Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Rolex 24 Team Preview – Prototype

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MotorSportsTalk’s Kyle Lavigne offers a team preview of entries for this weekend’s 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, beginning with the Prototype class.

The Prototype field sees an increase of 12 entries in 2017 to 20 in 2018, a strong increase that features an influx of teams from the since dissolved Prototype Challenge class as well as multiple entries from LMP2 teams in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Below is a breakdown of the teams entered in the Prototype class:

Tequila Patron ESM
Car: Nissan Onroak DPi
No. 2 (Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel, Olivier Pla)
No. 22 (Johannes van Overbeek, Pipo Derani, Nicolas Lapierre)

Outlook: Tequila Patron ESM came on strong in the second half of 2017, winning twice in the second half of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The No. 22 entry won at Road America, while the No. 2 won the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans.

Sharp, van Overbeek, and Derani helped this team win the Rolex 24 in 2016 as a single-car entrant. With stout driver lineups behind both entries in 2018, it would surprise no one if either of the ESM cars ended up in Victory Lane on Sunday afternoon.

Action Express Racing
Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R
No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing (Joao Barbosa, Filipe Albuquerque, Christian Fittipaldi)
No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing (Felipe Nasr, Eric Curran, Mike Conway, Stuart Middleton)

Outlook: This team went fastest at the Roar Before the 24 in early January, serving notice that they might be the favorites heading into the Rolex 24. The No. 31 entry ultimately had the fastest overall lap – with Felipe Nasr behind the wheel – while the No. 5 ended up third overall that weekend, with Albuquerque going fastest in that entry.

They’ll be looking to avenge a 2017 Rolex which slipped through their hands. The No. 31 was a front-runner before mechanical problems dropped it from the lead battle, while the No. 5, again in the hands of Albuquerque, lost out to Wayne Taylor Racing’s Ricky Taylor in the final laps, with Albuquerque spinning after contact with Taylor in Turn 1.

Rest assured, both entries will have fire in their bellies and plenty of speed in hand, meaning they’ll likely be heavy-hitters throughout the event.

Acura Team Penske
Car: Acura ARX-05 (DPi)
No. 6 (Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud)
No. 7 (Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Graham Rahal)

Outlook: Perhaps the highest-profile entrant in this year’s Rolex 24, Team Penske and Acura enter their first event together amidst much fanfare and anticipation. Castroneves, Montoya, and Pagenaud competed in Penske’s return to IMSA competition at last October’s Petit Le Mans, qualifying on pole and recovering from an early spin to finish third.

Their strong showing that weekend was an immediate sign that Penske will be a major player from the get-go in its IMSA return. The ARX-05 grew steadily quicker during the three days of testing at the Roar Before the 24 – both entries ranked in the top ten in overall fastest laps at the end of the weekend – so their tools are most certainly sharp entering the 24-hour endurance test.

Winning in their first event together is a daunting task, but if there’s a team that could do it, Acura Team Penske might just be the one.

Wayne Taylor Racing
Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R
No. 10 (Jordan Taylor, Renger Van Der Zande, Ryan Hunter-Reay)

Outlook: Despite being a one-car effort in a sea of two-car efforts, Wayne Taylor Racing remains one of, if not the strongest team on the IMSA grid. Defending champions of this race, and defending Prototype champions as well, they’ll be looking to continue what was a dominant 2017 campaign, one in which they won the first five events of the year, beginning with an emotional triumph at the Rolex 24.

Although Ricky Taylor left for Team Penske, Renger Van Der Zende is more than capable of filling those shoes – his late-race pass on then Action Express driver Dane Cameron for the win at Laguna Seca was a thing of beauty – and former Indy 500 winner and Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay completes one of the strongest driver lineups in the field.

A team has not won back-to-back Rolex 24 trophies since 2007 and 2008 with Chip Ganassi Racing, but Wayne Taylor Racing has all the potential to do so.

United Autosports
Car: Ligier JS P217 Gibson
No. 23 (Phil Hanson, Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso)
No. 32 (Will Owen, Hugo de Sadeleer, Paul Di Resta, Bruno Senna)

Outlook: Of all the drivers entered in this year’s Rolex, Fernando Alonso might be the highest-profile, especially internationally. However, while his presence may overshadow that of his team – United Autosports – they should not be overlooked. Second-place finishers in the LMP2 class of the 2017 European Le Mans Series season, and champions of the LMP3 class, United Autosports has quickly developed a championship pedigree.

