Next year, the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LM GTE class — standing for ‘Grand Touring Endurance’ — will be replaced with a new class, LMGT3, using the global GT3 regulations. It’s the end of an era for GT racing; GTE has been ever-present in the WEC since its first season in 2012, split into two classes, one for pro drivers and one for amateurs, with a gold or platinum pro driver included to help and mentor them.
The GTE class derived from the GT2 regulations, used pre-WEC. ACO competition then had two GT classes — GT1 and GT2 — with pro drivers in GT1, and amateurs, or alternatively lower-ranked drivers, in GT2. However, for 2011, amidst rising costs, the ACO decided to abandon the GT1 class, which had existed in one form or another since the mid 90s, and continue solely with GT2, now renamed GTE and split into the pro and am divisions.
This was the class taken forward into the WEC when it began in 2012, alongside LMP1 and LMP2. It remained in the series ever since, and also found a home in American sportscar racing, with the United IMSA Sportscar Series using the same regulations for its ‘GTLM’ class.
The WEC regulations were updated for the 2016 season, aimed at making the cars faster than their GT3 brethren, which they competed against in IMSA, the European Le Mans Series, and the Asian Le Mans Series.
The class rumbled on for a few years, but dwindling car numbers in GTE Pro, from a high of 10 in the 2018-2019 ‘super season’, from five manufacturers, to five cars from three manufacturers in 2022, meant that the ACO announced in 2021 that the class would be replaced in 2024 by a GT3-based class, later named LMGT3.
GTE Pro was retired after the 2022 season, with GTE Am living on for 2023. Ostensibly, GTE Am was healthy, with 14 full season cars entered in 2023. But, without the factory-supported Pro class and the backing of factories for GTE overall, the writing was on the wall.
Aston Martin competed in GTE for the entire time it existed in the WEC, from 2012 to 2023. It did this using two different cars, both named Vantage.
The first Vantage GTE car was a development of the original Vantage GT2. This had a naturally-aspirated V8 engine, generating 450bhp. It was raced by the factory team from 2012, in a blue-and-orange Gulf-sponsored liveries with drivers Darren Turner, Stefan Mucke, and Adrian Fernandez in the pro-class car. An Am entry was entered as a one-off for Allan Simonsen, Christoffer Nygaard and Kristian Poulsen, starting the tradition of the ‘Dane Train’, which saw predominantly Danish drivers piloting an entry.
In 2013, still using the Gulf liveries, an upgraded effort — two Pro cars and two 2012-spec Am cars — saw Aston Martin nearly win both the GT Drivers and GT Teams championships, but unfortunately it was not to be, due to both technical issues and driver errors.
This was also the year the team had its lowest moment. On the third lap of that year’s Le Mans, Allan Simonsen, in one of the Am class Vantages, crashed at Tertre Rouge while in the lead of the class, just nine minutes into the race. While reportedly conscious when extracted from the car, he later succumbed to his injuries in the circuit’s medical centre.
Aston Martin’s first GTE class win at Le Mans came in 2014, with that year’s Dane Train, composed of David Heinemeier Hansson, Nicki Thiim, and Kristian Poulsen, winning the class, two laps ahead of the second placed Porsche.
By this point the Vantage GTE was aging, and Aston scored just one win that year, at Spa, in the red-and-yellow Hanergy-sponsored Vantage, with Fernando Rees, Alex MacDowell, and Richie Stanaway behind the wheel.
However, with the new regulations in 2016, Aston completed an overhaul of the Vantage GTE, with new aerodynamics, including a new rear diffuser which resembled a parcel shelf in a road car.
The British manufacturer also returned to its roots, with green liveries across three entries, two in GTE Pro and one in Am, plus a second Am factory entry at Le Mans. The full season Am car took five wins during the season, crewed by Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, and Mathias Lauda, while the Pro class cars took three between them. Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen used consistent results to take the drivers’ title, while Aston won the teams title — their first GTE titles in WEC competition.
In 2017, Jonny Adam, Darren Turner and Daniel Serra took one of the most dramatic Le Mans wins ever, with Adam prevailing over Jordan Taylor’s Corvette on the very last lap, after the American locked up on the Mulsanne Straight and received a front-left puncture for his troubles. This marked Aston’s first GTE Pro triumph at Le Mans, a decade after its last, in the old GT1 class.
For 2018, a brand new car was introduced, with radically different aerodynamics and a new take on British racing green, this time a lime-green livery for the car. However, it struggled to gain a foothold in the 10-car strong class for the 2018-2019 super season, suffering from technical niggles, bad luck, and unfortunate Balance of Performance.
