To continue my quest to keep track of all the huge endurance races this year and preach that gospel to the 11 people who actually care, here’s another huge, burdensome look ahead at this weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. The IMSA race has an insanely deep field and plenty of new cars about which to be excited. The depth should produce oodles of close racing that will have you bleary-eyed on the edge of your seat for a full day. Or something. Like most of my writing, this is entirely self-indulgent.
About the Race
IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship starts its season out with its two most-prestigious races, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. It’s a brutal and taxing beginning to the year for drivers, crew, and teams’ pocketbooks. The series divides its races into four classes: Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT-Le Mans, and GT-Daytona (all described below). This year’s entry list includes 55 cars across the four classes and with lots of depth and new vehicles in the field, it should be a fascinating race.
Of course, following the race can be difficult. Twenty-four hours is a long time for a constant race, but drivers pass the torch after running stints in the car anywhere from about 45 minutes to more than three hours. The driver-time rules for the whole race are a bit convoluted, but if that and how the cars and drivers compared with each other at the official test (the Roar Before the 24 earlier this month), you can read my rantings on that over here.
About the Track
While most people are familiar with Daytona’s 2.5-mile “tri-oval,” IMSA uses the “roval” course that sends the cars into the infield just after the oval’s start-finish line. From there, a section of twists and turns through the middle of the big banked oval put cars through their ability to turn left and right before spitting them back onto the banking just a bit past where they left it. It’s not a full run around the rest of the oval, however. The Bus Stop at the end of the back straight put cars into a hard left-right-right-left complex that tests drivers’ commitment and resolve as they try to exit carrying as much speed as possible onto the banking for the long run past the start-finish line again.
The top class goes to a completely new formula for 2017, meaning that everybody will have a new car, to some extent. The machinery here is a mix of ACO (Le Mans) cars and non-ACO adaptations of those same cars with different engine options. Without putting too fine a point on it here, the ACO cars (Oreca, Ligier, Dallara, and Multimatic-Riley) all are powered by the LMP2-spec Gibson V8 engine, a 4.0-liter naturally aspirated engine that puts out around 600 horsepower. The American cars are categorized as Daytona Prototype internationals (DPi) and they feature modified versions of the ACO chassis along with IMSA-specific engines.
This is the first race not only for the Gibson engine but also for all of these chassis so reliability should be watched carefully, especially with the ACO cars ostensibly testing ahead of Le Mans. That said, this is one of the deepest Rolex 24 fields you’ll ever find with a number of factory LMP1 drivers lending their services to these teams.
#13 Rebellion Racing (Sebastien Buemi/Nick Heidfeld/Neel Jani/Stephane Sarrazin), Oreca 07-Gibson – The Swiss-flagged squad steps back from privateer LMP1 competition this year to run instead in the LMP2 class. They’ll turn up to Daytona with the strongest all-around drive lineup that includes four factory LMP1 drivers in Jani (Porsche), Buemi (Toyota), Sarrazin (Toyota), and Heidfeld (former Toyota). Rebellion’s relative inexperience at Daytona could be a limiting factor, but don’t bet on it when the whole field have new cars, too.
#5 Action Express Racing (Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque), Cadillac DPi – It’s pretty hard to bet against two-time winners who have finished no worse than 5th at Daytona since forming in 2010. The new Dallara-based Cadillac should have plenty of pace from the embiggened 6.2-liter V8 behind the driver.
#31 Whelen Engineering Racing (Dane Cameron/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Seb Morris),Cadillac DPi – Defending series champions Cameron and Curran are known quantities, as is Toyota LMP1 driver Conway, who is along for the ride. Run out of the same stable as the Action Express Caddy, this car should be competitive if newcomer 19-year-old Morris is ready to step up from GT3 and junior formula cars.
#10 Wayne Taylor Racing (Ricky Taylor/Jordan Taylor/Max Angelelli/Jeff Gord), Cadillac DPi – The big news here, of course, is NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon joining the team as a fourth driver. He’ll join Taylor’s ebullient sons, Ricky and Jordan, as well as the Taylors’ longtime hired gun Angelelli. Near misses at Daytona have been the WTR story, particularly with the driver-time error in 2015, so expect the team to come out motivated.