Alongside Alonso, Phil Hanson and Lando Norris represent a pair of talented youngsters, while Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer helped lead the team to second in the aforementioned LMP2 category of the 2017 ELMS season. Add Paul Di Resta and Bruno Senna to the mix, and you have a solid driver lineup all-around.

Winning will be a tall order as the team makes its IMSA debut, and they ranked in the middle of the Prototype pack during the Roar test. But, they’re not worth counting out, and if nothing else, Alonso’s presence will serve as one of the biggest storylines of the weekend.

Jackie Chan DCR JOTA
Car: Oreca 07 Gibson
No. 37 (Lance Stroll, Felix Rosenqvist, Daniel Juncadella, Robin Frijns)
No. 78 (Ho-Pin Tung, Alex Brundle, Antonio Felix da Costa, Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen)

Outlook: Though a bit of an unknown quantity in the U.S., Jackie Chan DCR JOTA is something of a power in the World Endurance Championship, with a 2017 LMP2 class victory at the 24 Hours Le Mans – one that was nearly an overall victory as well – this is a team that is battle tested and a proven winner on the biggest stages racing has to offer.

Lance Stroll represents the “other” full-time Formula 1 driver on the grid. His name might be the only one American race fans recognize, but with Felix Rosenqvist, Alex Brundle, and Antonio Felix da Costa highlighting potent driver lineups across both entries, a victory from either the No. 37 or the No. 78 is not far-fetched.

Mazda Team Joest
Car: Mazda RT24-P (DPi)
No. 55 (Jonathan Bomarito, Spencer Pigot, Harry Tincknell)
No. 77 (Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez, Rene Rast)

Outlook: Completely revamped in 2018, Mazda’s IMSA effort represents a fresh start of sorts for them. And with Joest Racing now operating the Mazda prototypes, this fresh start has a powerhouse behind it.

Joest Racing’s recent fame came from operating the all-conquering Audi LMP1 program. Since 2000, the team scored 11 victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and its operation became synonymous with success and set the gold standard in sports car racing, especially in the Prototype division.

They bring with them a retooled driver lineup the features former Audi pilot Oliver Jarvis and two-time Le Mans LMP2 class winner Harry Tincknell alongside incumbents Jonatham Bomarito and Tristan Nunez. IndyCar standout Spencer Pigot and 2017 DTM champion Rene Rast fill out a very strong and possibly underrated driver lineup.

The Roar Before the 24 proved difficult for them –  a delay in a parts arrival saw them do limited running on Day 1, with the No. 77 only running two laps that day – but both entries represent strong darkhorses.

JDC-Miller Motorsports
Car: Oreca 07 Gibson
No. 85 (Simon Trummer, Robert Alon, Austin Cindric, Devlin DeFrancesco)
No. 99 (Chris Miller, Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg, Gustavo Menezes)

Outlook: Last year’s underdogs of IMSA expand to a two-car program in 2018. The artist formerly known as “The Banana Boat” – last year’s No. 85 –  is re-numbered and re-liveried as the No. 99 Gainsco Auto Insurance “Red Dragon,” with a new No. 85 “Banana Boat” seeing its birth over the winter.

JDC-Miller failed to win a race in 2017, but came tantalizingly close on multiple occasions and became a fan favorite as the “plucky underdog” that challenged the big-name DPi programs.

Now fully entrenched as IMSA contenders, they have a chance to steal the series’ biggest race, and don’t be surprised if either the No. 85 or No. 99 ends up battling for the lead and the win.

Spirit of Daytona Racing
Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R
No. 90 (Matt McMurry
, Tristan Vautier, Eddie Cheever III)

Outlook: The fourth Cadillac in the Prototype field belongs to the rebranded – back to its original name in fact – Spirit of Daytona Racing, which contested the 2017 season as Visit Florida Racing. A difficult 2017 campaign saw the team struggle mightily early on with a Multimatic/Riley Mk. 30 Gibson, and they even used two different chassis after a wreck at Long Beach saw them write one off.

A switch to a Ligier chassis late in the year sparked a renaissance for the program, with Renger Van Der Zende and Marc Goossens taking a win at Laguna Seca Raceway.

A new driver lineup features Matt McMurry and Tristan Vautier as its full-time drivers, with Eddie Cheever III joining for the Rolex 24, and the team also has in its hands perhaps the strongest car on the grid in the Cadillac.

Still, they maintain a bit of an underdog vibe. But don’t let that fool you. This group was second fastest at the Roar during final day qualifying, giving them a nice pick of pit stall and garage, and they have all the potential to battle, and beat, the heavy hitters.

