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

Wehrlein nonplussed by Sauber-Honda speculation

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Pascal Wehrlein is not paying any attention to speculation that Sauber’s planned Formula 1 engine deal with Honda for 2018 could be on the rocks, saying his future remains open as he focuses on his current duties with the team.

Mercedes junior Wehrlein was placed at Sauber for 2017, and led the team to its first points finish of the year at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

Sauber had been given a boost two weeks earlier when it announced a deal to become Honda’s second customer team for 2018, including technical and financial support.

However, the deal was put in doubt following Sauber CEO and team principal Monisha Kaltenborn’s departure, leading to speculation that it had not been finalized.

Kaltenborn’s replacement Frederic Vasseur has made it a priority to resolve the matter, but it has made for a bleak outlook at Hinwil for the future.

With the 2018 driver market beginning to stir, Wehrlein has stressed he is not yet thinking about next season, nor is he paying any attention to the speculation about Sauber’s deal with Honda.

“I have no idea what is happening next year. Of course, I have heard all these rumors as well,” Wehrlein told the official F1 website.

“I cannot influence any of these things, so why worry about them? Whatever rumors there are in the air, it is no distraction for me – that is the bottom line.

“I have a contract for this season so I am only focusing on this year. Decisions are made by others and I am only here to drive, to perform as well as I can.

“Of course I want to see Sauber do well. They have the potential and have already been in good positions in the past and I want them to get back there. How and when? That is on another page.”

Wehrlein expressed his confidence in Vasseur’s leadership, although he expects the team to shift focus to its 2018 plans.

“I do have expectations of Fred and the team. I don’t know how fast Fred can change things or how he can change them, but we now have one race left before the summer shut down,” Wehrlein said.

“In the second half of the season the team will focus on next year, so I don’t think you will see his touch too much this year. So let’s see what we can still do with the tools that we have right now.

“I really respect Fred. I used to work with him in DTM. He had a team when I drove there in 2015. He has so much experience in motorsport and in many other ventures outside racing.

“He is a very successful man. He could help Sauber. He could be very good for the team.”

Keeping Grosjean, Magnussen for 2018 ‘a given’ in Gene Haas’ eyes

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Gene Haas is planning to field an unchanged line-up for his Formula 1 team in 2018, believing it to be “a given” that Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen will continue beyond the end of the season.

NASCAR team co-owner Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid in 2016, pairing Grosjean with Esteban Gutierrez.

While Grosjean scored a fifth-place finish in Haas F1 Team’s second race and picked up 29 points across the course of the season, Gutierrez failed to record a single top-10 result.

The Mexican was replaced by Magnussen for 2017, with the Dane taking 11 points through the first 10 races of the season.

Despite the fluidity of the driver market for 2018, Haas revealed in an interview with the official F1 website that the team is planning to race with Grosjean and Magnussen together once again next year.

“We will run with the same drivers that we have this year again next year. That is a given,” Haas said.

“And given the other continuity aspects, we should be better racers next season.”

Haas had been tipped to take on a Ferrari junior such as Antonio Giovinazzi or Charles Leclerc for 2018 given its technical ties to the Italian marque.

Grosjean is understood to be a target for Renault should it miss out on re-signing Fernando Alonso, while Magnussen penned a multi-year deal upon arrival at Haas at the start of the season.

Reflecting on Magnussen’s contribution, Haas believes the team has benefitted from his greater race performance that has allowed it to match its debut season points total in just 10 races in 2017.

“Esteban was a good driver. He was as fast as Romain in practice, but I think that Kevin has an edge in terms of race experience,” Haas said.

“He can score points and that was the key for bringing him on board. Kevin can grab points and Romain can too.

“We now have 29 points. Last year around this time we also had 29 points, but did not score for the rest of the season.

“So now if we can score another 29 points by Abu Dhabi, that would be a great position.”

Pirelli: Slow puncture caused Vettel’s British GP tire failure

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Pirelli has determined that a slow puncture was the cause of Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 tire failure towards the end of last Sunday’s British Grand Prix.

Vettel suffered a failure on his front-left tire on the penultimate lap of the race at Silverstone while running third, forcing him into a late pit stop that ultimately left him P7 at the checkered flag.

The incident was just minutes after Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen had also hit trouble with his front-left tire, although Pirelli stressed after the race that the incidents were unrelated.

Pirelli announced on Friday that, after conducting extensive analysis of the tire, it could confirm that its initial belief that Vettel had suffered a puncture was indeed correct.

“As appeared clear since Sunday afternoon, a full investigation has now confirmed that the original cause of the failure was a slow puncture,” Pirelli said.

“The consequent driving back to the pits on an underinflated and then flat tire led to the final failure.

“Kimi Raikkonen’s damaged tire shows less evidence of what occurred, so further tests and analysis are still ongoing in Pirelli’s laboratories and indoor testing facilities.

“It will take a few more days to reach a definitive conclusion.”

BMW completes first test with 2018 M8 GTE in Germany

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BMW has completed the maiden track test of its new M8 GTE car that will race in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2018.

BMW announced back in September that it would be returning to the 24 Hours of Le Mans through the WEC in 2018, entering the GTE-Pro class.

The German manufacturer has since been developing its new M8 GTE car which will also replace the existing M6 GTLM in the IMSA-run series, where it is raced by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

BMW announced on Thursday that it had completed a three-day test last week at the Lausitzring in Germany, with factory drivers Martin Tomczyk and Maxime Martin both enjoying time behind the wheel.

“To see the BMW M8 GTE on the racetrack makes me very proud. Everyone involved has done a magnificent job in recent months to allow us to reach this milestone in the development of our new flagship for the GT racing scene,” said BMW head of motorsport Jens Marquardt.

“In the first instance, the purpose of a test like this is obviously to get to know the car. In this regard, greater emphasis is placed on the safety aspect than performance. However, the first impression of the BMW M8 GTE out on the track is a very positive one.”

“Firstly, I feel very honored to have been able to drive at the first real test of the BMW M8 GTE on the racetrack. I had great fun with the car,” added Tomczyk.

“The BMW M8 GTE is good to drive from the outset, and it is easy for us drivers to work out the way it handles, which is important. We got a lot of kilometers under our belt, and gathered a lot of data. We also took our first steps with regard to performance, which is by no means a given at a first test.

“We will obviously work more intensively on that at the coming tests, and will build on the strong basis we established here at the Lausitzring.”

The BMW M8 GTE is set to enjoy another on-track test next month, with Antonio Felix da Costa due for some lap time.