British GT Star Keen Eyes Le Mans Debut as GT3 Heavyweights Take Center Stage

    This year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans marks the inaugural edition that will feature the new LMGT3 class, opening the door for a host of top GT3 stars to make their long-awaited debuts at the legendary endurance race.

    Among the big names set to grace the Circuit de la Sarthe for the first time in GT3 machinery are Ford’s Christopher Mies, Lexus’ Kelvin van der Linde, Corvette’s Daniel Juncadella, Lamborghini’s Franck Perera, and BMW’s Valentino Rossi. The Hypercar class has also seen a boost to 23 entries, with Edoardo Mortara (Lamborghini), Raffaelle Marciello, Sheldon van der Linde and Marco Wittmann (all BMW) joining the rookie contingent.

    “While these high-profile names will grab the headlines, Autosport writers have identified several other top GT3 talents who are yet to sample the unique challenge of the Le Mans 24 Hours but deserve their chance to shine on the world’s biggest endurance racing stage.”

    At the forefront is Phil Keen, the benchmark in the highly competitive British GT Championship. Keen has a record-equalling 19 race wins in the series and has been a consistent frontrunner in Porsche, Lamborghini and Mercedes machinery, regularly outpacing drivers with prior Le Mans experience. The self-effacing 40-year-old came close to making his debut in 2015 but has not been as near since, though his return to the European Le Mans Series this season with JMW Motorsport’s Ferrari 296 further underlines his versatility.

    Another name worth considering is Maro Engel, the Mercedes GT3 kingpin who has won prestigious races like the Nürburgring 24 Hours and the Macau Grand Prix, but has yet to grace the hallowed grounds of Circuit de la Sarthe due to Mercedes’ absence from the LMGT3 class. Engel admits it would “hurt” to finish his career without racing at Le Mans, and the organizers would do well to find a way to accommodate talented drivers like him in future editions.

    Elsewhere, Audi stalwart Markus Winkelhock boasts an impressive endurance racing CV, with multiple victories at the Spa 24 Hours and Nürburgring 24 Hours to his name. His loyalty to the Ingolstadt marque, which has scaled back its factory GT3 programmes, may prove a hindrance, but should a customer squad earn a Le Mans entry, Winkelhock would be a prime candidate.

    As the motorsport world eagerly awaits the 2023 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the influx of GT3 stars is set to add an extra layer of excitement to the historic event. Whether established names like Keen and Engel or rising talents like Audi’s Ricardo Feller and Mercedes’ Lucas Auer get their chance, the future of endurance racing looks bright.

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