The remaining entries of the Prototype class are below.

AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports
Car: Ligier JS P217 Gibson
No. 52
(Sebastian Saavedra, Gustavo Yacaman, Roberto Gonzalez, Nicholas Boulle)

BAR1 Motorsports
Car: Multimatic/Riley Mk. 30 Gibson
No. 20 (Eric Lux, Marc Drumwright, Alex Popow, Tomy Drissi, Brendan Gaughan)

Performance Tech Motorsports
Car: Oreca 07 Gibson
No. 38 (James French, Kyle Masson, Pato O’Ward, Joel Miller)

CORE autosport
Car: Oreca 07 Gibson
No. 54 (Jon Bennett, Colin Braun, Romain Dumas, Loic Duval)

Outlook: The above four teams fill out the Prototype grid and represent the genuine underdogs of the class. Possibly overlooked given the storylines of the previous entries, this group may not be on the radar as pre-race favorites.

But, overlook them at your own peril. CORE’s driver lineup, highlighted by former Le Mans winners Romain Dumas and Loic Duval, is as strong as anyone’s, and the Oreca chassis is more than capable of running up front.

AFS/PRI Mathiasen doesn’t have as much clout in its lineup, and their program is revamped from last year with a new partnership in AFS Racing, but they could easily make a surprise run to the front.

BAR1 and Performance Tech move up from the now defunct Prototype Challenge class, Performance Tech being that class’ champion last year. But, like the other aforementioned teams, they’re more than capable of offering a surprise.

Follow@KyleMLavigne

 

What Drivers Said after the finish of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

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Here’s What Drivers Said after the rain-delayed conclusion of the INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) – WINNER: “That was more eventful than I would have liked. But everybody did a great job. How about Team Chevy today – they gave us a great engine, good fuel mileage and good reliability, and that’s what we needed to win this race. It’s great having Hitachi – we got Verizon a victory, now we got Hitachi a victory, so thank you guys. Everyone at Team Penske did a great job, but like I said, that was more eventful than I wanted it. It would seem like smooth sailing for the most part, we didn’t have any yellows, which we were hoping no yellows today, but then the rain crept in. I couldn’t believe how long everyone stayed out. It was really risky what they were doing, but I understand why there were doing it. I’m glad we made the call to come in so soon.”

