IMSA Daytona 24 Hours Auto Racing

TUSC: Pre-Rolex 24 Posts Recap

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So, a lot has happened over the winter prior to today’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Luckily, we tried to cover most of it, in the lead up to the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series opener.

Here’s a post recap:

Others linked via TUSC tag, here.

2017 Rolex 24 car-by-car preview: P/PC

No. 81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07 and No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07 and No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno takes a look through the entries for the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, car-by-car. Here’s a look through the two prototype classes, Prototype and Prototype Challenge. Roar Before the Rolex 24 times are listed.

With 12 cars in P that are all new and five in PC that are in their final year of eligibility, the prototype classes span the generations of recent sports car designs, teams, and lineups.

PROTOTYPE

Daytona Prototype international (DPi) spec cars

No. 5 Cadillac DPi-V.R. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 5 Cadillac DPi-V.R. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing (Action Express Racing)
Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, Filipe Albuquerque
Roar Time: 1:38.693 (5)

Outlook: On what should be a better playing field for the debuting Cadillac DPi, the No. 5 Action Express team seeks a return to winning this race for the first time in three years.

No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing (Action Express Racing)
Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Dane Cameron, Eric Curran, Seb Morris, Mike Conway
Roar Time: 1:38.902 (6)

Outlook: The time is right for the No. 31 car to finally contend at Daytona since it hasn’t in years past. Defending IMSA champs Cameron and Curran enter at the top of their games; Conway should star in his Rolex debut while Sunoco Challenge winner Morris, Andy Meyrick’s protégé, is the wild card.

No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing
Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Jordan Taylor, Ricky Taylor, Max Angelelli, Jeff Gordon
Roar Time: 1:38.951 (8)

Outlook: After a rash of near misses and heartache, is this finally the year for the second generation of Taylor brothers to break through at Daytona? Gordon is the star guest driver here, and how close he is to the pace after a 10-year race layoff may determine their final outcome.

No. 55 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 55 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 55 Mazda Motorsports
Car: Mazda RT24-P
Drivers: Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez, Spencer Pigot
Roar Time: 1:38.363 (2)

Outlook: New car but the same lineup for this Mazda trio, who won’t lack for pace on their own. Suspension issues interrupted their Roar; reliability is also a key target for the same AER engine that continues into 2017.

No. 70 Mazda Motorsports
Car: Mazda RT24-P
Drivers: Joel Miller, Tom Long, James Hinchcliffe
Roar Time: 1:39.574 (10)

Outlook: Take the above description and copy and paste it here, except with a Machine Gray livery rather than Soul Red. The “Mayor of Hinchtown” makes a welcome return to Mazda for a fifth time, after a year’s hiatus.

Photo: Tequila Patron ESM
Photo: Tequila Patron ESM

No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM
Car: Nissan Onroak DPi
Drivers: Ryan Dalziel, Scott Sharp, Pipo Derani, Brendon Hartley
Roar Time: 1:39.654 (12)

Outlook: While it’s Derani and Sharp that return as defending champion co-drivers, it’s likely Derani and Dalziel – back Stateside full-time with ESM after a one-year detour to VISIT FLORIDA Racing – who will carry this car’s pace and hopes. The car doesn’t have a ton of miles and may struggle initially.

No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM
Car: Nissan Onroak DPi
Drivers: Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek, Bruno Senna, Brendon Hartley
Roar Time: 1:39.608 (11)

Outlook: Senna and Hartley are the impressive new additions here alongside the other two defending champion co-drivers, “JVO” and Brown. Hartley’s Daytona history is mixed with only one P5, last year, while Senna will look to star in what is, surprisingly, his Rolex 24 debut.

LMP2 spec cars

No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing
Car: Riley Mk. 30-Gibson
Drivers: Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens, Rene Rast
Roar Time: 1:38.922 (7)

Outlook: Last year was a nightmare year for VISIT FLORIDA at Daytona with a tried-and-true car. More new elements enter with a new car (the Riley-Gibson), drivers (the admittedly fast van der Zande and Rast) and director of race operations (Michael Harvey), who if they can mesh quickly could produce a result.

