late COTA entry in an Audi R8 LMS ultra may not have the car of others in class, but certainly capable enough to surprise in the races he’s able to compete in.
  • LG Motorsports: PWC veteran Lou Gigliotti (No. 28) returns in an Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 but at least initially, is unlikely to return to his winning ways after a brief series hiatus.
  • EFFORT Racing: Here’s two title contenders in the pair of Porsche 911 GT3 Rs, with Ryan Dalziel (No. 31) in GT and Michael Lewis (No. 41) in GTA. Lewis might need to play his cards closer to the vest, as if he finishes too high he could get bumped up to GT. Dalziel might have a weekend conflict or two but is a past race winner a year ago, and a likely one once again this year.
  • AE/Replay XD/Nissan GT Academy: Two good drivers in James Davison (No. 33, GT) and Bryan Heitkotter (No. 05, GTA), a good team in AIM Autosport, good engineering from JRM and good partners in Always Evolving and Replay X D. The question, oddly, is the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 car – quick internationally, but how will it translate to the U.S.?
  • RealTime Racing: Seven-time champion Peter Cunningham (No. 42) and fan favorite Ryan Eversley (No. 43) will be in the pair of Acura TLX-GTs. It’s a developmental car, but figures to improve as the year progresses.
  • R. Ferri Motorsport: Simply put, Olivier Beretta (No. 61) in a Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 with a team of Remo Ferri’s caliber is a title contender. The question isn’t if they’ll win races, but where and when.
  • Scuderia Corsa: Besides boasting the best sideburns in racing, Duncan Ende (No. 64) is in a place where he can shine and score some podiums. Teammates Mike Hedlund (No. 65) and Martin Fuentes (No. 07) add greater depth to the Giacomo Mattioli-led team, which runs Ferrari 458 Italia GT3s.
  • De La Torre Racing LLC: GTS rookie-of-the-year a year ago, Jorge De La Torre (No. 4) might struggle initially in GTA in his family-run team with an Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3.
  • TRG-AMR North America: Kevin Buckler’s team is usually a contender and Christina Nielsen (No. 7) is a possible GTA race winner in her Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. Austin local Mark McKenzie (No. 09) joins for at least the season opener.
  • DragonSpeed: Three possible GTA champs here in Elton Julian’s trio of Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3s. Henrik Hedman (No. 10), Eric Lux (No. 08) and Frankie Montecalvo (No. 66) have race-winning potential and plenty of experience.
  • Stephen Cameron Racing: Drew Regitz (No. 19) a sneaky candidate for GTA success in an Audi R8 LMS ultra after moving up from GTS.
  • NGT Motorsport: Expect Henrique Cisneros (No. 30) to figure into some GTA podiums and/or wins in a MOMO-backed Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
  • Turner Motorsport: Will Turner’s team has a pair of good BMW Z4 GT3s, but it remains to be seen whether Bret Curtis (No. 32) or Bill Ziegler (No. 95) will maximize the car potential in GTA.
  • Black Swan Racing: Armed with series, team and car experience, Tim Pappas (No. 54) is a definite race-winning contender in GTA, and a likely title contender in his Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3.
  • Risi Competizione: At least at COTA, Ricardo Perez (No. 62) is a GTA podium contender in his Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
  • Lone Star Racing: In the lone Dodge Viper GT3-R in the field, Dan Knox (No. 80) is the lone ranger in the Lone Star entry. The GTA field is deeper this year than last.
  • Autometrics Motorsports: Team and driver Joseph Toussaint (No. 90) are unknown quantities, but do add another Porsche 911 GT3 R to the field in GTA.
  • JCR Motorsports: Series veteran Jeff Courtney (No. 99) likely will be consistent if not the outright pacesetter in GTA in his Audi R8 LMS ultra.

GT Cup

It’s a new class and realistically, hard to predict who will win the one-make, 991-spec Porsche 911 GT3 Cup class without a couple races that are completed. The COTA field includes Colin Thompson (No. 11), Lorenzo Trefethen (No. 13), Alec Udell (No. 17), Phil Fogg Jr. (No. 18), Eduardo Cisneros (No. 29), Santiago Creel (No. 60), Preston Calvert (No. 77), Victor Gomez (No. 81), Mitch Landry (No. 97) and Sloan Urry (No. 02).

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.