RYAN HUNTER (No. 28 DHL Honda) – finished 2nd: “It was a good race, it was tough getting the fuel number and trying to keep the pace up, but it was a lot of fun when it started raining, trying to find the grip again and searching around. I was almost worried that I was going to burn the front (tires) off. We came in early for the wet (tires). I stayed out there as long as I could, but on the slicks, I was a lot quicker and it was that inconsistent snap that you have. When you have one of those (snaps) with the slicks you can absolutely lose it completely, so we thought that was the best time to come in and grab the Firestone wets. It was good from there. I just needed a little bit more time to cut in on (Josef) Newgarden’s lead. Congratulations to Team Penske and (Josef) Newgarden. Great job by the DHL guys this weekend. We rolled off the truck, we weren’t that happy with the car and we kept working on it methodically, chipping into it and everybody just executed it – so a good weekend overall.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda) – finished 3rd: “I feel bad for the fans as much as anything. We were driving around out there, and it’s like, ‘Right guys its getting wetter, it’s getting wetter….’ ‘Wet enough for rains?’ ‘Nah, not wet enough for rains…’ ‘Wet enough for rains?’ ‘Nah…’ ‘Pit for rains.’ ‘Are you guys sure?’ It was the right call for sure, so big props to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports guys; solid weekend for us in the end. As I said before, not a great test here, but two cars in the top 10 after qualifying and then two cars in the top five in the race, so pretty proud of these boys and everyone on the Arrow Electronics car. It’s good to get a couple of Hondas up there, maybe not on the top step of the podium, but we took the rest of it.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda) – finished 4th: “I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint, so once (Scott) Dixon started getting close to me, I was thinking I might have to give this position up. Then the rain came, so the fuel mileage kind of happened naturally. The rain saved us a bit, but overall great job by the Lucas Oil guys. I was a little gutted that we came out into a big bunch of traffic, but it made the race fun. It was also a little bit frustrating as we lost a bit of track position there, and I think we could have both been fighting for higher steps on the podium today.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda) – finished 5th: “It was just a tough day for the SealMaster Honda No. 18 team. It was looking perfect. We executed the plan to perfection. I started on scuffed Firestone red (alternate) tires, so we had a lot of tire degradation, but were still able to save more fuel than almost everyone. Josef (Newgarden) went for the push and it looked like we were still going to beat him because he pitted the second time and we got ahead. I had enough fuel to finish, but unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to open the skies and there wasn’t anything we could do about that. We tried to stay out and it bit us. On top of that, when we put on the wet tires, I don’t know what happened but the car was diabolical. I couldn’t do anything. I barely kept Scott (Dixon) behind me. I gave it my best shot, the guys did a good job, but it wasn’t enough. Everyone is executing perfectly. Unfortunately, you can’t predict what the weather is going to do, so you have to make a call one way or the other and we were on the wrong side of the fence today. The good news is we finished fifth and keep putting ourselves in position. Our pace is good and we are in the championship mix.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 6th: “I think I was one of the drivers on the fence in regards to if we should restart or not yesterday. I guess overall, it was the same for everyone. I literally couldn’t see a thing from the PNC Bank car and was just trying to hold it straight. Cars were just going by me, and there was nothing you could do because I couldn’t see anything out of my visor. It’s a shame we couldn’t get in the full distance Sunday because Barber is an amazing track with an incredible crowd. I think the one-stop strategy was the one to have today and it would have put us third, but the rain took care of that, unfortunately. The car was fast and really good on fuel mileage, but it is what it is. Hopefully we can get a break to go our way in a few weeks.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda) – finished 7th: “In the dry, we were able to make some moves and get by some guys, and turn in some good laps when we needed to before the pit stops and cycle out to a pretty good spot. Overall, it was a decent day. I can’t say too much bad about it. I’ll take seventh. We lost some ground to a few of the guys ahead, but overall it’s good to be third in points.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) – finished 8th: “We tried a one-stop strategy, and basically everyone else was on two-stoppers, so we looked like we lacked pace, but we had to save a massive amount of fuel. It looked good until the middle. My teammate came on charge and was on a hard two-stopper, so I let him go and lost some positions a couple of times, but then it looked good. If the yellow came, we would have been in a very positive position. Even not, a lot of people had to come into the pits. However, unfortunately the rain came and I had to stop again for rain tires, which meant my second stint was basically just a slow pace. It’s a big shame. The rain helped me a lot yesterday to get to eighth and today, in the end, the rain didn’t help my strategy. I will take it after a difficult qualifying.  We need to make the car fast at the (INDYCAR) Grand Prix because we have a lot of work to be done.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 9th: “We had a pretty good race going and I think we potentially could have been a top five (finisher). So, I was very frustrated with Gabby (Chavez). He was two laps down. And I just got stuck behind him, which gave an opportunity to (Scott) Dixon as I was trying everything I could to make it happen. But, it’s a real shame because when it’s not your day, it’s just not your day. You’ll have better days later, but you won’t have everybody on your side when you have a good day. And at the moment, he doesn’t have me on his side, let me tell you. But, it’s a real shame. I think the Menards No. 22 was really from where we started. The strategy to go on rain (tires) when we went on rain was a good choice and I thought it was a really good pace. We just started from too far back.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Kerauno / Curb Honda) – finished 10th: “It was a lot of fun out there, but I think finishing 10th is the worst we should’ve finished. I think myself and the guys earned a third-place finish. We beat (James Hinchcliffe) out in the end – so we had third locked up until the rain made all the one-stoppers work. We were looking really good for a podium; the Kerauno team was way better than what the race results showed, but we know we have the pace, so we’ll keep digging and move on to Indy.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda) – finished 11th: “It definitely wasn’t our best day. We initially went into the race with the plan of doing a two-stopper, then we switched to a one-stop strategy once the race started because of the extra formation laps. Once the race got going, we were on the wrong tire for the one-stop plan, and couldn’t make the fuel work, so we switched back to a two-stop strategy. It was looking OK, but we tried to survive the rain probably one lap too long and we lost time to guys that had already switched to rain tires. We ended up 11th. It wasn’t a great day from a performance or strategy standpoint. It’s a day that we’ll certainly be putting behind us as soon as possible and look forward to (the INDYCAR Grand Prix) where we had a really strong test a couple weeks ago.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 12th: “We made some great progress from where we started the weekend, so I’m pretty happy with that. The car was good with the reds (Firestone alternate tires) in the race, so I think we had good pace. We were running with (Simon) Pagenaud, and when (Scott) Dixon came in front of me he was not that much faster, which means we made some progress from practice. Unfortunately in the rain, the car wasn’t as good, we were struggling with understeer, so I couldn’t push as I wanted. If we look at where we started and where we finished, it was a good weekend. I’m happy for the ABC Supply team and myself. Onto Indianapolis.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda) – finished 13th: “The weekend overall was good for us, confidence-wise – advancing to the top 12 in qualifying and getting up to position sixth yesterday for the first part of the race. Today, I think we definitely had the pace to finish inside the top 10, but we had a few mechanical issues during the race. I lost all of my adjustments inside of the car, so once that happened I was a sitting duck. Extremely thankful for my Group One Thousand One crew for the job they did this weekend. We held on the best we could to come home 13th. Hopefully we can improve for the (INDYCAR Grand Prix) and of course build on everything in time for the Indianapolis 500.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) – finished 14th: “I had a really good restart. I did exactly what I wanted to do, I wanted to dispatch a couple of cars quite quickly. I managed to get past both Ed (Jones) and Scott (Dixon) before Turn 2, so that was really good actually. That gave me good track position, we were then in the top five. Unfortunately, the rain yesterday may have caused an electrical problem that took quite a while to clear. Once we got going, it was then alright. Our strategy was then compromised with the rain and we were caught out. Overall slightly annoying, we really would have been fine for a top-five finish quite comfortably, I think.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) – finished 15th: “It was definitely a difficult race out there. We thought we were making up some ground by pitting early and running hard, which seemed to be working a bit. We tried to gamble at the end to stay on slicks. We were hoping for a yellow that the race would end under and we could stay up where we were. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and I just tried to keep it on the road the best I could. Eventually, it just got too wet and we had to come in at the end. There are some positives to take away from this weekend, we’re going to take those into the INDYCAR Grand Prix and hopefully be back up front.”