No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports
Car: Ligier JS P217-Gibson
Drivers: Tom Kimber-Smith, Jose Gutierrez, Michael Guasch, RC Enerson
Roar Time: 1:38.596 (4)

Outlook: The car, class and most of the lineup is new. But Bobby Oergel runs a good program and won this race in PC before just two years ago. The team once again fields a similarly under-the-radar lineup, particularly with sports car debutante Enerson alongside expected pacesetter “TKS.” A podium is possible here if the car holds.

No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports
Car: Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Stephen Simpson, Mikhail Goikhberg, Chris Miller, Mathias Beche
Roar Time: 1:39.167 (9)

Outlook: John Church’s team steps up to Prototype and will find the going tougher here than it was in PC, where the team won last year. Finishing must be the first goal here for what will be a likable underdog entry in class, with Beche the all but certain car pacesetter.

No. 13 Rebellion Racing
Car: Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Nick Heidfeld, Neel Jani, Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin
Roar Time: 1:38.408 (3)

Outlook: Rebellion makes its U.S. return and Daytona debut with, surprisingly, three Rolex 24 rookies in its all-star lineup of four drivers (Sarrazin has one start in 2013). Whether the undoubted pace can translate in the race week remains to be seen.

No. 81 DragonSpeed
Car: Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Nicolas Lapierre, Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman, Loic Duval
Roar Time: 1:38.343 (1)

Outlook: Elton Julian’s team knows how to run endurance races and had some success in the ELMS. Fourth at Sebring was an impressive result last year, and in some respects they may have wanted more. A podium is more than possible for the team that was the Roar pacesetter.

PC

No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Outlook: The swan song for the PC class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona will see a new team add its name to the list of class winners, a guaranteed fourth in as many years as CORE autosport, PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and JDC/Miller Motorsports have won the last three. With those three teams now elsewhere on the WeatherTech Championship grid, it’s left to the Peter Baron, Brian Alder and Brent O’Neill-led stalwarts to make up the five-car grid.

While the PC class lacks the overall depth and star power in the three other classes, there’s still some intrigue. Performance Tech’s quartet was meant to be all 24 years of age or younger with French the only Rolex 24 veteran, although that changed following the Roar. Baron has done his usual star finding to spread between his two cars at Starworks. And at BAR1, past Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice returns to active competition after five years out, Johnny Mowlem makes one final drive at Daytona, and young guns Trent Hindman and Gustavo Yacaman will be keen to impress in their opportunities.

Expect the class to very much be a battle of survival, but it will be cool to see one of these three team owners rewarded for their persistence and dedication.

No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports
Drivers: James French, Kyle Masson, Pato O’Ward, Nick Boulle
Roar Time: 1:41.888 (1)

No. 8 Starworks Motorsport
Drivers: Ben Keating, John Falb, Chris Cumming, Remo Ruscitti, Robert Wickens
Roar Time: 1:43.320 (3)

No. 88 Starworks Motorsport
Drivers: Scott Mayer, Alex Popow, James Dayson, Sebastian Saavedra, Sean Rayhall
Roar Time: 1:44.089 (5)

No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports
Drivers: Buddy Rice, Don Yount, Gustavo Yacaman, Chapman Ducote, Mark Kvamme
Roar Time: 1:43.865 (4)

No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports
Drivers: Johnny Mowlem, Tom Papadopoulos, Trent Hindman, Adam Merzon, David Cheng
Roar Time: 1:42.701 (2)

First taste of tantalizing new prototype battle set for Rolex 24

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No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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The sports car world’s first race glimpse of the new Daytona Prototype international and new-for-2017 LMP2-spec chassis will come at this week’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, where months of testing for both type of cars will help determine who draws first blood out of the gate in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

A 12-car Prototype class grid features seven of the DPis, three Cadillac DPi-V.Rs, two Mazda RT24-Ps and two Nissan Onroak DPis, while the LMP2-spec cars include three Oreca 07s and a single Ligier JS P217 and Riley Mk. 30 chassis apiece. The LMP2-spec cars all have the spec Gibson engine while DPis allow manufacturers to run both their engine and designed bodywork over one of the four base chassis.

