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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

24 Hours of Spa

Come to see the 24 Hours of Spa

There’s never been a better time to attend the 24 Hours of Spa

There was a time when Spa Francorchamps’ annual 24-hour race was a touring car contest, relevant only within Belgium’s borders, but those days are very much over. Since 2001, it’s become a pure GT race, and in many ways much better for it. The 24 Hours of Spa is a race that’s become famous for its gritty and spectacular racing. If you love witnessing feats of motorsport endurance first hand, there’s few better places to go than the Ardennes Forest in July.

These days, a capacity grid of around 60 cars take on the Spa circuit through day and night for the ultimate prize in Belgian motorsport. Like the Nürburgring 24 Hours, the 24 Hours of Spa has benefitted greatly from the addition to SRO-regulated cars, with the three classes in the race now made up entirely of GT3 cars from the Blancpain GT Series. With no significant difference in pace between the fastest and slowest car on the grid, the drivers at the front have to work extra hard to fight through the hordes of traffic.

Spa 24 Hours

As a result, the cars that cross the line on Sunday afternoon after 24 hours of racing always look incredibly beat up because the competition up front is so fierce. In recent years, the race for the overall lead has been decided within the final few hours, with the adverse conditions at the circuit often taking their toll on even the most sophisticated examples of modern GT machinery in the closing stages.

Plenty of factory-backed teams are due to be on the bill for this year’s race, showcasing the latest and greatest cars that SRO-sanctioned racing has to offer. The 2016 edition of the race has the mouth-watering prospect of having McLaren, Bentley, Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, Nissan, BMW, Ferrari and Aston Martin-backed squads in attendance.

When you’re there, spectating up-close at Spa for the 24 has a unique charm. Unlike the Le Mans and the Nürburgring 24 hours, you can walk the entire way round the 4.3-mile circuit as a fan, visiting both the inside and the outside at various points with relative ease.

Spa 24 Hours

Many of those in attendance spend the first half of the race doing a complete lap. They start on the start/finish straight grandstand and end up at La Source before taking a rest during the early hours of Sunday morning and coming back as dawn breaks to do the same again but in reverse, seeing the cars cross the line at the end of the race. Food options away from the main paddock are limited though, so packing your own food is advisable if you plan on spending much of the race out in the forests.

The night hours of the race are particularly special. We all know Spa is a picturesque circuit in the day, but seeing over 50 cars it the pitch black, flying up Eau Rouge, with flames spitting out the exhausts and brake discs glowing is incredible. It’s the Spa we all know from watching Formula One and the WEC on TV, but on an another level.

Standing atop the hill on the outside of the no-name corner heading down to Pouhon is also extraordinary. On a clear night, you can see cars passing through areas as far the Bus Stop from certain vantage points.

24 Hours of Spa

With Travel Destinations you have the choice of camping at a private site towards Stavelot, or staying at a hotel in Malmedy. It’s quick and easy to access the track by calling a cab, or taking a short car ride throughout the race and its build up, because it has far fewer fans than a place like Le Mans.

For everyone standing trackside, it has a far more relaxed feel than the other marquee endurance races, but that doesn’t in any way detract from the experience.

The Spa 24 Hours capture’s everything that’s appealing about watching an established race at a legendary circuit like Le Mans or the Nürburgring, but without huge crowds, sometimes limited spectator access and necessity to take a whole week off work to see the event.

If you’ve not been to Spa for the 24 Hours, as an endurance racing fan it simply must be done.

It’s a motorsport event that deserves your attention.

Follow this link for more details of how you can join us at the Spa 24 Hours this July!

Written by Stephen Kilbey
Photos by Dailysportscar