However, with the car upgraded for the 2019-2020 season, it was a different story. Thiim and Sorensen took three wins and a further two podiums, one at Le Mans, joined by Richard Westbrook, to claim the World Endurance GTE Drivers’ title.
However, this was also the final season Aston Martin would compete in the Pro category, with the new F1 team taking focus and resources away from the GTE programme. The Am entries, funded by their wealthy backers, would continue, but the lime green Pro cars were no more.
Into 2021 and Aston now had three entries in GTE Am, two from customer team TF Sport and one from the factory for the ever-present Paul Dalla Lana-funded car. However, between them, they only took one win — at Bahrain for Ben Keating, Felipe Fraga, and Dylan Pereira, which helped them to second in the GTE Am Teams Endurance Trophy.
2022 saw more success for the Keating-funded, TF Sport-run effort, winning the title and taking the Le Mans class win as well. However, it was to be the final success for Aston Martin in GTE, with 2023 bringing no further success and no wins at all from the three entries. Dalla Lana, the Canadian who had been racing in GTE since 2013, also retired mid-season, with the entry being replaced by Ian James’s Heart of Racing team, which had run with Aston Martin in the IMSA championship for a few years.
While BMW built multiple cars to GTE specifications, and raced them, mostly with customers, in European series prior to the WEC’s introduction, plus in IMSA, its first true entry into WEC was announced in 2016, for entry in 2018 in the GTE class, with a car based on the BMW M8 roadcar.
However, the season was unsuccessful; BMW Team MTEK won no races, with a single podium, second place at Fuji for Antonio Felix da Costa and Tom Blomqvist, the best result.
The M8 GTE was a large car, much bigger than its competition. At 4,980mm, it was more than 300mm longer than the Ferrari 488 GTE, almost 200mm wider, and over 100mm taller. After an unsuccessful maiden campaign in 2018-2019, BMW pulled it from the world championship after a single season in WEC, with the Team RLL cars continuing in IMSA for a further two seasons, with some success, including two class wins at Daytona and second in the GTLM championship.
Chevrolet, or rather ‘Corvette Racing’ are somewhat of an anomaly in GTE-class racing. While the American manufacturer built multiple cars to GTE regulations, it used them to compete in the IMSA GTLM class, and only entered WEC’s GTE Pro class full-time in 2022 — its final year.
However, every June the Pratt Miller-run team brought over its yellow Corvettes to race in the French countryside, as it had done for many years preceding the WEC and GTE class, beginning with the Corvette C6.R in 2012.
Corvette did race in the 2012 12 Hours of Sebring, the first WEC race of the modern era. However, this was a joint American Le Mans Series — one of the predecessor championships to the current IMSA series — and WEC race. This meant that while Corvette did technically compete in a WEC race… it really raced in the ALMS round with WEC cars on the same track.
The first proper WEC participation for Corvette in GTE was at that year’s Le Mans. While the factory cars didn’t win, a customer C6.R, run by French team Larbre Competition, did win the GTE Am class.
Indeed, Larbre were the only team racing a Corvette in WEC competition. When Chevrolet introduced the new Corvette C7.R in 2014, however, Larbre switched to racing in the LMP2 class of European Le Mans Series, leaving the WEC with no full-time Corvette effort.
Corvette Racing’s first win in WEC GTE competition came at Le Mans in 2015, in the hands of Jordan Taylor, Oliver Gavin, and Tommy Milner. Despite Corvette bringing over its cars every year since — with the exception of 2020, due to pandemic travel restrictions — the next win came in 2023, in the Am class with Ben Keating, Nicky Catsburg, and Nico Varrone in the new-for-2021 Corvette C8.R, the first Corvette racing car to be mid-engined, eschewing the original front-engined ethos of the American muscle car.
However, prior to this, Corvette decided to finally enter a car into the full season of the championship, for 2022. The car, driven by Tommy Milner and Nick Tandy, and joined by Alexander Sims for Le Mans, the team took its first non-Le Mans win at Monza, after a fuel strategy race with Ferrari fell in Corvette’s favour after Tandy saved enough fuel to make it to the finish, while Ferrari had to stop again for a short splash.
Keating, Varrone and Catsburg had a Corvette’s most successful season in the WEC in 2023, winning three races — at Sebring, Portimao, and Le Mans — and on the podium for a further two, enabling them to wrap up the title at Monza, despite only finishing fourth. A fitting end to Corvette in GTE, although they will be back in 2023 with the all-new Z06 GT3.R, Corvette’s first global GT3 competitor.
Join us tomorrow as we take a look at the GTE cars from Ferrari, Ford, Porsche and Dodge.