#81 Dragonspeed (Henrik Hedman/Nicolas Lapierre/Ben Hanley/Loic Duval) Oreca 07-Gibson – While amateur Hedman will slow this car, Lapierre was one of the true LMP2 stars last year and his 2016 teammate Hanley was no slouch. Adding former Audi LMP1 driver Duval makes this a potent entry if Hedman’s two-hour minimum time can be applied judiciously.
#55 Mazda Motorsports (Tristan Nunez/Jonathan Bomarito/Spencer Pigot) & #70 Mazda Motorsports (Tom Long/Joel Miller/James Hinchcliffe), Mazda DPi – The two-car Mazda team have been a repeated punchline on The DFL Show for their crap luck, but their turbocharged 2.0-liter AER engine looks to have enough pace to be competitive again this year. Their mostly homegrown talent—aside from IndyCar driver Hinchcliffe—aren’t super-common names, but they are quick enough to get the job done if the cars (and specifically the engine) hold up.
#2 Extreme Speed Motorsports (Scott Sharp/Ryan Dalziel/Pipo Derani/Brendan Hartley) & #22 Extreme Speed Motorsports (Bruno Senna/Brendan Hartley/Johannes Van Overbeek/Ed Brown), Nissan DPi – The Ligier-based Nissan DPi runs the twin-turbo 3.8-liter GT-R engine for the first time this year. Testing time looks to have been relatively short so there are many question marks about the reliability. However, driver lineups that include 2016 IMSA superstar Derani, Porsche factory driver Hartley, and Senna could make last year’s winners very competitive, particularly in the #2 car that won last year.
#90 VisitFlorida Racing (Marc Goossens/Renger Van Der Zande/Rene Rast), Multimatic/Riley-Gibson – The former Spirit of Daytona team will debut of this first American-built LMP2. Aside from the Riley-based Mazda DPi’s, customer interest has apparently been sparse, but a good showing at Daytona could be a big deal. Rast, who sparred with Nico Lapierre in LMP2 last year, and Van Der Zande should provide good litmus tests for the Riley’s capability.
#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports (Mike Guasch/Jose Gutierrez/RC Enerson/Tom Kimber-Smith), Ligier JS P2017-Gibson – This team steps up from the Prototype Challenge class with an ACO car that would let them run at Le Mans, theoretically. The driver lineup includes a couple of amateurs (Guasch and Gutierrez) that will preclude serious competition at Daytona, but this may serve as a tune-up for the French classic in June.
#85 JDC-Miller Motorsport (Mathias Beche/Chris Miller/Stephen Simpson/Misha Goikhberg), Oreca 07-Gibson – Like PR1, JDC step up from IMSA’s PC class and with amateurs on the roster, they might have an eye toward Le Mans in June. I wouldn’t expect them to win, but merely surviving in a class full of new cars could put them in podium contention.
The PC class is poorly attended this time around and since these cars have faced difficulties finishing at Daytona the past three years, this will really be a battle of attrition. On driver talent, I’d say the #26 and #8 cars should be the standard-bearers, but all that can be negated by mechanical turmoil or a driver mistake. All of these cars use the same Oreca FLM09 chassis and Chevrolet LS3 crate engine.
#20 BAR 1 Motorsports (Don Yount/Buddy Rice/Mark Kvamme/Chapman Ducote/Gustavo Yacaman) & #26 BAR1 Motorsports (Trent Hindman/David Cheng/Johnny Mowlem/Adam Merzon/Tom Papadopoulos)
#8 Starworks Motorsport (Ben Keating/Robert Wickens/Chris Cumming/John Falb/Remo Ruscitti) & #88 Starworks Motorsport (Scott Mayer/James Dayson/Alex Popow/Sebastian Saavedra)
#38 Performance Tech Motorsports (James French/Patricio O’Ward/Kyle Masson/Nicholas Broulle)
The Grand Touring-Le Mans class cars are, more or less, the same cars that run at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GTE-PRO class, except the BMWs are not homologated for Le Mans. With one exception, these care factory-backed cars and, as such, a lot is at stake here. These cars tend not to have considerably more horsepower than the other GTD class but do produce more downforce with better brrakes. You can tell them apart most easily on the track by the red number boards on these cars.
