TUSC: Rolex 24 GTLM 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.

Next up in our list of class previews, the GTLM class.

GTLM CLASS

WHAT IT IS: The lead GT class. All open; no driver limitations, and the only class to allow for open tire competition (incidentally, all GTLM cars at Daytona run on Michelins). It’s the GT class that carried over from the ALMS, which features factory efforts from manufacturers. Still, marks the first time any of these cars will be competing in the 24-hour race. SRT (2013), Porsche (2013) and Ferrari (2011-’13) have competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with their current model cars.

WHO THEY ARE: 11 cars strong, from six different manufacturers, driven by a mix of sports car veterans and IndyCar interlopers.

A QUICK BREAKDOWN: Corvette Racing (No. 3/4 Corvette C7.R), BMW Team RLL (No. 55/56 BMW Z4 GTLM), SRT Motorsports (No. 91/93 SRT Viper GTS-R) and Porsche North America (No. 911/912 Porsche 911 RSR) have two cars apiece. There’s two Ferraris, one apiece from Krohn Racing (No. 57) and Risi Competizione (No. 62), and a single Aston Martin from the Prodrive-run AMR factory squad (No. 97).

Porsche was quick at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test; the manufacturer went 1-2 at Le Mans last year, in a 24-hour race that runs a little different than Daytona. Corvette seeks a debut win with the new C7. SRT made large performance strides in its first full season in 2013; BMW was great on handling circuits but struggled for top end speed; Ferrari and Aston Martin are the under-the-radar wild cards.

WHO TO WATCH: Too many stars to name, to be honest. Any of the drivers has the ability – whether consistently over several stints or for short bursts – to star. The privateer Krohn entry is the only car of the 11 without a realistic shot at winning, and it would not be a surprise to see three different manufacturers on the podium.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.