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Rolex 24 at Daytona

Rolex 24 at Daytona Preview

On the eve of Rolex 24 at Daytona; the first chance to see some of this years’ new machinery in action, our man in the stands takes a look at some of the talking points and things to look out for at this year’s race.

DPi vs LMP2
The new era for prototype racing in North America starts now at Daytona. Seven DPis and five brand new global LMP2s will all make their global race debuts at Daytona. It is very early days for all of the cars taking part, with limited running and plenty of niggles for most of them during the two official Daytona tests prior to this race week. Having said that, they are fast. They look good and are set to be driven by some incredibly talented drivers come Saturday afternoon.

Cadillac at Daytona

The three Cadillacs run by Action Express and Wayne Taylor Racing look to be the fastest over a single lap at this stage, but the race is a long one, and the durability could be in question. In the LMP2 corner meanwhile Rebellion has been consistently quick through testing and practice at the speedway, with Neel Jani in particular showing off his ability to mix it with the Cadillacs and outpace the Mazda and Nissans. Outside of Oreca, both Ligier and Riley/Multimatic are represented by PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and Visit Florida Racing respectively. Both are capable teams, and are set to race in the full season of IMSA. Time will tell if they’ll be able to compete for wins though as the season wears on.

 

GTLM winner?
With the entire Prototype field made up of unknown and unproven quantities, the chances of a surprise GT winner or at least top three may be higher than you’d normally think. There is no argument that the DPi and LMP2 prototypes are far quicker than those down in the GTLM field, but over the course of the 24 hours, history suggests that the new technology is likely to hit some trouble at one point or another. It could therefore turn into a chase to the finish with the leaders in the prototypes attempting to track down the more reliable GTLM leaders. It has happened before, and as recently as 2003 when TRG won the race overall title in a GT2 Porsche when the then new Daytona Prototypes in the field all fell by the wayside. And aside from the very real opportunity to score a 1-2-3-4 in GTLM, Ford bringing four GTs to the Rolex 24 Hours could very well be an attempt to maximise the opportunity of winning the Rolex 24 outright.

Ford at Daytona

 

Lexus, Mercedes and Acura join the fray
In the GTD class, the main interest is going to be the progress of the new Acura NSX GT3 and Lexus RCF GT3s, as well as the debut of Mercedes in this class. For Lexus, the RCF GT3 is finally set for its North American debut after years of development. The cars on track at Daytona are the same specification as the Lexus which raced – and won overall – in the VLN at the tail end of last season. The team, formerly known as Rocketsports Racing, is keen to put its past, with the failed Jaguar XKR GT3, behind it as the face of this Lexus project. The time is now for Paul Gentilozzi, who with the backing of Lexus North America, will want to be gunning for wins, certainly by the end of the season.

Acura’s IMSA programme meanwhile is headed by Michael Shank Racing. The team, which has been racing prototypes in recent seasons has been tasked with running the brand new NSX GT3 partnered with the brand in its endurance programme. It is a big ask for the team, which clearly understands the magnitude of the challenge at hand. It remains to be seen how competitive the car can be this early in its debut season, though Balance of Performance will as always be a leveling factor, no matter which side of the performance equation it sits early on. The main focus for the Rolex 24 at Daytona will be ensuring that it’s up to scratch in the durability and serviceability department.

 

Stars in cars
Beyond the galaxy of returning IMSA talent the Rolex 24 at Daytona once again dishes up part of its unique appeal; the opportunity for drivers from other parts of the sport to take on the challenge of Daytona in a proper endurance race. There is little doubt who the biggest draw is likely to be this week with legendary NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon back at Daytona racing in the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi.

From the sportscar universe, there are no fewer than nine recent, and for the most part current, FIA WEC LMP1 factory drivers listed among the 43 men due to do battle in the Prototype class. The names on the list include two current Porsche men, 2016 World Champ Brendon Hartley and current title holder Neel Jani. Toyota are well represented too with 2014 Champion Seb Buemi, plus the experienced Sarrazin, Conway and ex Toyota man, and current LMP2 WEC and Le Mans Champ, Nico Lapierre. Add in 2013 World Champ Loic Duval, current Audi DTM man plus the ultra-fast Rene Rast and Filipe Albuquerque and you’re left with a real chance to see the team mates and friends, now wearing completely different kit, going up against each other.

Rebellion at Daytona

There’s also a bunch of WEC LMP2 race winners like Bruno Senna and Ryan Dalziel on the list too with ELMS race winner and previous LMP1 privateer champ Mathias Beche and reigning European Le Mans Series LMP3 Champ Mike Guasch also set to race. IndyCar is also well represented, as Jack Hawksworth is set to drive a Lexus RCF. James Hinchcliffe will be aboard the No.70 Mazda. Buddy Rice will pilot a PC. Graham Rahal will peddle an Acura and Tony Kannan has a real chance of winning GTLM whilst making his debut with Ford.

 

Porsche’s new toy
With the GTE/GTLM machinery continuing on its vertical developmental curve, Porsche is the most recent marque to bring a fresh car to the category after Ford brought the GT to the party in 2016. The new mid-engined 911 RSR promises to make strides in both performance and serviceability as the brand looks to get its premier GT programme back on track after a tough 2016 campaign on both sides of the pond.

