Photo: Tony DiZinno

Roar Before the Rolex 24 preview, pre-test notes

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – “Spring break” isn’t traditionally until March, but the kickoff to spring – or at least a break from the dreary weather that populates most of the country in January – comes this weekend with the annual Roar Before the Rolex 24, the warmup act for the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona on Jan. 28-29.

It’s an interesting test because no one really knows each other’s hand. A fail safe is meant to be in place by IMSA’s data collection system, which is designed to monitor each car’s outright performance in the hope that the fear of sandbagging – not giving outright 100 percent performance – is alleviated.

As such, the Roar isn’t necessarily a guaranteed determination of outright pace going into the Rolex 24, but it does provide a baseline of things to look for later this month when all the chips are on the line, and the Rolex watches will be awarded, for the season opener of both the full IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season and the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup.

Some story lines to watch and observations of note are below:

THE FIRST TRUE TEST OF DPi VS. LMP2

Inevitably and invariably, even though both new prototype solutions (IMSA’s Daytona Prototype international and the worldwide for ACO-spec LMP2 chassis) are debuting simultaneously and under the Prototype category, equalizing two entirely separate platforms remains one of the bigger challenges.

An adjusted Balance of Performance table released on Wednesday should give the DPis (Cadillac DPi.V-R, Mazda RT24-P, Nissan Onroak DPi) a bit more power as the LMP2-spec cars are the baseline for BoP.

The joy and beauty, perhaps, is that certain cars will do better at certain tracks. Ultimate performance is still to come from the new beasts, and quick discussions with drivers from all three DPi models is that Daytona will only be the start of the journey in terms of pace and reliability. The LMP2-spec cars are built to the 2017 regulations from the existing constructors, and how well the five LMP2 cars (3 Oreca 07s, 1 Riley Mk. 30 and 1 Ligier JS P217) get on with the same engine yet different bodywork and aero, while also in the hands of newer teams, will be fascinating to watch.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING WHEN IT COMES TO RIDES… 

The most unfortunate news of the week thus far involves Spencer Pumpelly, last year’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ST class champion, multiple-time GT class winner at the Rolex 24 and inarguably regarded as one of the top GT drivers in North America.

Through no fault of his own, Pumpelly is now left sidelined at the worst possible time for this year’s Rolex 24, as Change Racing announced late Wednesday his spot would be taken in the full-time lineup by Jeroen Mul, a Lamborghini-supported driver, as lead driver in the No. 16 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 alongside Corey Lewis, Brett Sandberg and Kaz Grala.

At the last minute with the likelihood that financial help came to Change with this change, Mul now has a seat that was earmarked for Pumpelly. It’s not Mul’s fault, nor is it the team’s for making the call it needed to do what it needed to do.

However, the timing is abysmal because it leaves Pumpelly almost no time left in order to find a spot for the Rolex 24. Most GTD seats are filled and while there are a handful of others available, Pumpelly’s problem now is the next dilemma – he’s a Gold-rated driver, and that would mean he could only go to a team where a Gold-rated vacancy exists. That means he’d have to be the second Platinum or Gold-rated driver in either a four or five-driver lineup; a car cannot carry more than two Platinum or Gold-rated drivers within the class.

This is eerily similar to last November, when Pumpelly was told by Park Place Motorsports he wouldn’t be retained for 2016, this despite being a major cog in Park Place winning that year’s season-ending Petit Le Mans. Park Place acquired a new Porsche 911 GT3 R for 2016, and with it came Porsche veteran Joerg Bergmeister in his place. Again, no one begrudges the likable and talented Bergmeister, and fortunately for Pumpelly, he found an opportunity with Change a month later.

Pumpelly is not alone when it comes to those pounding the pavement this weekend, but his lack of a seat considering his resume, ability, feedback and attitude can help any program he would join speaks volumes about the state of the class at the moment. His class, however, shone through in two tweets, thanking Change for the opportunity regardless:

Pumpelly’s unfortunate new position leads nicely to the next point:

ONSLAUGHT OF THE FACTORY DRIVERS IN GTD

The eight manufacturers in GTD (Audi, Acura, Lexus, Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG, BMW, Aston Martin) have a bevy of factory drivers. Of those eight, only three (Porsche, Ferrari, BMW) also have a corresponding GT Le Mans program, and thus a place for more of their factory drivers.

That means the rest are placed into GTD, which has a two-pronged effect. The first is that it raises the caliber of the class because it provides a factory presence among most cars on the grid, while the second is that it then reduces the number of opportunities for North American sports car veteran “hired guns,” who make a living at least partially – if not almost entirely – from driving race cars.

It’s easier to count the cars on the grid where there is not a factory driver placed somewhere, as either the lead pro driver or as the Platinum/Gold-rated fourth driver. Consider the likes of Mul, Paolo Ruberti, Andrea Caldarelli, Mirko Bortolotti (Lamborghini), Sam Bird (Ferrari), Adam Christodoulou and Thomas Jaeger (Mercedes-AMG), Pierre Kaffer (Audi), Patrick Long (Porsche), so on and so forth, and you’re seeing that spots reserved for would be “hired guns” are now going to those drivers employed by the factory first.

Long and Kaffer excepted, none have much in the way of full-season North American experience, and the same two plus Bird are not well known in America, except to the hardest of hardcore fans. Again, it’s no knock on them personally, but it’s painfully obvious to witness how many factory supported or extra star drivers are there for one-offs in place of those who’d ordinarily be in contention for seats, and who’ve spent years in North American sports car paddocks.

