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.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.