TUSC: Rolex 24 GTD class preview

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The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship premieres this weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona. We’ll have sporadic posts and updates for the season opener of the unified series, which brings together the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series.

Last in our list of class previews is the GTD class.

GTD CLASS

WHAT IT IS: The second GT class, but the most heavily-populated class in the field. GTD, standing for GT Daytona compared to GTLM for GT Le Mans. Open cars, Continental tires, and like PC, requires at least one Silver/Bronze driver for three-driver lineups and two for four or five-driver lineups. SRT, BMW, Ferrari and Aston Martin have GT3-spec or close versions of their GTE-spec cars in this class; Porsche has a brand new customer car built specifically for the TUDOR Championship while Audi features five strong entries to round out the class.

WHO THEY ARE: 29 cars strong, from six different manufacturers, driven by a mix of sports car veterans, IndyCar interlopers and gentlemen drivers.

A QUICK BREAKDOWN: Porsche leads the field with 12 of the 29 entries; there are eight Ferraris and five Audis to make up 25 of the 29 cars. Two Aston Martins and a single BMW and SRT Viper apiece make up the grid.

Other than the pair of Muehlner Motorsports America Porsches, which have a primarily gentlemen lineup, or several of the Ferraris, which feature the same strategy, there’s upwards of 20 cars likely to battle for even top-10 positions in class. Picking a winner from there is nigh on impossible.

WHO TO WATCH: A mix of factory drivers, talented Silvers (who may be rated lower than they deserve, due to results), and emerging talents moonlighting from overseas all have the potential to star at Daytona.

In no specific order, some of the names you’ll likely be hearing from over 24 hours… Leh Keen and/or Shane van Gisbergen (No. 22), Marco Holzer (No. 23), Marc Lieb and/or Andrew Davis (No. 27), Jeroen Bleekemolen (No. 33), Filipe Albuquerque (No. 35), Andy Lally and/or Wolf Henzler (No. 44), Spencer Pumpelly and/or Markus Winkelhock (No. 45), Oliver Jarvis (No. 46), Rene Rast (No. 48), Davide Rigon (No. 49), Matt Griffin (No. 51), Jan Heylen (No. 58), Toni Vilander (No. 63), Timo Bernhard (No. 71), Mikhail Aleshin (No. 72), Kevin Estre and/or Connor De Phillippi (No. 73), Damien Faulkner (No. 81), Dane Cameron (No. 94) and James Davison (No. 007).

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.