#66 Chip Ganassi Ford (Dirk Muller/Joey Hand/Sebastien Bourdais), #67 Chip Ganassi Ford (Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook/Scott Dixon), #68 Chip Ganassi Ford UK (Stefan Mucke/Olivier Pla/Billy Johnson), #69 Chip Ganassi Ford UK (Harry Tincknell/Andy Priaulx/Tony Kanaan), Ford GT – After debuting with a number of technical issues at Daytona in 2016, the Ford GT gained strength through the year to nab a controversial Le Mans win. They return to Daytona with a full-strength, four-car effort that includes two cars each run for the Chip Ganassi Racing USA (#66 and #67) and UK (#68 and #69) squads. Ganassi knows a thing or two about winning Daytona with six overall wins on the roval. The Ford looked very quick at The Roar and with numbers on their side, they should be the team to beat..
#3 Corvette Racing (Antonio Garcia/Jan Magnussen/Mike Rockenfeller) and #4 Corvette Racing (Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Marcel Fassler), Chevy Corvette C7.R – Last year’s Corvette photo finish was a killer moment in a year where Ford dominated many of the headlines, for better or worse. Chevy’s entries looked strong in Roar testing and this race looks, early on, primed for an all-American battle between back-to-back winners Chevy and Ford.. Former Audi factory drivers Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler join the same four who have anchored GM’s Le Mans efforts for the last several years.
#19 BMW Team RLL (Bill Auberlen/Alexander Sims/Augusto Farfus/Bruno Spengler) and #24 BMW Team RLL (John Edwards/Martin Tomczyk/Nicky Catsburg/Kuno Wittmer), BMW M6 GTLM – Some BMW shuffling after reducing the company’s DTM efforts have refreshed Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan’s efforts. The M6 was plagued with bad luck in 2016 after the previous BMW Z4’s two second-place finishes in 2014 and 2015. They may very well play spoiler to the Ford-Chevy battle.
#911 Porsche GT Team (Patrick Pilet/Dirk Werner/Frederi Makowiecki) and #912 (Kevin Estre/Laurens Vanthoor/Richard Lietz), Porsche 911 RSR – Porsche debuts its mid-engine 911 in competition at last. They didn’t seem to be going for outright pace at The Roar and if they were running their race pace through testing, expect them to be right in the mix. A revamped driver lineup, now sans Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy, likely loses little with Vanthoor and Werner in the mix. This is, however, a new car and engine so they might find some troubles here and there to work through.
#62 Risi Competizione (Giancharlo Fisichella/James Calado/Toni Vilander), Ferrari 488 – There are fewer Ferraris in this Daytona than any other in recent memory, but Risi is no stranger to being the underdog. After the de facto factory Ferraris (run by AF Corse) failed at Le Mans in 2016, Risi took the fight to Ford in GTE-PRO, finishing second. They looked off-pace at The Roar, but don’t expect them to languish near the back.
The Grand Touring-Datyona class has exploded since IMSA allowed the FIA’s GT3-spec cars for the class in 2016. With 27 cars, any team hoping to win will need to run virtually mistake-free on the track and in the pits while also keeping up the pace. This will be the toughest race to win, though it will likely get the least coverage. Regardless, if you’re a nerd like me, you know that this section of the timing screens is the one worth looking after. These cars have green numbers boards.
#57 Stevenson Motorsports (Lawson Aschenbach/Andrew Davis/Matt Bell/Robin Liddell), Audi R8 LMS – Few lineups in the class are as deep as Stevenson’s, a solid team that should have piled up wins in 2016 but somehow came up winless.
#23 Alex Job Racing (Bill Sweedler/Townsend Bell/Frank Montecalvo/Pierre Kaffer), Audi R8 LMS – Sweedler and Bell co-drove to the GTE-AM win at Le Mans last year and they join forces with Alex Job, now in an Audi for the first time, alongside former Ferrari ace Kaffer and Montecalvo, a solid amateur driver. Don’t sleep on this quartet.
#33 Riley Motorsports (Ben Keating/Jeroen Bleekemolen/Mario Farnbacher/Adam Christodoulou), Mercedes AMG GT3 – The Keating-Bleekemolen duo trade in their Viper for a Riley-prepared Mercedes, a platform with which Bleekemolen is very familiar. This is a deep lineup and recent history has shown that Mercedes has built some of the best endurance GT cars in the world.
