As the first official event of the year, last weekend’s Roar Before the 24 provided the first chance to see the 2018 edition of cars and drivers from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and guest drivers from various other championships, running together for the first time in a new season.
As a result, it can be easy to get swept up in the results and lap times from each session. However, as is always the case in testing, the individual lap times are only the tip of the iceberg.
It wouldn’t be testing without a sandbagging controversy, would it?
For various reasons, theories abound that certain teams weren’t necessarily showing everything they had. Among the accusers was Andy Lally, who took to Instagram on Friday evening and, after acknowledging the tightly packed GT Daytona field, threw a sandbagging accusation at three teams running Ferrari 488 GT3 entries.
Further, in a story originally posted by Sportscar365, a pair of GTD cars were parked during night practice on Saturday evening after data appeared to show they weren’t showing their true pace. P1 Motorsports’ No. 71 Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Michael Shank Racing’s No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 were both barred from continuing on in that session after completing five and nine laps, respectively.
While no other cars or teams were actually penalized due to sandbagging, it is still worth noting that the individual lap times should always be taken with a grain of salt. Setting a fast lap will undoubtedly bring a lot of attention, but that isn’t necessarily the goal of testing.
CADILLACS DOMINATE PROTOTYPE
While lap times may not be indicative of outright speed, as previously described, the results from the weekend as a whole do indicate one generalization: the Cadillac DPi-V.Rs are fast.
In fact, they may be the fastest cars in the Prototype class. A Cadillac finished at the top of every single session, with Felipe Nasr, in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering entry for Action Express, qualifying first with a best lap of a 1:35.806, a second quicker than last year’s pole speed in the Rolex 24. Further, Action Express Racing, Wayne Taylor Racing, and Spirit of Daytona Racing swept the top four spots multiple times during the seven practice sessions between Friday and Sunday.
The DPi-V.R did see an off-season change in its engine, which is now a 5.5-liter V8, down from last year’s 6.2-liter model. It remains to be seen how it will fare in a 24-hour endurance test, but in terms of outright speed, the Cadillacs seem to have plenty of it.
In looking at the overall fastest laps of the weekend, the only non-Cadillac drivers in the top 10 were two from Acura Team Penske, making its official debut in IMSA competition for 2018. Dane Cameron had the sixth quickest lap overall in the No. 6 Acura ARX-05, while Ricky Taylor had the tenth fastest lap overall in the No. 10 entry.
In Sunday qualifying, the No. 2 Nissan DPi from Tequila Patron ESM also featured in the top 10, qualifying seventh, along with a pair of Oreca 07 Gibsons – the No. 78 Jackie Chan DCR JOTA Oreca qualified ninth and the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca qualified tenth.
However, the early favorites for the 24-hour endurance race back at Daytona on Jan. 27-28 appear to be the Cadillacs.
GTLM SET FOR ANOTHER SLUGFEST
Prototype always gets the top billing, but perhaps IMSA’s most competitive class is GTLM, which has seen thrilling finishes in each of the last two years. Both Corvette C7.Rs from Corvette Racing dueled to the finish in 2016, with the No. 4 entry of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler taking the win. Meanwhile, the No. 66 Ford GT from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing saw Dirk Mueller bully his way around the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE of James Calado for the lead late in the 2017 race, and he then held off Patrick Pilet in a Porsche 911 RSR from Porsche GT Team to seal the GTLM win.
This year’s affair looks like it could see more of the same. While the Ford GT entries from Chip Ganassi spent the most time at the top of the GTLM time sheets, with Joey Hand putting the No. 66 Ford in first during qualifying on Sunday, the field is remarkably close. Hand’s pole time of 1:43.610 was less than four tenths of a second quicker than the sixth place No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari, which turned in a 1:44.037 in qualifying.
While the brand new BMW M8 GTLM entries from BMW Team RLL were down on speed by comparison – the No. 25 entry qualified the better of those two, with a lap of 1:45.056 – the remainder of the GTLM field appears set for another thriller.
GRT GRASSER RACING TEAM A SURPRISE LEADER OF GT DAYTONA
The 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona will see a stacked GT Daytona field, featuring such teams as Wright Motorsports (last year’s overall and Sprint champions of Pirelli World Challenge), Michael Shank Racing (GTD race winners on two occasions in 2017), Scuderia Corsa (GTD champions each of the last two years), and Magnus Racing (long-time IMSA competitors returning to the series after competing in Pirelli World Challenge last year).
Yet, the team that went to the top at the Roar was GRT Grasser Racing Team, a team entering the Rolex 24 as a one-off entry. Though relatively unknown in the United States, GRT comes with a championship pedigree, as winners of last year’s Blancpain GT Series.
Their No. 11 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 qualified first on Sunday, with Rolf Ineichen turning the fastest overall lap of the weekend GTD field, doing so in Practice opening practice on Friday morning.
The competition in GTD is very steep – the top 18 cars were separated by less than one second in qualifying – but GRT quickly announced themselves as early contenders.