Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Haven't posted since mid 2014, but I have a reason this weekend...

 Firstly I would like to congratulate Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenburg (yes Sahara Force India F1 Hulkenburg....) on their maiden victory today at Le Mans.

 I am still gutted about Ferrari snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. With about two hours to ago Toni Vilander who I consider a "safe pair of hands" was overly aggressive over the curbs at possibly at Muslane Hairpin and damaged the transmission.

 After a very animated Gimmi Bruni started directing what his #62 crew what to do in order to get the car back out, it became apparent any chance of winning in-class was gone and gifted to Corvette.

 Corvette Racing had a difficult week, the lost Magnssen/Garcia when Jan crashed it heavily. But as I told them on twitter they better enjoy it, it's short-lived because the Blue Oval is coming.

  In what is one of the worse kept secrets in motor sport Ford is returning to Le Mans in 2016 with a GTLM version of its new Ford GT.

 This is a mouth-watering prospect and my mind turned automatically to who would drive for the Blue Oval.

 It was revealed in the announcement on Friday that two programs will be pursued. In what can only viewed as great news for the Tudor series; Ford as committed to two cars run by Ganassi who will shelve it's DP program after this season.

 Chip generally likes loyalty and experience (Kanan signing over say somebody much younger). So it's very likely one car will be assigned to Scott Pruett and Joey Hand.

 After that, it's up in the air, let's look at some possibilities -

 Looking at the current crop of Indycar drivers with 24hr/Endurance experience but currently unemployed:

  1.  Ryan Briscoe*
  2. Justin Wilson
I put a * by Briscoe's name because he's currently the 3rd driver for Corvette Racing and has won Daytona and Sebring this season. 

 He would be an excellent pickup.

 Justin Wilson would be perfect for a OEM program like Ford's and deserves a chance.

 Outside of that, pickings are slim. I would take a hard look at former Ford driver Colin Braun who's been dominating LMPC for the past couple of seasons proving he's still very fast. He also finished 3rd in GT back when there was no separate class at Le Mans.

 If Ford is in this for the long term, they can't have too many drivers over 30 in the seats. Braun is under 30 but so is Ganassi driver Sage Karam.

 I could have just easily named all six seats for the Tudor program, Patron Endurance Championship and Le Mans.

I actually have more interest in what George Howard-Chapel is going to do with his WEC effort.

 If the four best GT drivers out there are -

  1.  2 Time WEC Champion and 2 Time FIA GT Champion "Gimmi" Bruni 
  2. Defending Blancpain Endurance and 2013 Sprint Series Champion Laurens Vanthoor
  3. 2013 Blancpain Endurance Champion Max Buhk
  4. McClaren factory driver Kevin Estre
  Bruni has been approached before but he's Italian with a successful Italian team, I doubt even if you throw a ton of money at him he would leave.
Vanthoor is an interesting case. Former European F3 driver, he and Max Buhk have the field covered in Blancpain currently the toughest GT championship in the world. He is only linked to Audi via it's customer racing team WRT, IE his contract is with WRT. Audi may want to retain his services for possibly a seat in their LMP program (if they don't move to F1) or DTM program.

 If Vanthoor has any long term interest in any of these programs, it might be a tough sell even if it's a factory GT program.

Max Buhk is signed to HTP and does what ever HTP does. HTP was linked to Mercedes Benz AMG Customer Racing from 2011-2014 but made the switch to Bentley this season; I think to get access to Buhk as well, because Buhk drives for the Bentley factory team in Blancpain not HTP. HTP runs their own Bentley with other set of drivers in the same series.

 Long term I don't know what Buhk's goals are, I think he's only driven GT cars up to this point in his career.

 Either one of these guy would be a surprise to many. Both have endurance experience and 24hr victories under their belt. Vanthoor just won the Nurburging 24 last month and Buhk beat Audi with HTP Mercedes at the Spa 24hr race in 2013 with Max Gotz (who's in DTM) and long time Mercedes driver Brent Schneider.

 Kevin Estre came out of no where with a one-off drive in Baku in 2013. He was then signed by McClaren to factory contract. He has plenty of Porsche experience. 

 Out of all these guys, I don't think you can go wrong.

 What I haven't mentioned is the slew of GP2, GP2 European F3 and WSR drivers.... There just too many to name. Still more driver that used to drive in those series are now trying to ply their trade in sports cars in the hopes of becoming a factory driver mainly in LMP1.

 Ford is going to have two teams and four cars. How often they run four cars remains to be seen. Most teams in the WEC like to trout out the 3rd car for Spa; since the last race in America is Laguna Seca in early May; the Ganassi cars could be sent over right after that race. All four cars don't need to do the Le Mans Test Day but that being said, usually with terrible weather conditions for the test (more often than not), how you going to cycle through upwards of 12 drivers in and out of cars on such a limited schedule with just two cars?

 That is if Ford picked the majority of it's drivers with little to zero or recent Le Mans experience. This is why I think both teams may go after veterans like Darren Turner, Richard Westbrook, Rob Bell, drivers from the defunct Viper program and some of the current LMP2 drivers.
 Exciting times and I will end up writing more about this soon, cheers. 

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