With the specifications of the first of Goodyear’s two 2024 dry-spec tires now frozen and ready for next season, this week’s two-day tire test in Portimao provided an ideal opportunity for eight manufacturers and teams planning to field cars in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s new GT division to get a feel for the new LMGT3 rubber and assess new drivers.
It was a busy two days, with teams getting plenty of mileage during the 12 hours of track time, with only a small handful of stoppages.
Of the manufacturers present, Aston Martin with its new-for-2024 Vantage AMR GT3 EVO, Audi, BMW and Lexus with its RC F GT3, were all sampling the LMGT3 Eagle F1 Supersports for the first time.
Aston Martin’s test and development 2024-spec Vantage Evo chassis, which was first spied earlier this month running at Silverstone, was being driven for the most part by Heart of Racing’s current FIA WEC GTE Am drivers. Ian James, Roman de Angelis and Alex Riberas all turned laps, in addition to 2023 TF Sport driver Ben Tuck.
Heart of Racing — Aston Martin’s current IMSA GTD Pro team and future Valkyrie Hypercar entrant — is expected to run one of two Vantages in the WEC next year, should AMR receive its pair of entries. The car has been extremely well received by the drivers that have sampled it to this point. One experienced GT driver told RACER that it was “the easiest GT car” they’d ever driven.
Audi, meanwhile, remains an outside possibility for the FIA WEC, if the full-season entry is capped at 36 cars with 18 cars in each of the two classes (Hypercar and LMGT3) as expected. Nevertheless, a full Audi Sport Customer Racing truck rolled into the paddock and supported French Audi Sport customer Team Sainteloc with senior technical staff and works driver Christopher Haase.
Haase was the only designated driver for the R8 that turned laps in Portimao, with its newly developed and installed closed-loop torque sensors. His feedback on both Goodyear’s tires and level of service was overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s my first time with the Goodyear tires and in this environment,” Haase said. “I have been really surprised — the car worked straight away out of the box. I was so happy with the level of grip and feedback. It was joyous.
“We have put mileage on tires for long runs, and on our first long run it was so promising.”
Team director Frederic Thalamy echoed Haase’s thoughts and described Goodyear’s support as “very impressive.”
The BMWs on site were being run by Belgian outfit Team WRT, which will run both the Hypercar and LMGT3 effort in the WEC for the Bavarian brand next year.
The two M4 GT3s were current-spec cars, not the EVO package that has been out testing recently and will debut in 2025. One car was in its full Valentino Rossi GT World Challenge Europe livery and driven by factory ace Augusto Farfus; the other was a bare carbon chassis that was being shared by Bronze-rated drivers Giorgio Roda, Arnold Robin and Tim Whale.
Tuesday’s running included one near-double stint for one of the M4s, with tire wear and life report to be significantly better than the team had expected.
“The Goodyears are very good –we have been pleasantly surprised, though there is some work to do to get to the point where double stinting is possible,” Kurt Mollekens, WRT’s GT3 program manager told RACER. “It’s been a very constructive couple of days. We will be testing again at Paul Ricard, where we will have a number of other Bronze-rated drivers with us.”
The presence of Lexus was a surprise to some. However, in the background, longstanding Mercedes-AMG GT3 team AKKODIS ASP has been plotting a switch of brands to ensure it can fulfill owner Jerome Policand’s WEC ambitions. With Mercedes believed to be on the outside looking in for next season in terms of entry prospects, a move to Lexus to take up the grid slots that will be handed on behalf of Toyota in LMGT3, is an entirely sensible move.
IMSA champion Jack Hawksworth and WEC champ Jose Maria Lopez shared the car this week. The chassis used is from 2016 and has been campaigned in Japan, the U.S. and Europe ahead of being handed to ASP. It is now the dedicated test car.
ASP received technical support from both Toyota Gazoo Racing and TRD for this rollout. Present in the garage was ex-ORECA technical director Davide Floury, who now forms part of the Japanese brand’s senior technical staff.
The team used the test this week to assess minor aero changes ahead of wind tunnel certification of an evo-version of the car for next season. This is interesting because Toyota/Lexus’ new GT3 challenger is deep in development and already out testing. The plan currently is understood to be for a 2026 debut, though there appears to be pressure from within the project to bring this forward if at all possible.
