No. 66 Ford GT and No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM. Photo courtesy of IMSA

2017 Rolex 24 car-by-car preview: GTLM

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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 first of two GT classes, the GT Le Mans class. Roar Before the Rolex 24 times are listed.

An 11-car grid features one new car (the new mid-rear-engined Porsche 911 RSR), one set of new entries (the pair of Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GTs, to make a four-car total phalanx of Fords) and seven remaining leftover entries from last year from Corvette, Ford, BMW and Ferrari.

No. 4 Corvette C7.R. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 4 Corvette C7.R. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 3 Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Mike Rockenfeller
Roar Time: 1:44.738 (7)

Outlook: The No. 3 Corvette took the 2015 Rolex 24 win, although that seems a relative eternity ago after Garcia’s nail-biting loss to Gavin 12 months ago. The trio on the Danny Binks-led No. 3 car would be a popular winner, if it could deliver Corvette Racing its third straight Rolex 24 win.

No. 4 Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler
Roar Time: 1:44.717 (5)

Outlook: The defending race and class series champions return an unchanged lineup and car that is once again one of the favorites, albeit hoping to win by a slightly bigger margin this go-around than the 0.034 sliver of a second last year. Fassler was lucky to escape a fuel-induced fire that ignited the car at the Roar.

No. 19 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 19 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 19 BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M6 GTLM
Drivers: Bill Auberlen, Alexander Sims, Augusto Farfus, Bruno Spengler
Roar Time: 1:44.764 (8)

Outlook: It’ll be interesting to see how new BMW recruit Sims gets on, and to see what the reaction is to the John Baldessari-designed “Art Car” livery that adorns this entry.

No. 24 BMW Team RLL
Car: BMW M6 GTLM
Drivers: John Edwards, Martin Tomczyk, Kuno Wittmer, Nicky Catsburg
Roar Time: 1:44.692 (3)

Outlook: Proof that test times mean nothing, BMW was one and three at the Roar last year and exactly nowhere at the Rolex 24. It was a frustrating 2016 campaign for the team and this new lineup, with Tomczyk and Catsburg as new additions, look to bolster Edwards and Wittmer in this entry.

No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 62 Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander, James Calado
Roar Time: 1:44.705 (4)

Outlook: Risi enters with a significantly better turn of fortune this Rolex 24 compared to last year when they were scrambling to get their new 488 GTE. With the team scoring a popular win at Petit Le Mans to end 2016, look for them to come out firing with the good all-‘rounder of a car and a lineup that’s achieved numerous 24-hour wins at Le Mans before.

All four Ford GTs. Photo: Wes Duenkel/Ford Performance
All four Ford GTs. Photo: Wes Duenkel/Ford Performance

No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
Drivers: Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais
Roar Time: 1:44.719 (6)

Outlook: This trio got the 24-hour win that counted just a bit more in 2016 at Le Mans, and are much better prepared for this year’s Rolex 24 after a year’s worth of testing, running and reliability pitfalls now hopefully behind them. Bourdais and Hand have past overall wins at Daytona and look for class wins to match.

No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
Drivers: Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon
Roar Time: 1:44.380 (1)

Outlook: It’s a slight change for the team that nearly won the GTLM title last year overall with Dixon now moving into the GT at Daytona after running DPs for years. Never had a chance to contend last year after early reliability woes, and should be much better sorted this go-around.

No. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK
Car: Ford GT
Drivers: Olivier Pla, Stefan Muecke, Billy Johnson
Roar Time: 1:44.808 (9)

Outlook: Pla’s bounced around various prototypes in recent years at Daytona (OAK, Krohn and Shank all in Onroak chassis), Muecke primarily in Astons before making his first Ford start last year, and Johnson has always seemingly got last-minute deals without much of a chance to showcase himself in the factory GT ranks. This is perhaps the most well-rounded sports car-only lineup of Ganassi’s quartet this month.

No. 69 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK
Car: Ford GT
Drivers: Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell, Tony Kanaan
Roar Time: 1:44.645 (7)

Outlook: As the only one of Ganassi’s four lineups that’s new as a collective unit this year, this is likely the slightest of underdogs among the Ford GT “fearsome foursome.” Tincknell’s blossomed into a star, Priaulx’s reliable and so how Kanaan gets on in his Ford GT race debut will be the target to watch.

Nos. 911 and 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR. Photo courtesy of IMSA
Nos. 911 and 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 911 Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Patrick Pilet, Dirk Werner, Fred Makowiecki
Roar Time: 1:44.874 (10)

Outlook: The first of the two mid-rear-engined new 911s features Porsche returnee and new factory driver Werner back alongside past GTLM champion Pilet, the 2014 Rolex 24 champ, and the enigmatic Makowiecki. Given the new variables, it’s hard to project a debut win for this trio.

No. 912 Porsche GT Team
Car: Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre, Richard Lietz
Roar Time: 1:45.037 (11)

Outlook: The No. 912 car ensures the No. 911 isn’t alone in new components. Audi GT3 ace Vanthoor makes his Porsche factory debut while the fast, fearless Estre has received the privilege of a full-time race seat, after mistakes occurred in his all-too-few U.S. opportunities last year. Lietz is then the Porsche factory veteran here. A podium would be a good result on debut.

NHRA shocker: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.
In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.
It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since the Charlotte race in 2008, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent and consecutive 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.
“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.
“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans.”

As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):

Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.
Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.
“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”
Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.
Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.
“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”
Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.
Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.
“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”
Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.
Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.
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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:
TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2.
Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703,
322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926,
313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.