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Rolex 24

Rolex 24 at Daytona Preview

This weekend sees the beginning of the Sports Car season in the USA, with annual curtain raiser; the Rolex 24 at Daytona. For many this event always marks the beginning of the season and the event has always attracted an exceptional grid of cars and drivers. As you would expect, Travel Destinations always has a presence track-side and our travellers are already in Florida, ably supported by our resident Daytona expert, Helen.

Here we look at the key storylines that they will see develop first-hand over the weekend. If this tempts you to see more, then make sure you register with us to be the first to learn of our plans for next year. Maybe you can join us too!

Five key storylines to follow during the 2018 Rolex 24 Hours

Can Cadillac win again?

It has to be said right off the bat that the favourite for the 2018 Rolex 24 has to be Cadillac. Last year, the GM marque’s DPi V.R won its debut at Daytona, and went on to take the overall and NAEC titles up front, led by Wayne Taylor Racing’s effort that at times was unstoppable. This year there has been plenty of changes, but there’s just as good of a chance for Cadillac’s customer outfits to take the win again.

In terms of the car, it’ll race with changes to the front splitter, as part of the ACO’s permitted ‘Joker’ evolutions to Dallara’s P217, which the Caddy is based on. It’ll also utilise a brand new 5.5 litre engine rather than a 6.2 example, in an attempt by Cadillac to streamline its engine philosophy with the rest of the paddock. There are four cars hoping to score Caddy its second win in a row. At Wayne Taylor Racing, its driver line-up has been shuffled, Jordan Taylor returns from last year, but will be joined by Renger Van Der Zande and IndyCar star Ryan Hunter Real for the racing; it’s a trio very much capable of winning it all again.

Rolex 24Action Express’ two cars also have some new drivers in, including ex-F1 driver Felipe Nasr and British GT racer Stuart Middleton. After coming so close last year, can either its Whelen or Mustang Sampling machines reach the top step of the podium in 2018?

The final entrant is a new one, Spirit of Daytona (formally Visit Florida Racing), which switches from running an LMP2 Riley and later a Ligier last year, becoming the only LMP2 team to win an IMSA race overall, with a victory at Laguna Seca. For its new machine, it’s got three new drivers too, Matt McMurry, Tristan Vautier and Eddie Cheever III taking the wheel. Can Spirit of Daytona spring a surprise here?

How will the new DPi efforts fare?

Outside of the Cadillac and the other pre-existing DPi effort from ESM, there’s two new players in town for this season in the form of Team Joest (yes, that Team Joest that ran for almost two decades with Audi) and Team Penske (yes, that Team Penske that won Sebring overall in 2008 with an LMP2 car). Joest will be running the Mazda DPi programme. While the RT-24P is not a new car – it ran for most of the year in 2017 with Speedsource – it certainly has more potential now after an underwhelming first season.

Multimatic and Joest have gone to great lengths to re-design the aspects of the car which proved to be weak, and have signed some new driver talent to add extra punch too. Amongst the newcomers are Ford WEC driver Harry Tincknell and ex-Audi LMP1 drivers Rene Rast and Oliver Jarvis. 2018 will be a really important year, and while few will expect Joest to blow away the field in its first run with the Mazdas, would anybody be surprised if it did with its well documented track record?

Meanwhile, Team Penske is also due to burst onto the scene at Daytona, with a pair of brand new Acura ARX-05. The legendary American outfit is returning to sportscar racing, and in a big way, running the factory programme for the marque in which it spent years racing against back in the American Le Mans days early in the 21st century. The ARX-05 is based on the ORECA 07, which is a very good starting point, as the best LMP2 car top to bottom of the current crop, it’ll also be driven by some stunning drivers. For the big race it’s fate rests on a collection of sportscar talent, ex-F1 talent and IndyCar stars that’s enough to make any racing fan drool. Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron, Simon Pagenaud make up the #6’s crew, while Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor and Graham Rahal will share the #7. Which of these two VERY high profile new efforts will have the better time in Florida? Time will tell!

