Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Pre-Rolex 24 notes include return of Gidley back at track

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The reveal of all 55 cars competing in this weekend’s 55th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona headlined Wednesday’s activity, with all cars confirmed in their full liveries and regalia.

Meanwhile, later this week, Memo Gidley will make a triumphant return to Daytona International Speedway this week, as he and wife Mari will attend this weekend’s Rolex 24 as guests of IMSA.

Those two are among the key notes going into this weekend’s race, but not the only ones.

Gidley sustained a number of injuries in a devastating crash in the 2014 Rolex 24, the first race under the auspices of the newly merged IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Photo courtesy of IMSA

While he hasn’t raced competitively since, the likable Californian has been well on his road to recovery in the intervening three years. He’ll make a visit to the media center on Thursday and later in the week, plans to visit with doctors and staff at Halifax Health Medical Center, where he was transported after the incident and spent several days undergoing treatment for his injuries.

“Daytona is a special place for me and I’ve been wanting to get back as soon as I was healed,” Gidley said in a release. “It’s been a long recovery journey, and a big part of my motivation was to be here now. The healing has gone so well and I’ve been cleared by doctors to drive again.”

Here’s some of the other news items or quick quotes from team releases that have come in, in advance of the Rolex 24:

  • On Wednesday, the full field of 55 cars assembled for a group photo on the pit lane at Daytona. Last year’s class champions took the front row, with the remaining 51 cars filling in behind.
  • On Tuesday, Corvette Racing and SONIC Tools announced a partnership, which sees sponsorship on the team’s Corvette C7.Rs and an outlet for SONIC Tools to display and sell its line of precision-crafted tools. Corvette goes for its third straight Rolex 24 win this week, and more info on SONIC Tools’ rapid growth is linked here.
  • tristannuneztomlongMazda Motorsports has a number of nuggets it released on Tuesday. The team will have a large rice spoon (called a skakushi, pictured right) in their pit box for the Rolex 24 weekend. In Japanese culture, the spoons are talismans for good luck, victory, business prosperity and a safe household. The spoon was brought from the Miyajima Temple in Hiroshima, Japan, by drivers Tom Long and Tristan Nunez with Mazda Motorsports boss John Doonan after a recent Mazda fan festival near there. The characters on the spoon read “Certain Victory” and “Must Win.”
  • The manufacturer also revealed the number of either Mazda Road to Indy and/or Mazda Road to 24 graduates in this year’s Rolex 24; a total of 54 drivers have driven some sort of Mazda on their way up either of the parallel ladders prior to competing in the Rolex 24. Two NASCAR spotters, Tim Fedewa and Tyler Green, will join Mazda’s two primary spotters this week.
  • Speaking of spotters, Performance Tech Motorsports will have Kenton Koch back this week, albeit not in a car but only on the spotters’ stand. Koch, one of sports car racing’s up-and-coming young talents, won’t have a chance at an encore win in the PC class.
  • Interestingly, all three Cadillac DPi-V.R entries see the former Action Express Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing teams now entered as their sponsor name. The pair of AXR entries are entered as the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac and No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, respectively, while WTR’s car is the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R. Keen-eyed observers of the series will note the changes, while for Cadillac’s debut, this marks an interesting approach to have their teams identified as such.
  • AERO™ Advanced Paint Technology will have its paint on several cars, including those from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Scuderia Corsa and Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian. C360R continues with AERO in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ranks.
  • In the “as the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 GTD entry ranks turn” department, a couple quick changes occur with Brandon Gdovic (fourth driver for DAC Motorsports) and Michele Beretta (No. 61 GRT Grasser Racing Team entry, replacing Christoph Lenz) now in for the race. Grasser also comes here after racing in the Dubai 24 Hours two weeks ago.
  • Quick notes on one of the other Lamborghinis, the full-season entry from Change Racing. The team here again has the youngest driver entered in Kaz Grala, who just turned 18, and back for a second season. The team’s partnership presence comes with new support from Forza Motorsports/Turn 10 Studios, and continuing support from Monster Energy, Orion Lighting and Lamborghini Carolinas. Grala shares the No. 16 Huracán with Jeroen Mul, Corey Lewis and Brett Sandberg for one of the most youthful lineups on the grid.
  • This is the 23rd entry for Alex Job Racing in the Rolex 24, coincidentally with the team running the No. 23 Audi R8 LMS for Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo and Pierre Kaffer. Hard as this may seem to believe, this is Montecalvo’s GTD debut in the race; the Bayshore Racing driver previously raced a PC car here in 2014.
  • An interesting note from veteran motorsports journalist Jonathan Ingram about the legend that is Bob Riley: The head designers at Dallara (Luca Pignacca), ORECA (David Floury) and Onroak Automotive (Nicolas Clémençon) have a combined total of 46 years of experience – which falls five short of Bob Riley’s 51 years since the Lynx B Formula V first appeared. Including Riley Technologies, all four companies will have prototypes debuting in the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona in the new DPi era.
  • The incomparable Andy Blackmore’s designs and Spotter Guides for both the WeatherTech and Continental races is linked here and available for free download. Also free and available? IMSA Radio’s session by session broadcasts, which you can listen into via radiolemans.com.
  • Mobil 1 The Grid’s preview of the race with Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin, who edged Antonio Garcia a year ago in the thrilling battle of the two Corvette C7.Rs in GT Le Mans, is below.