The last time a sea change this big came to the Rolex 24 occurred in 2003, with the debut of the first iteration Daytona Prototypes. The tube-framed chassis defined the future for the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, with a field of six at the first race growing to 30 just three years later in 2006.

Of course that first run in 2003 was always going to be littered with mechanical maladies and by the time the race was over, TRG had captured a shock but well-executed overall win with a GT class Porsche 911 GT3.

DPi PRIMER

The Cadillac and the Mazda edge ahead of the Nissan Onroak in terms of test miles prior to this year’s Rolex 24, and haven’t sacrificed performance in the process.

Ricky and Jordan Taylor. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Ricky and Jordan Taylor. Photo courtesy of IMSA

For Ricky and Jordan Taylor, who’ve shared the Konica Minolta-backed Corvette DP for Wayne Taylor Racing the last few years, the chance to develop a manufacturer-based DPi from scratch has provided them a new dose of experience to their burgeoning careers.

“Even compared to the P2 car I drove in Le Mans (an open-top Morgan Judd) in 2014, this is a totally different planet,” Ricky Taylor told NBC Sports. “It’s such a huge evolution from P2 cars in the past. It’ll likely take a season to get up to speed and how it responds to changes, how it drives, lot of learning curves. How stiff the car it is, how responsive. The power is nice obviously. It’s been a pleasure to drive.

“(Dallara’s) main department is the aero department. So with all the work they do being aero driven in P1, F3, GP2, F1, IndyCar… everything is so aero driven. With their body, it can stand out what they can do.”

These two share the No. 10 Cadillac for Wayne Taylor Racing with Max Angelelli, who was instrumental in working with Dallara throughout the design and test process, and a certain fourth driver who may generate some buzz this Rolex 24 in Jeff Gordon.

At Action Express Racing, meanwhile, defending IMSA Prototype champions Dane Cameron and Eric Curran have their first new car to develop in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Cadillac. Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa, in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac, have driven a bevy of prototypes throughout their career.

Yet it might be their extra drivers – Filipe Albuquerque (No. 5) and Mike Conway (No. 31) – who add the most help to the full-season duos at the Rolex. Both have raced full-time in the FIA World Endurance Championship and have raced both LMP1 and LMP2-spec cars, with Albuquerque (Audi) and Conway (Toyota) having had the chance to make their mark understanding how those cars work.

Conway, who along with Sunoco Challenge winner Seb Morris make their Rolex 24 debuts as extras in the No. 31 car, described how this Cadillac drives compared to the LMP1 Toyota he races full-time and the LMP2-spec Oreca 03 and Oreca 05s he’s raced in the past. As you’d expect, the DPi seems to fit well between the two.

“I’ve not done loads of laps, but enough to learn the track and car,” Conway told NBC Sports. “It’s an LMP2 car with more power really, so I knew what to expect. It’s more just learning the tires.”

At Mazda, the RT24-Ps have the base Riley Multimatic chassis with the Mazda-designed aero styling as the bodywork. Speed gaps from the December test were erased at the Roar and the Mazda actually topped the speed traps there, with Jonathan Bomarito in at over 197 mph.

Tom Long and his Long Road Racing team/family have been integral parts of Mazda’s development work over the years, mainly in the MX-5 platform including the new Global MX-5 Cup car which premiered last year. Although the platform is new, Long hailed Mazda’s aspects of continuity for its new car.

No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“It helps that we have the same engine package as before, so we do have that on our side,” said Long, who will share the No. 70 Castrol Edge Machine Gray Mazda with Joel Miller and James Hinchcliffe. “Having that continuity between the driver lineup, crew chiefs and engineers helps so much. We learn together; we’re already ahead in that standpoint. That’s the Mazda mantra to never stop challenging. We’ll push forward.”