Porsche at Daytona

In terms of drivers Porsche’s works stable has a fresh look to it, with Audi-stalwart Laurens Vanthoor set for his debut, along with ex-BMW man Dirk Werner. The new men will race with regulars Patrick Pilet, Frederic Makowiecki, Kevin Estre and Richard Lietz, who all know how to develop a car and turn it into a winner. At the Roar Before the 24, the Porsche crew didn’t set any particularly notable lap times, but did manage to complete a significant amount of on-track running. It is going to be interesting to see if the new car can hit the ground running before its trip to Sebring and then the start of the WEC season which of course includes Le Mans, which the team will of course hope to win for the first time since 2014.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona 2017 promises to be quite a race, so sit back and enjoy the ride!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Travel Destinations are once again hosting customers at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. They are currently staying at our exclusive hotel overlooking Daytona beach and enjoying all the action at the Speedway. The tour includes car hire to enable you to be independent but is also escorted by one of our staff to help and guide where necessary. If you would like to join us in Florida for the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January 2018 please do call or email us now to register your interest.

Audi at Spa 24hrs

Looking forward to the Spa 24hrs

5 things to watch for at the Spa 24 Hours

The Spa 24 Hours is in many ways a marquee event in world Motorsport these days, with tons of factory interest, entries and a world-class venue to race on. This year, 65 cars are entered for Blancpain’s ‘blue riband’ event, with 29 in the full pro class at the front. Here’s five interesting storylines to follow from the runners and riders who will feature at the head of the field:

1. Garage 59’s three-car assault
McLaren GT customer squad Garage 59 has emerged as the team to beat so far this season in the Blancpain Endurance Cup, with two wins out of three races. The team’s leading No.58 650S GT3 of Rob Bell, Shane van Gisbergen and Come Ledogar has been both fast and consistent all season long and looks to continue its title challenge at Spa after victories at both Monza and the Paul Ricard 1000km.

In the second No.59 car is the trio of McLaren GT Driver Academy boys, Straun Moore, Alex Fontana and Andrew Watson, but the No.60 is the one to watch out of the other two. The No. 60 is a one-off entry which has 2016 Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours winner Pipo Derani, experienced Brit Duncan Tappy and ex-F1 driver Bruno Senna aboard. While they won’t be worried about picking up points as much as the #58 will, they’ll be just as motivated to win the race outright.

Spa 24hrs

The Spa 24 Hours hasn’t been a kind event to McLaren over the years, especially during its days with teams running the MP4 12C GT3, but that looks set to change. The 650S GT3 won the Bathurst 12 Hour earlier this year with Garage 59 and the winning car proved to be practically bullet proof in the process.

2. Audi’s attack
After the sheer disappointment of this year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours, Audi is out for redemption at Spa, with eight cars in the Overall (Pro) class; the most of any brand in the top category. Of the octet, three are backed directly by the factory, with two run by Team WRT and one by Phoenix Racing.

WRT’s lineup is stellar – as usual – with Nürburgring and Spa 24 winner Laurens Vanthoor, Nico Muller, Rene Rast and ex-F1 driver Will Stevens fresh from his first Le Mans to name a few. Pohenix meanwhile has Audi veteran Frank Stippler aboard, one of the safest pair of hands in the business.

Audi at Spa 24hrs

Last year the R8 LMS was in contention all the way to the end, but had to settle for second behind Marc VDS Racing’s BMW Z4 in its first run at the race.

3. DTM takeover?
This year’s race sees DTM drivers from Audi, Mercedes and BMW taking part. The biggest name is 2005 DTM champ Gary Paffet, who is making his GT debut at the race driving with fellow Mercedes DTM driver Max Gotz in the No.86 HTP Mercedes. Daniel Juncadella and is also on the bill in an AMG GT3.

From the BMW camp, GT stalwart Maxime Martin will be driving in ROWE Racing’s No.99 BMW M6 GT3, and Audi will field Italian driver Eduardo Mortara in Stippler’s usual ISR seat in the No.75 car.  Certainly some big names to follow in headlining cars.

4. Linkin Park link up
World-famous rap rock artists Linkin Park will be present at the Spa 24 Hours, not just as fans, but also with their name on a car. The No.00 Black Falcon Mercedes AMG will sport an eye-catching silver and red live ring with Linkin Park branding. The band itself are huge Mercedes AMG fans, and will present the car to the public on race week.

Linkin Park livery

It’s not going to be just a rolling billboard either, in fact it could well be the headlining Mercedes in the field come Sunday afternoon. Driving it will be the fierce combination of this year’s N24 hero Maro Engel, ageless former Spa winner and all-round Mercedes legend Bernd Schneider and ex-Marc VDS pilot Yelmer Buurman.

5. Two Jags
The plucky privateer Emil Frey team will most certainly be one to watch. For years it has developed its own Jaguar GT3 car from an unreliable garage-sitter that was often off the pace, to a solid and on the pace car which has become an evert-present Blancpain fan-favourite. Usually, the Swiss outfit brings just one to Blancpain Endurance Cup rounds, but for this year’s Spa 24 it’s going all out to prove the car’s worth on the biggest stage.

Spa 24hrs

The team comes with a very intriguing lineup of 2015 Spa winner Markus Palttala, Jonathan Hirschi and former Red Bull F1 drvier Christian Klien making his Spa 24 debut. The trio should be quick, and capable of making noise in Qualifying as well as during the race if things fall their way.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photographs by Dailysportscar