#50 Riley Motorsports (Cooper McNeil/Gunnar Jeannette/Shane Van Gisbergen/Thomas Jaeger), Mercedes AMG GT3 – The WeatherTech team traded in last year’s car (a Porsche) for a second Riley-prepared Merc and they’ve spared no expense with co-drivers for MacNeil. Jeannette has been around forever and Supercars champion Van Gisbergen starts his endurance-racing double with a run at Rolex before rushing back Down Under for the Bathurst 12 Hours in a different Mercedes,
#75 SunEnergy1 Racing (Kenny Habul/Tristan Vautier/Boris Said/Maro Engel), Mercedes AMG GT3 – This odd trio of drivers includes stock-car driver Habul and while few would consider Vautier and Said first-rate material these days, the Mercedes could angle for a podium, especially with Mercedes driver Engel doing the heavy lifting.
#63 Scuderia Corsa (Alessandro Balzan/Christina Nielsen/Matteo Cressoni/Sam Bird), Ferrari 488 GT3 – Defending GTD champions Balzan and Nielsen should reside at the sharp end of the field. They’re joined by Cressoni, a Ferrari-specialist amateur, and Ferrari factory shoe Sam Bird. This should be a contender.
#73 Park Place Motorsports (Jorg Bergmeister/Patrick Lindsey, Matt McMurry), Porsche 911 GT3 R – The ageless Bergmeister anchors this car as a Porsche factory driver. Lindsey is no slouch and McMurry is a fairly accomplished endurance racer despite being too young to drink victory champagne legally.
#59 Manthey Racing (Sven Muller/Harald Proczyk/Reinhold Renger/Steve Smith/TBA), Porsche 911 GT3 R – Porsche Supercup champion Sven Muller will do the lion’s share of the work. Judging by his recent blow-for-blow run against Jeroen Bleekemolen in the Dubai 24 Hours, he should be as good as anyone else in the class. The rest of the lineup, while relatively obscure in the States, should play well at Daytona.
#54 CORE Autosport (Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/Pat Long/Nic Jonsson), Porsche 911 GT3 R – The multiple PC-class champions head to Porsches this year with an insanely good lineup that includes factory ace Long as well as the team’s usual pairing of Bennett (a very capable amateur) and Braun, who was one of the masters of the Oreca PC chassis. Jonsson comes over from Tracey Krohn’s team and he should lack little pace as the second amateur driver in the car. Expect Bennett to get his minimum driver time out of the way early to clear the way for the quicker trio. If so, this car should come alive in the race’s second half.
#97 Turner Motorsport (Justin Marks/Jens Klingmann/Maxime Martin/Jesse Krohn), BMW M6 GT3 – The M6, which debuted last year, won its first 24-hour at Spa Francorchamps last July. Unlike its Z4 predecessor, the M6 has oodles of straightline speed that could play well at Daytona. The driver lineup includes a NASCAR road-course winner in Marks and a pair of BMW factory drivers (Klingmann and Martin). This is a very strong entry.
#29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport (Connor de Phillippi/Chris Mies/Jules Gounon/Jeffrey Schmidt), Audi R8 LMS – The ADAC GT Masters pair of Mies and De Phillippi are intimately familiar with the R8 and they’ve recruited ADAC rival Gounon. Schmidt is a wild card, but Land-Motorsport are a solid team and edify a very deep trio of Audis.
#48 Paul Miller Racing (Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow/Bryce Miller/Dion Von Moltke/Andrea Caldarelli), Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – While their pace at The Roar was not at the front, the PMR driver lineup should be able to keep up with the rest of the field. Caldarelli is criminally unknown worldwide, having spent the bulk of his career in the top class of Japan’s Super GT series.
#11 GRT Grasser Racing Team (Christian Engelhart/Rolf Ineichen/Ezequiel Perez Companc/Mirko Bortolotti) and #61 GRT Grasser Racing Team (Christian Engelhart/Rolf Ineichen/Roberto Pampanini/Christopher Lenz/Milos Pavlovic), Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – GRT have been one of the most ardent Lamborghini teams in the world over the last couple seasons. Bortolotti is a Lambo factory driver and will keep up with the best drivers in this field.
#98 Aston Martin Racing (Pedro Lamy/Marco Sorensen/Mathias Lauda/Paul Dalla Lana), Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 – Aston Martin import their top GTE-AM lineup from the WEC with the addition of pro driver Sorensen. The Vantage is one of the oldest GT3 cars in the field, but Dalla Lana and Lauda are two of the quickest amateur-rated drivers in the world. Also, this is the only V12 in the field and that counts for a lot.