That leaves Ferrari, Ford, Lamborghini and McLaren, who already had extensive mileage on Goodyear’s new tires ahead of the test. Primarily, this week’s to-do list was centred around each team and OEM’s driver selection process, though in the case of McLaren, it was also United Autosports’ first opportunity to run a 720S GT3 EVO on track.
The two Ferraris 296 GT3s tested were run by AF Corse, with Bronze-rated drivers Francois Heriau and Mike Wainwright at the center of attention. Heriau is understood to be seeking a slot in the WEC with the team. Current GTE Am driver Simon Mann also turned laps in the car and the most likely scenario appears to be that the pair will be joined by a factory driver next season.
On the other hand, Wainwright, owner/driver at Porsche GTE team GR Racing, will race with Ferrari going forward. He used the time to get up to speed with the 296 ahead of GR’s Asian Le Mans Series debut and therefore opted to run with Michelin tires, which the Asian Le Mans GT category utilizes.
Proton Competition, joined by members of staff from Multimatic, Ford Performance and M Sport, ran a single Mustang GT3 (pictured, top). It was the #001 test chassis which began life as a mule in the USA.
Dirk Mueller was the headline runner from Multimatic and was joined by a group of other Silver and Bronze-rated drivers with lofty ambitions. This included Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion Adam Smalley, Ryan Hardwick, Mikel Miller, Martin Rump, Leon Köhler, Gianmarco Leverato and ex-DTM racer Esteban Muth. Stock car racing veteran Boris Said was present too in full Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Xfinity Series gear, as a potential Bronze for the WEC effort.
Asked if he anticipated being part of Proton’s WEC program, the 61-year-old told RACER: “I could say that would be the most surprising call of all, but Jim Farley (Ford’s CEO) asking me along to this test has already won that prize!”
Iron Lynx’s garage was also filled with drivers on hand to take turns in a pair of Huracan GT3 Evos. Matteo Cressoni, Franck Perera, and Claudio Schiavoni were among the drivers who were suited and booted and drove one car. The lineup for the other included Margot Lafitte, the daughter of ex-F1 star Jacques. She was testing on Tuesday to become a potential Bronze-ranked addition to the Iron Dames roster.
However, Sarah Bovy, the current Iron Dames WEC Bronze, now appears likely to return. She was initially regraded as a Silver driver for 2024 by the FIA, but has since won her appeal and will stay a Bronze for next year. Bovy drove at the test with current teammates Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey.
Finally, United Autosports, McLaren’s WEC nominee for ’24, took delivery of its first McLaren 720S GT3 EVO in the Portimao paddock on Sunday. The team prepped and ran it for two days, all while tending to its multi-car European Le Mans Series and Le Mans Cup effort across the Grand Finale race event of the season and subsequent Rookie Test. The fact that everything went to plan for Richard Dean’s team, which won both ELMS races overall, was a remarkable achievement.
Tom Gamble was on hand to run the car on behalf of the factory and to support Silver-ranked Garnet Patterson and Bronze driver Yasser Shahin, who sampled the car across both days.
Goodyear’s staff supported all eight manufacturers on hand, plus the ELMS LMP2 teams that opted to stay on after the Rookie Test.
With the GT3 tires now in full production and on sale to customers, it will continue to provide technical assistance to any teams wishing to sample the new LMGT3 Eagle F1 Supersports over the winter in private settings.
When will the second dry spec be available? Goodyear told RACER that the target is mid-season in ’24. The tire is being developed for use at the more aggressive tracks on the calendar. The plan is for Goodyear to dictate which of the two specs will be used for each event ahead of time, rather than handing that decision to the teams.
Design of its wet weather LMGT3 tire is also being worked on. The 2024 Goodyear LMGT3 wets, according to endurance program manager Mike McGregor, will be an evolution of the current GTE rain tire, and benefit from lessons learned by the team that looks after its Nurburgring GT3 program.
The winter test schedule for Goodyear is expected to be extremely intense, with runs planned for COTA, Qatar, Bahrain, Barcelona, Paul Ricard, Valencia, Portimao and Monteblanco. The Monteblanco test is particularly notable, as it will be open to everyone and will feature 24 hours of continuous running.