More to follow as the weekend progresses. In the interim, here’s a look through our other Rolex 24 posts so far:

P/PC car-by-car preview
GTLM car-by-car preview
GTD car-by-car preview
Without a Shank seat, Allmendinger opts out of Rolex 24 pursuit
Nearly a dozen IndyCar drivers, only Gordon for NASCAR, set for Rolex 24
Four Ford GTs determined to rise to top of GTLM crop at Rolex 24
First taste of tantalizing new prototype battle set for Rolex 24
Post-Viper, the new Mercedes-AMG era begins for Bleekemolen, Keating
Handful of changes identified on Rolex 24 entry list
New GTD manufacturers add intrigue to 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona
Porsche sets sail for new voyage with new 911 RSR into 2017
TRG, Porsche reunite, Buckler looking to recapture glory once more at Rolex 24
Kanaan set for banner January with Race of Champions, Ford GT debut
Roar Before the Rolex 24 recap, notes, musings, observations
Roar Before the Rolex 24 WeatherTech, Continental test results
Jeff Gordon embracing Rolex 24 return with Taylors, Cadillac
Dario Franchitti named grand marshal for Rolex 24 at Daytona
Roar Before the Rolex 24 preview, pre-test notes

Daniel Ricciardo frustrated to crash out of home F1 qualifying

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Daniel Ricciardo made no secret of his frustration after crash out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, resigning himself to a 10th-place start for his home race on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the Melbourne weekend aiming to become the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race since the event became part of the F1 world championship in 1985.

Despite struggling with the setup on his RB13 car on Friday, Ricciardo looked poised to claim a top-five grid slot for Sunday’s race, only to lose control of his car at Turn 14 in Q3 and end the session in the wall.

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top five.”

Ever the optimist, Ricciardo said the difficult qualifying will only serve as greater motivation to fight back up the order and give his home fans a result to celebrate on Sunday.

“I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are,” Ricciardo said.

“It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow. I made it a bit more difficult for myself but it’s going to be alright.

“To get a good start in the race will be the key. I saved a set of ultra-softs in Q2, I know that not everyone in front of me has, so maybe that gives me a chance.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Valtteri Bottas disappointed with P3 start for Mercedes F1 debut

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Valtteri Bottas came away from qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix feeling disappointed despite securing third place on the grid for his first Formula 1 race as a Mercedes driver.

Bottas joined Mercedes over the winter following world champion Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, and made his first official race weekend appearance for the Silver Arrows on Friday.

The ex-Williams driver made a splash in qualifying by running teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel close, but was left to settle for third on the grid after finishing three-tenths of a second off the pole time.

“Third position is not ideal. In general I’m not happy with the result,” Bottas admitted after qualifying.

“But what I’m really happy about and proud about [is] what the team has done again with this car. I only saw a very small part of the preparation with the new car and the new era of Formula 1, and it’s really nice to see that all the work has paid off and we’re fighting at the very front.

“It seems to be very close this year, especially here. Myself I didn’t get any perfect laps in, so not that satisfied.

“Tomorrow’s the day that matters. It seems like in the race starts we’ve been quite strong. If we can keep that form I had in practice, and have a nice and clean race and get some really good points.”

Bottas’ best finish in Australia currently stands at fifth place in 2014 with Williams, with the Finn never qualifying any higher than sixth at Albert Park in his four previous attempts.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”

Hamilton buoyed by sixth Australia F1 pole, ready for tight race

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was buoyed by his charge to pole position in Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday, but is braced for a tight race at the front of the pack.

Hamilton saw off a challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to capture his sixth pole at Albert Park, and the 62nd of his F1 career.

Hamilton had doubts over Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari heading into the new year, making his charge to pole all the more meaningful as he paid tribute to the team members after qualifying.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. It’s quite amazing to come here for I think the 11th time, and it feels like it was only yesterday that I came here and had my first race here in 2007,” Hamilton said.

“I’m just incredibly proud of my team. This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone. The guys have just worked so hard to make this car what it is today.”

Despite taking pole by almost three-tenths of a second in Q3, Hamilton is braced for a close fight on Sunday with Vettel and Bottas, the latter starting his first race for Mercedes from third on the grid.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job given it’s his first qualifying session with the team. He did a great job and it’s great for Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“Looking forward to the race, it’s close between us all. As you can see, there’s going to be a tight race this year I think.

“I think tomorrow is about putting all the work that’s gone in over the winter, all the work that’s gone through testing and this whole weekend and really put it to work tomorrow.

“I’ll make sure I get a good night’s sleep and come back tomorrow stronger than ever.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET on Sunday.