RENE BINDER – finished 16th: No comments

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet) – finished 17th: “Today’s conditions were not ideal for us to start. Our strategy we used yesterday to hope for a yellow to get our lap back obviously never came. We just did more to learn, try to gauge our pace and try to keep improving. I thought we really improved on our pace compared to everyone else and we did well to pick up a few positions at the end of the day and brought the car home. Now we get to work on our most important month of the year.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 18th: “We had a very difficult weekend and I’m glad it’s over. Looking forward to Indianapolis.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda) – finished 19th: “Yesterday was tough with all the rain, and I think it was a good call to postpone the race to today. With the two-lap penalty that we received yesterday, we knew we were already at a disadvantage. So, the main goal today was to show my race craft aboard the No. 19 Paysafe car, show that my pace was there and to show that if we would have been on the lead lap that we could have definitely fought for a top 10 position. I think we did that with how I was able to pass other cars on a track that is known to be difficult for passing. We had good pace, and the fastest race lap, so it was a positive weekend overall even if it didn’t go our way.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 20th: “Yesterday at the start, I was trying to attack, but it was very difficult. I just couldn’t see anything. Especially on the restarts. Maybe I could have been more aggressive or kept my foot down, but I didn’t think it was worth the risk in the NTT DATA car. Conditions were just very, very tough. You couldn’t see a thing. Today we got restarted and we were making progress, but we had mechanical issues and had to pit way before it was over. The guys will have to take a look at the car to see what happened I think. Hopefully we can move on and have a good start to the month of May in Indy.”

WILL POWER – finished 21st: No comments

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet) – finished 22nd: “That was a really unfortunate way for us to end the weekend. We were happy with the qualifying effort of the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet and felt like we were making progress, but after the race was red-flagged and everyone was allowed to start on full fuel, we knew we were going to have a hard time doing much strategy-wise to move toward the front. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t get a chance to see what we could do during the remainder of the race because of an electrical issue that had us stopped on track before the field went green. The boys had it fixed and back out on track, but once we had confirmed the issue was fixed out on track and the heavy rain picked back up again, there was no point in us continuing and possibly tearing anything up.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet – quote given Saturday) – finished 23rd: “The No. 10 car of Ed Jones just drove into the back of me. The stewards reviewed it and decided that no action would be taken, which I vehemently disagree with. Yeah, visibility was tough out there, but it was tough for everyone. I didn’t run into anyone and no one else ran into me, except for the No. 10 car. I don’t know what the stewards were looking at, but I’m going to have a discussion with them after the race. I’m just disappointed because the Carlin guys know how to run in the wet and they gave me a great car. We were moving up the field a few spots, and with the Marco (Andretti) spin, we were able to elevate another spot. We were just knocking on the door of making it into the top 10 and coming out of here in these conditions with a top-10 result heading into May would’ve been really good for the team.”

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