That then has an additional knock-on effect where the remaining vacancy is one for a Silver-rated driver, which creates more competition among the Silver or Bronze-rated drivers for the remaining handful of seats. Inevitably there are more of these drivers – because strangely, getting downgraded makes you more valuable to potential teams – than there are seats available.

THE WATCH FOR NEW LIVERIES

The Roar provides a great opportunity to study and memorize the new-for-2017 liveries, or in some cases, same liveries just updated to 2017 cars and models. Not all teams are in their finalized liveries yet this test – Tequila Patron ESM for instance will reveal its livery after the Roar – but most will be.

OTHER PRE-ROAR THURSDAY NOTES

  • Speaking of factory drivers, although not formally confirmed, Michael Christensen’s name was listed on the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R alongside the quartet of Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare, Michael and Carlos de Quesada. Christensen would be the second Porsche factory driver placed into GTD (Long with CORE autosport).
  • Other names that appeared today on cars that weren’t on the entry list: Giancarlo Fisichella and James Calado (No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE), Marco Sorensen (No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3), Roberto Pampanini, Christoph Lenz, Milos Pavlovic (No. 61 GRT Grasser Race Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3). Turner Motorsport (No. 97 BMW M6 GT3) and DAC Motorsports (No. 18 Lamborghini Huracán GT3) were the only two cars present in the paddock with no drivers listed whatsoever. Expect one other change to show up soon for another GTD car.
  • Of the two U.S.-based Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GTs, the No. 66 car can be distinguished with a white windshield banner with black font and red ends, while the No. 67 car is the opposite – black windshield banner and white font. The U.K.-based Nos. 68 and 69 cars should appear with their windshield colors on Friday.

WeatherTech Championship practice runs from 10:20 a.m. to 12:05 p.m., and 3 to 5:30 p.m. ET on Friday. The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge also has two sessions, with the first starting at 9 a.m.

GoDaddy to sponsor Patrick in ‘Danica Double’ at Daytona, Indy — now all she needs are rides

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By The Associated Press

Danica Patrick is going back to green.

GoDaddy Green, to be exact – a fitting color for her farewell tour.

The company will sponsor Patrick in the upcoming “Danica Double” that will close out her racing career, The Associated Press has learned. Patrick has no ride yet for next month’s Daytona 500 or the Indianapolis 500 in May, but she now has the financial backing to pull it off.

This time around, the original GoDaddy Girl will symbolize the new core mission of the company that helped make her one of the world’s most recognizable athletes.

“There’s this great story: I left IndyCar with GoDaddy on my car, I started NASCAR with GoDaddy on my car, I’m most recognized as the GoDaddy green car and driver, and so to finish up my career that way feels appropriate,” Patrick told the AP from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Her final race will be the Indy 500, an appropriate choice because it was “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” that rocketed Patrick and GoDaddy into pop culture notoriety.

GoDaddy and Patrick grew up together. The company switched series with her and marketed her as a strong, sexy woman in 13 Super Bowl commercials – a record appearance for celebrities. Now, the company is most interested in Patrick the budding businesswoman who is firmly closing the door on her racing career and rebranding herself as an entrepreneur . She has a book out, an apparel line, a wine label and confirmed to AP this week that she’s dating Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“Our goals are so well-aligned,” Barb Rechterman, the chief marketing officer of GoDaddy, told AP. “She’s passionate, tenacious and creative just like so many of our customers who are also looking to leverage the power of the internet and turn their `side hustle’ into a full-time business. Danica absolutely epitomizes the heart of our GoDaddy customers.”

Prepare to hear a lot about the “side hustle” as GoDaddy climbs aboard the so-far fledgling “Danica Double.”

Patrick announced in November she would end her driving career with the Daytona 500 and Indy 500, but didn’t have a deal completed for either race. Still doesn’t. Yet somehow, Patrick always figures a way to get what she wants. Talks ended with Chip Ganassi Racing about a possible ride, and late last month, Patrick said, she called former GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons and asked about a reunion.

GoDaddy has rebranded since it last teamed with Patrick. The company now touts itself as “the world’s largest cloud platform dedicated to small, independent ventures,” and there’s no better spokeswoman than Patrick, who is in the next chapter of her life and her brand.

GoDaddy pulled out of racing after the 2015 season, and Patrick hasn’t had the same level of funding and marketing support since. Patrick has slowly reshaped her image, first into a Instagram model and is now a full-blown lifestyle guru. She realized – at the age of 35 – she was on her own.

She and GoDaddy aligned for a splashy move into NASCAR, where she was glamorous off the track but only mediocre on it. Through all of this, she was married, divorced, spent five years dating fellow driver and competitor Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and then seemed to find herself through a tailored diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

She is cutting the cord on racing after Indy, and her focus is on a sense of well-being far away from the track.

“Their business is so perfectly paired to what is going on with mine, so when we sat down and met, it was like, `Let’s talk about our business. Let’s talk about the messaging. How does this work?”‘ Patrick said. “And this is undeniably perfect for both of us. Not only is it a huge two races and the biggest two races of the year, but on top of that, you have so much `side hustle’ going on, and all the messaging and our brands, and where we are going is so perfectly paired.”w

GoDaddy can help Patrick move on to whatever it is for racing’s former “It Girl.” The company will help her streamline her online presence. Patrick, for the company, is back as a neon green-and-yellow symbol to all the wannabe entrepreneurs chasing dreams.

She’ll get those rides, too. Patrick said she knows she will because she believes she will.

“That’s just the way the universe works,” she said. “You have to ask for what you want. Things have taken a long time with this, but you just have to go with the flow on these things. The universe is not on your time schedule.”

More AP auto racing: https://racing.ap.org/