Photo courtesy of IMSA

The 2017 Roar Before the Rolex 24 entry list revealed

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The unofficial kickoff to the North American road racing calendar occurs this week at Daytona International Speedway, with the annual Roar Before the Rolex 24 test, which runs from Jan. 6-8 before the Jan. 28-29 Rolex 24 at Daytona itself.

It’s the de facto “spring training” event for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, with this year’s Roar taking on a greater significance as the first public event for the debut of the series’ new Daytona Prototype international (DPi) formula, alongside the new 2017-spec LMP2 chassis.

In all, 50 cars are entered, with the biggest entry coming from the GT Daytona class. There are 12 cars in Prototype, 2 in Prototype Challenge, 11 in GT Le Mans and 25 in GT Daytona.

Despite a flurry of TBD drivers listed, many of the TBDs have already been named by their respective teams, and are just going through the formal process by IMSA to be officially added later (per IMSA: Nominated drivers that have not received their 2017 IMSA membership/license are listed as TBD).

The PC class also figures to grow from 2 cars for the Rolex 24. Right now, only BAR1 Motorsports has cars entered although both Performance Tech Motorsports and Starworks Motorsport figure to add entries.

Prototype’s dynamic dozen entries features seven DPi models, three of the new Cadillac DPi-V.Rs, with two Mazda MRT24-Ps and two Nissan Onroak DPis apiece. The remaining five entries are new-spec LMP2 cars: three Oreca 07s, one singular Riley Mk. 30 and one Ligier JS P217.

Most of the drivers have already been announced, and Jeff Gordon heads a list of star guest drivers that include plenty of aces from the IndyCar and sports car worlds.

The GTLM field sees Ford Chip Ganassi Racing going all in with four cars to attempt to topple Corvette Racing. Ganassi won at Le Mans last year while Corvette enters with a shot at a Rolex 24 three-peat. Unlike last year, Risi Competizione will make the Roar as it has its Ferrari 488 GTE (the lone Ferrari in class), while BMW Team RLL has several new drivers and Porsche GT Team has both new drivers and, more importantly, its new mid-engined normally aspirated 911.

GTD boasts the largest number of manufacturers to go along with the car count. Some of the lineups are carefully crafted to take full advantage of the controversial driver ratings system, so there’s a number of de facto all-pro lineups in a theoretically pro-am class. With the debuts of Acura, Lexus and Mercedes-AMG in GTD, how those seven cars get on compared to the returning makes and models will be interesting to watch.

The full entry list is linked here. But to fill in the TBDs, we’ll list the ones already announced by teams below:

PROTOTYPE

  • 2-Tequila Patron ESM, Pipo Derani
  • 13-Rebellion Racing, Nick Heidfeld, Stephane Sarrazin
  • 22-Tequila Patron ESM, Brendon Hartley
  • 31-Action Express Racing, Mike Conway
  • 52-PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports, Jose Gutierrez, Mike Guasch (fourth driver still TBD)
  • 81-DragonSpeed, Loic Duval, Ben Hanley
  • 85-JDC/Miller Motorsports, Mathias Beche
  • 90-Visit Florida Racing, Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens (third driver still TBD)

GT LE MANS

  • 69-Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Harry Tincknell, Tony Kanaan

GT DAYTONA

  • 14-3GT Racing, Sage Karam
  • 15-3GT Racing, Jack Hawksworth, Austin Cindric
  • 23-Alex Job Racing, Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo, Pierre Kaffer (this car not listed on the entry list, but has been announced)
  • 28-Alegra Motorsports, Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare, Michael de Quesada
  • 33-Riley Motorsports-Team AMG, Adam Christodoulou
  • 50-Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing, Cooper MacNeil, Shane van Gisbergen, Thomas Jaeger
  • 57-Stevenson Motorsports, Robin Liddell, Matt Bell (U.S.)
  • 63-Scuderia Corsa, Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen, Matteo Cressoni (fourth driver still TBD)
  • 73-Park Place Motorsports, Joerg Bergmeister (fourth driver still TBD)
  • 86-Michael Shank Racing, Jeff Segal, Ryan Hunter-Reay
  • 93-Michael Shank Racing, Graham Rahal
  • 991-TRG, Pablo Sanchez

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“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 added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

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.”

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