#86 Michael Shank Racing (Jeff Segal/Oz Negri/Tom Dyer/Ryan Hunter-Reay) and #93 Michael Shank Racing (Andy Lally/Katherine Legge/Mark Wilkins/Graham Rahal), Acura NSX GT3 – Shank Racing eschews the top class at Daytona for the first time in years for a factory-backed GTD effort. The driver lineups here are spectacular, but this will be the NSX’s first 24-hour race so there will be much to prove in terms of simple durability.
#14 3GT Racing (Scott Pruett/Sage Karam/Ian James/Gustavo Menezes) and #15 3GT Racing (Jack Hawksworth/Robert Alon/Austin Cindric/Dominik Farnbacher), Lexus RC F GT3 – After development and homologation struggles and delays, Paul Gentilozzi’s Lexus program finally takes off. The pace still looked a bit off at The Roar, but time will tell if the RC F can compete. The driver lineups are stacked so driving talent will not be the limiting factor. Also, 3GT Racing is the worst name.
#51 Spirit of Race (Alessandro Pier Guidi/Davide Rigon/Maurizio Mediani/Peter Mann), Ferrari 488 GT3 – Pier Guidi and Rigon will be plenty quick in one of just two GTD Ferraris while Mediani is a capable amateur driver. Mann generally lacks the pace to be enormously competitive in such a deep field, but clean stints and judicious use of his driver time could put the team in a position to compete.
#16 Change Racing (Jeroen Mul/Brett Sandberg/Kaz Grala/Corey Lewis), Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – Don’t let lack of pace at The Roar make the point here. Mul is a factory driver for Lambo. Sandberg makes a step up from GT4 machinery after winning the Pirelli World Championship GTS-class title and Grala has driven stock cars and a bit of everything. This is a good dark horse in the field.
#46 EBIMOTORS (Fabio Babini/Emanuele Busnelli/Emmanuel Collard/TBA), Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – You’re unlikely to find anyone quicker than Babini in a Lamborghini. Few people have run more big 24-hour races than Collard. How well this team competes depends on the quality of amateur drivers; Busnelli was quick at The Roar, but they’ll need one more amateur added to their roster.
#28 Alegra Motorsports (Michael Christensen/Michael de Quesada/Carlos de Quesada/Daniel Morad/Jesse Lazare), Porsche 911 GT3 R – Porsche factory driver Christensen anchors a team that was surprisingly quick at The Roar. Alegra isn’t renowned for its success, historically, but they have the makings of a contender with the lineup. Could be another good sleeper.
#991 TRG (Jan Heylen/Wolf Henzler/Mike Hedlund/Santiago Creel/Tim Pappas), Porsche 911 GT3 R – Old Porsche hats Wolf Henzler and Jan Heylen will be very quick in the car and should run with the best in the Manthey and Park Place teams. The other three have enough experience to make the best of it, but a win might be a stretch for this lineup.
#27 Dream Racing Motorsport (Lawrence DeGeorge/Cedric Sbirrazzuoli/Paolo Ruberti/Luca Persiani/Raffaele Giammaria), Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – While there will be some highlights from a team with talent like Raffaele Giammaria on board, this team will be lucky to compete for a podium.
#18 DAC Motorsports (Emmanual Anassis/Zach Claman/Anthony Massari), Lamborghini Huracan GT3 – I’d be surprised to see the DAC squad in the mix, but stranger things have happened at Daytona. A Top 10 finish should be the goal here.
Crazy TV Schedule (All ET):
2 p.m. to 5 p.m. – FOX
5 p.m. to 10 p.m. – FOX Sports 2
11 p.m. to midnight – FS2
Midnight to 12:30 p.m. – FS2
12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. – FOX
Live Timing and onboard cameras on the IMSA site here
Stream IMSA Radio on the Radio Le Mans site for free.
Session and Race Results for the 2017 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona will be found here.
The Entry List and Spotter Guide are here!
Nerdy Pre-Race Analysis from The Roar Before the 24 by Yours Truly
Upcoming Endurance Races
Feburary 3-4: Bathurst 12 Hours
March 17-18: IMSA 12 Hours of Sebring
March 17-18: 24H Series’ 12 Hours of Mugello (Italy)
March 31-April 1: Touring Car Endurance Series’ 24 Hours of Silverstone