The Mazdas fought through suspension issues at the Roar but will look to press on for the rest of the month. The No. 70 is Mazda’s Chassis 1 while the No. 55 Soul Red Mazda, driven by Bomarito, Tristan Nunez and Spencer Pigot, is the Chassis 3. The lone base Riley Mk. 30, an LMP2-spec car, is entered by VISIT FLORIDA Racing, with Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens and Rene Rast sharing the No. 90 Gibson-powered entry.

The new Nissan premiered publicly in December. Despite the car’s outward appearance looking similar, save for the GT-R inspired nose assembly, more is different under the bodywork to clearly differentiate it from the Ligier JS P217 base chassis.

No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“The car carryover is actually nothing from last year,” Ryan Dalziel, co-driver of the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan with Scott Sharp and Pipo Derani, explained. “It’s new regulations and the ’16 Ligier was obviously based on the ’14 rules. So we were one of the few cars in P2 not built with a narrow tub.

“Everything is new, from the suspension and the like. Really no carryover parts. Between the WEC-spec and our spec there’s a massive difference in powerplants. The differential, rear end, driveshafts; basically the whole rear end is mechanically different. Add in the different routing on the sidepods, which is a lot of the reason why the sidepods are different. It’s not so much styling cues as intercoolers, but radiators for the turbo motor. That said, it still feels fundamentally like the previous Ligier and it means they’re using what they’ve learned.”

That No. 2 car is alongside the team’s sister car, the No. 22 entry, driven by Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek, Bruno Senna and Brendon Hartley.

LMP2 PRIMER

No. 81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07 and No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07 and No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The base Ligier is the progression from the Ligier JS P2, which in its third year in 2016 had a banner campaign winning at Daytona and Sebring with ESM, and Petit Le Mans with Michael Shank Racing. The Ligier was unlucky to have not won at Le Mans in three tries.

Ethan Bregman, North American Market Manager, Onroak, explained the design and test process for one of the four new LMP2 chassis for 2017, the new Ligier.

“I believe for us, our aero work is an advantage,” he told NBC Sports at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in December. “Our worry was (DPi) manufacturer styling could slow the cars down. We’ve done 2000-plus runs in wind tunnel, plus CFD, so there’s been huge amount of time optimizing this car.

“Compared to the DPi model, the P2 cars will remain the baseline with the spec-Gibson (engine) and the DPis BoP’d to match. The DPis are great structure for manufacturer involvement. They can put their branding behind it. But at same time, a privateer can get a P2 and have it competitive, because they’re there.”

The lone privateer Ligier entry comes in the capable hands of PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, which steps up from PC into Prototype this year. Bobby Oergel’s team knows how to win endurance races, having captured Daytona, Sebring and Petit Le Mans in recent years, and has a sneaky good lineup assembled with Tom Kimber-Smith, Jose Gutierrez, Michael Guasch and sports car debutante RC Enerson.

That saves Oreca for last, although their pace at the Roar should have put them much higher. Three teams are running the Oreca 07, in full-season entrants JDC/Miller Motorsports (Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg, Chris Miller, Mathias Beche) and partial season teams Rebellion Racing (Neel Jani, Nick Heidfeld, Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin) and DragonSpeed (Ben Hanley, Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval, Henrik Hedman), the latter two teams having led all but one of the Roar sessions.

As the logical evolution from the previous generation Oreca 05, the new Oreca is quick out of the box and well-honed in development. Jani delivered good first impressions.

“To be honest, I’m not reading too much into it yet. We’ve just been focusing on getting to know the car – it’s completely new,” he said, via IMSA, at the Roar. “Working with the team’s engineers, we’ve made a lot of changes on the car. There’s still some room to improve, but that’s normal. But I don’t think everyone else is really showing what they can do. The main thing for us was working on reliability, and so far it’s great – knock on wood.”

The technical variations in all six car combinations are part of the allure and draw for the race, and the intrigue in wondering which car and team will nail the combination of pace, performance, patience and reliability makes this year’s prototype battle a fascinating one to watch.

