Several signings have been officially announced yesterday and today for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Here’s a quick roundup:
Sage Karam’s tease of a “Christmas gift” came to fruition on Friday with the news the Firestone Indy Lights champion will co-drive the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Ford EcoBoost Riley Daytona Prototype. Ganassi’s longtime NASCAR driver, Jamie McMurray, is the fourth driver to round out the lineup alongside full-season drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas.
The second CGR car may be the better overall endurance lineup, with two of Ganassi’s full-season IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan joining new NASCAR recruit Kyle Larson and Dario Franchitti’s younger brother Marino in the No. 02 car. Larson and Karam will each be making their 24-hour race debuts.
As we hinted yesterday, 2012 IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay will return to SRT Motorsports for endurance races with Rob Bell the second endurance driver in the GTLM class SRT Viper GTS-Rs. Hunter-Reay joins full-season drivers Dominik Farnbacher and Marc Goossens in the No. 91, with Bell alongside Kuno Wittmer and Jonathan Bomarito in the No. 93.
Alex Brundle has officially been confirmed in Muscle Milk Pickett Racing’s No. 6 ORECA 03 Nissan alongside Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr. Tom Dyer joins the trio for the test. Additionally, the Pickett team has become an official partner with Nissan, and drivers from the Nismo Global Driver Exchange Program will race at further TUDOR Championship endurance races.
Per Sportscar365, John Martin will join the Frisselle brothers/Stefan Johansson/Fabien Giroix lineup in the No. 9 Action Express Racing Corvette DP for Daytona, and IMSA Prototype Lites champion Sean Rayhall will step up to a full season effort in the No. 87 BAR1 Motorsports PC car.
Here’s a list of pre-new year driver and team combinations, and a link to the Roar entry list. Meanwhile in series announcements, Tully’s Coffee has been announced as Official Coffee of the TUDOR Championship & a Proud Partner of IMSA.
Tully’s was a sponsor for the then-called Dempsey Del Piero Racing team in 2013 with proposed investment from Michael Avenatti, but Avenatti did not drive another race for the team after Monterey in May. Avenatti has resurfaced with the new GB Autosport team, which fields the No. 81 Porsche 911 GT America in the GT Daytona class, with co-drivers Damien Faulkner, Bob Faieta and Patrick Huisman.
Times from this morning’s first session are linked here, via IMSAtiming.com.
This post will be updated as further announcements roll in.
“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.
Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).
Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.
“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.
Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.
“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.
They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.
For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.
“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.
Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.
“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.
Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.
“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.
“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”
As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.
“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”