In the world of Le Mans, 'GT' means, race-cars, loosely based on production sportscars. We are going to look at the GT1 class in this piece, with GT2 class tomorrow.
A GT1 car runs at 1125kg (Corvettes & Astons run 25kg heavier) with a maximum engine capacity of 8 Litres for Normally aspirated engines or 4 Litre for Turbo charged cars. Budgets at the top end have resulted in theses cars being close to the Prototypes, we covered yesterday. The GT1 class is generally an Aston Martin v Corvette affair. In Europe, its a reasonably well supported classes, but in the American Le Mans series, its just Corvette playing with a privateer or two.
2008 Le Mans has ten GT1 class cars and most of those are capable of winning the class, providing a couple of the works cars hit trouble. Here is a quick run-down, complete with photography from John Brooks
Aston Martin DBR9
The 'works' Aston Martin team, run by Prodrive won the GT1 class last year, but this year could be a little harder. Aston are only running at Le Mans, so the team could be rusty and fallen behind Corvette Racing, their main competitor. In addition, Prodrive have been working hard on the Lola Aston Martin coupe in LMP1, so you have to wonder, if the focus has changed. British Racing Green is replaced this year with classic Gulf Oil colours. My tip would be the 009 DBR9 with David Brabham, Darren Turner and Antonio Garcia. Brabs and Turner are masters.
In addition to the two 'works' cars, there are a couple of privateer cars. These have similar specification to the works machine, but won't necessarily have the latest updates…or budget. Team Modena are a relatively new team, but have been successful in British GT and the Euro Le Mans Series. Their driver line up includes Christian Fittipaldi. They shouldn't be far behind the Gulf cars.
The final Aston entry is the 'Vitaphone' car. The 'Vitaphone' team have enjoyed massive success in European Le Mans Series with various chassis including the Maserati MC12. The team were given an entry by the ACO (governing body of Le Mans), but as the Maserati is not legal for Le Mans, they are working with the Strakka Racing Aston team and have re branded the machine. The driver combo isn't as strong as the other Astons as Strakka's regular drivers are in the car, so don't expect them to be at the front.
Corvette Racing have been very dominant in the American Le Mans series, but the only time they appear in Europe is Le Mans. They won in 2006, but lost out last year. With continued development, Corvette have to be favourites for the GT1 class. Both cars have very strong driver line ups, but I'm hoping the No 64 car of Oliver Gavin, Max Papis and Olivier Beretta takes the Corvette honours. I remember seeing Gavin in Vauxhall Lotus in the early 90's, so its good to see a driver you followed as a kid doing well, all these years later.
The No 72 Corvette from the Luc Alpand team could spring a surprise. They have been competitive in the European series and are a fan favourite. A strong line up and new boy Guillaume Moreau is a driver to watch in the future. Very impressive. The sister car is less impressive, but you never know. These could be the surprise of the event!
The Saleen SR7 was developed in the UK by RML, who now race in the LMP2 class. In its day, the Saleen was quite competitive with ORECA. Now, in its later years, and with the Labre Competition team, the car is struggling a little. Labre have enjoyed much success in the past, but even with ex-champion Christophe Bouchet at the wheel, the other two drivers are going to struggle a little.
Lamborghini Murcielargo R-GT
The real surprise of the European series. A number of teams have tried, unsuccessfully, to run the Murcielargo in GT racing, but the Reiter Engineering, running under the IPB banner have made this car surprisingly competitive. Another car with could spring a surprise, although I doubt an outright win is on the cards.
Tomorrow, we will go through the competitive GT2 class, where Porsche and Ferrari battle it out.