Vettel rides solo en route to ROC Nations Cup win for Team Germany

ROC Nations Cup finalists Team USA NASCAR, Kurt Busch (USA) and Kyle Busch (USA) with ROC Nations Cup winner Team Germany Sebastian Vettel (GER) during the ROC Nations Cup on Sunday 22 January 2017 at Marlins Park, Miami, Florida, USA
© Race of Champions
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Four-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel led Team Germany to its seventh Nations Cup victory at the Race of Champions on Sunday in Miami, picking up his first major honor of the 2017 racing season.

Vettel saw his individual Race of Champions title defence end in the group stage on Saturday as IndyCar star Juan Pablo Montoya took a shock victory on debut.

Vettel had never previously appeared at the Race of Champions without winning one of the two titles on offer, having claimed six straight Nations Cup wins alongside Michael Schumacher between 2007 and 2012.

Following a frightening crash in Saturday’s event, Sauber F1 racer Pascal Wehrlein was forced to withdraw from the event, leaving Vettel to represent Team Germany alone on Sunday.

However, the Ferrari driver made the most of the opportunity, winning all eight of his match-ups en route to an unlikely victory.

Vettel topped Group B after beating Tom Kristensen, Petter Solberg, Jenson Button and David Coulthard, sending Team Nordic and Team GB – the latter out to defend its teams’ title – home in the group stage.

Vettel faced off against Team Colombia in the semi-finals, facing Saturday winner Montoya and coming out on top. The German completed a 2-0 victory after easing past Gabby Chaves in the second heat.

The nature of the draw guaranteed either Team USA or Team Canada would reach the final, with three American teams featuring in Group A. Team USA IndyCar and Team USA NASCAR both made it through, the former courtesy of a last-ditch victory for Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi.

Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay faced off against NASCAR brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch, with the match tied at 1-1 ahead of the decider. Kurt Busch appeared to jump the start, moving into a lead that remained to the checkered flag, securing Team USA NASCAR a place in the final in a controversial manner.

Vettel managed to see off Kurt Busch in the first heat of the final, but a loss in revs gave Kyle Busch an advantage off the line in the second match-up. However, Vettel was able to claw it back and cross the line ahead, wrapping up a 2-0 victory and Germany’s seventh Nations Cup win.

“I had a better day than yesterday,” Vettel said. “It’s a bit of a shame that Pascal is missing, but I did my best.

“In the last round against Kyle I was really nervous. The car nearly stalled. But then I came back so really, really happy.”

Nico Rosberg: More to life than driving around in circles

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates finishing second on the podium and winning the World Drivers Championship during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg says there is more to life than “driving around in circles” after retiring from Formula 1 at the end of last season.

Rosberg clinched his maiden F1 drivers’ title in Abu Dhabi at the end of November before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from racing five days later.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this week, Rosberg opened up on his decision to call it quits.

“To do sport at the highest level, it is really 110 per cent focus that is required and there is no room for any compromise whatsoever,” Rosberg said.

“Everything else is secondary and far behind, and that’s even family. I have a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter now. Friends and any other fun or exciting projects – everything is way, way behind.

“So, there’s a time for everything and I find that life has more to offer than driving around in circles and it just felt like the right moment. I want to go for new challenges.

“Of course, there is the side now of having more time for family, more time for friends and being in control of my own life as well.

“For the last 21 years of racing, even starting as a 10-year-old, the whole season is planned by other people, telling you where you need to be and especially in F1 – it’s really, really intense. And now all of a sudden I have this complete freedom.”

Rosberg said that he plans to spend some time focusing on charity work, particularly helping children.

“One of the avenues that I want to go down is to give something back, find something that really touches my heart,” Rosberg said.

“Now I have the time, I’m going to go exploring different avenues. I’m going to go to Germany and visit children who are quite ill, especially of the age of children who are really happy to see me.

“I would really like to go and see them at the age where I can give them a great time.”