All eyes on Alonso

It is safe to say that you can’t pick out the key names in the prototype entry for this year’s Rolex without mentioning Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard, a two-time F1 World champion, seems set on achieving the ‘Triple Crown’ of wins at Monaco, Le Mans and Indy. It’s refreshing to see someone so consumed by the F1 ‘bubble’ take a walk on the wild side and want to race elsewhere in gaps between F1 races.

Rolex 24For the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which will be Alonso’s first sportscar race, he’ll be driving under the very capable supervision of United Autosport, which is co-run by McLaren’s Zak Brown. He’ll drive the evolved Ligier JS P217, with Phil Hanson (an ELMS and WEC starter) and future F1 star Lando Norris. 
That may not sound like a ‘Super Team’, but in reality, that doesn’t necessarily matter. At Daytona, staying on the lead lap will keep you in the fight for the win right up to the flag; it’s that sort of race. Are Norris, Hanson and Alonso capable of doing that? Yes. And even so, this is a trial run of sorts for Alonso, ahead of a potential Le Mans debut this year. He will nevertheless take this seriously, and attract the world’s media to the event, which can only be a good thing for sportscars. This is a big story, and one which the sportscar world is and should welcome with open arms.

BMW M8 GTE

Further down the entry list, the GT classes will, as usual, add spice to an already tantalising prototype field. In among the factory teams in GTLM is BMW Team RLL, tasked with debuting the BMW M8 GTE at Daytona. Now, the car was delayed in its development due to a late re-design forced upon the marque, but it has the potential to turn heads. At the pre-race Roar test, it was the slowest of the GTE cars, but it is new, and GTE is a balanced formula which means it should be able to compete right away during the 24 Hours.

Rolex 24In terms of driving talent, there has been some changes in camp BMW. In its #24 M8, former WTCC ace Augusto Farfus returns (after competing only at Daytona last year), and will drive with brand stalwart John Edwards, Jesse Krohn who’s stepping up from GTD and Nicky Catsburg. And in the #25, Alex Sims returns for another year of GTLM action, along with, veteran driver Bill Auberlen, IMSA debutant (and 2018 BMW DTM driver) Phillip Eng and American BMW newcomer Connor De Phillippi, who moves over from Audi after winning the 2017 N24 and 2016 ADAC GT title. With a set of drivers that strong, the real challenge will likely be staying reliable, up against a field of near-bullet proof machinery from Corvette, Ferrari, Porsche and Ford.

If the M8 GTEs keep going round and round, who knows where they’ll end up come Sunday afternoon?

Battle of the GTD Brands

The other GT class, GTD, is also a battle of the brands, but on a larger scale. With 21 cars on the list, representing eight manufacturers, it’s almost guaranteed to be a thrilling race for the win. This year, there’s no new kit, but there are plenty of big names and big teams on the list; and because last year’s class winner Alegra Motorsports aren’t due to make the trip, there will be a new winner.

Audi will run two R8s, Porsche will have a trio of 911 GT3 Rs, BMW will have an M6 GT3, Lamborghini is set to have three Huracans, Acura meanwhile has three NSX GT3s in addition to three AMG GT3 , two Lexus RCF GT3s and four Ferrari 488s.

At this point, it’s nearly impossible to pick a winner, so instead, just sit back and watch this one unfold.

We hope that you enjoy the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona. It promises to be a fantastic spectacle. Why not join us at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2019? You can register with us now for more information by emailing us here or by calling our office on 0844 873 0203.

Sportscar content written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Cadillac dominates at Daytona

The dust is still settling after the Rolex 24 at Daytona and our man in  the stands has returned home having watched every second of the action. After the controversial finish, that saw Wayne Taylor Racing victorious & each driver walk away with a new watch, Stephen Kilbey reviews last weekend’s events.

Cadillac has a clear advantage
The debate on Balance of Performance was rampant at the Rolex 24 Hours, but unusually, in this instance concerning the prototype class rather than the GTs. Cadillac dominated the meeting at Daytona from start to finish, topping every practice session, qualifying and the race. The other DPis in the new class and the global LMP2s were still competitive at times, but only in certain conditions and during certain periods of the race.

Rolex 24 at Daytona

What we were left with was a fierce battle between Cadillac entries with rival teams Wayne Taylor Racing and Action Express at the end, which ended in dramatic fashion with a lead change in the final 10 minutes. The change in lead was controversial as contact was made causing the Action Express car to spin. Ultimately no further action was deemed necessary by the stewards so Wayne Taylor Racing took home the Rolex watches, and began the new era of North American prototype racing in fine style. But going forward, Mazda, ESM and the LMP2 teams are going to have to step up if they are to have any chance of fighting for the title or even winning races for the rest of the season.

The new prototypes impressed overall
A big question mark heading into the Rolex 24 was going to be the fragility and durability of the new prototypes, which were all making their global race debuts in South Florida. Everyone was left pleasantly surprised though, as despite various mechanical niggles and incidents up and down the field, there were no retirements until the 20 hour mark when the No.70 Mazda’s engine expired in a big way up and down the pit lane. There’s obviously room for improvement though, which in turn will create better racing as the season wears on. What we have though, is a class with serious potential, stunning looking cars, good sounding entries and manufacturer interest going forward. IMSA appears to have it right this time round.

Ford is the team to beat in GTLM
GTLM was arguably the most exciting class throughout this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, with four of the five manufactures represented having a shot to win the race in the closing stages. In the final two hours seven of the GTLM runners were competing for the lead, creating an absolutely thrilling end. Porsche with its new car, Corvette with its proven C7.R and Risi with its ultra-quick Ferrari all looked poised at various points, but in the end the four-car armada from the Blue Oval came out on top.

Rolex 24 at Daytona

All four GTs in the race made it home, and the No.66 of Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller in particular was the class of the field for a significant portion of the race before winning it all at the end. The Ford GT is now both reliable and fast, with a set of drivers in its two full-season entries that can go toe-to-toe with the best the class has to offer. Corvette won the title last year, but this time round Ford surely has to be the team to beat?

Alegra surprised us all
In one of the most incredible runs to the flag in recent memory, Alegra Motorsports’ GTD Porsche 911 GT3R managed to storm to the win in the Rolex 24, after spending 22 of the 24 hours biding its time climbing the order. Up against arguably the best and most diverse GT3 field ever assembled on American soil, Alegra Motorsports proved that staying on the lead lap and ensuring your star driver is in at the end is the key to winning. Daniel Morad, Carlos de Quesada, Michael de Quesada, Jesse Lazare and Michael Christensen all combined for a historic run for Porsche, cruising into Parc Ferme with no scratches on the car after the race. Alegra’s entry was supposedly a one-off, but after such an incredible performance by the Canadian outfit, surely further appearances will spawn off the back of its success?

Porsche 911

LMPC’s tenure has run its course
After eight years, the LMPC class with the spec Oreca FLM09 chassis is way past its expiry date. The racing wasn’t great, with performance Tech winning by over 20 laps, and the driving standards were mostly poor as well. Starworks and BAR 1’s entries spent way too much time in walls or on the grass in the treacherous conditions, causing multiple safety car periods which prevented the whole race from ever becoming rhythmic.

LMPC

Originally a class with a sole purpose to bolster the American Le Mans Series grid during tough years, it has now run its course. The cars are old, the interest is now minimal and the field overall is so strong that it feels a redundant class. As of next year the class will be written out of the rule book, and that’s a good thing, but it is going to be interesting to see what the current teams in the class will do, given the opportunity to step up to LMP2 or race in GTD/GTLM in the future.

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photography by Dailysportscar

Travel Destinations was pleased to host another great group of race fans at this years’ Rolex 24 at Daytona. We will be back again in January 2018 so if you would like to join us please do register with us now to be the first to receive all the details.

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.