Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Rolex 24 Team Preview – GTD class

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MotorSportsTalk’s Kyle Lavigne concludes the team preview of entries for the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the GT Daytona (GTD) class. At 21 entries, it is down from last year’s 27, but remains the biggest of the three classes entered at the Rolex 24, outnumbering the Prototype class by one.

It is also the most wide open of the three classes, with seven different manufacturers represented and a  seemingly infinite number of unknowns. Further, the defending winners of the class, Alegra Motorsports, are not even entered in this year’s race.

All told, the GTD class is the most difficult one to predict, and a winner from this class could come from literally any of the 21 entries.

Below is a breakdown of the teams entered in the GT Daytona class.

GRT Grasser Racing Team
Car:
Lamborghini Huracan GT3
No. 11 (Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Franck Perera, Rik Breukers)
No. 19 (Max van Splunteren, Ezequiel Perez Companc, Christian Engelhart, Christopher Lenz, Louis Machiels)

Outlook: Just in case more evidence was needed to prove that the GTD class is the most wide open, enter GRT Grasser Racing Team. Last year’s Blancpain GT champions, their performance at the Roar Before the 24 test in early January took many by surprise, as they emerged as the fastest of the GTD entrants, qualifying first during Sunday qualifying to get first pick of pit stall and garage.

This is not their first time at the Rolex 24 – they finished 15th in GTD last year with their No. 11 entry, the only car they entered in last year’s race. Now returning with a two-car effort, this team, which will contest all four rounds of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup in the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, GRT Grasser Racing Team has quickly announced themselves as contenders for GTD victory.

3GT Racing
Car: Lexus RC F GT3
No. 14 (Dominik Baumann, Kyle Marcelli, Philipp Frommenwiler, Bruno Junqueira)
No. 15 (Jack Hawksworth, David Heinemeier Hansson, Scott Pruett, Dominik Farnbacher)

Outlook: 3GT Racing returns with a pair of Lexus RCF GT3 machines after debuting the marque last year, although the weekend proved to be troublesome for the Paul Gentilozzi led squad. It’s No. 14 entry – with Scott Pruett behind the wheel at the time – crashed heavily very early on and was eliminated on the spot, while the sister No. 15 could do no better than 14th in class.

Perhaps the biggest storyline to follow with this team is the aforementioned Pruett, who will be contesting the final race of his career at the Rolex 24. Pruett and company would like nothing more than to send him out with a final victory. It might seem like a tall order, but this class can certainly deliver a surprise winner.

Magnus Racing
Car: Audi R8 LMS GT3
No. 44 (John Potter, Andy Lally, Andrew Davis, Markus Winkelhock)

Outlook: Magnus Racing returns to IMSA after spending last year in the Pirelli World Challenge championship. The last time they contested the Rolex 24 was in 2016, when they took home the GTD victory, their second Rolex 24 triumph.

They return with a strong lineup of John Potter, Andy Lally, Andrew Davis, and Markus Winkelhock, with Potter and Lally both a part of the lineups from their 2012 and 2016 victories. With a proven driver rotation and an Audi R8 LMS GT3 underneath them, the car with which they won in 2016, expect Magnus to be a major player in the GTD class.

Wright Motorsports
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
No. 58 (Patrick Long, Christina Nielsen, Robert Renauer, Mathieu Jaminet)

Outlook: Wright Motorsports, last year’s Pirelli World Challenge GT champions, both in the overall standings and in the Sprint standings, make the move to IMSA’s GTD category in 2018, and do so with a powerful driver lineup. Patrick Long is renowned for his exploits as a Porsche factory driver, and partnering him with Christina Nielsen, who has been a co-driver champion the last two years in GTD, creates a highly potent rotation right off the bat. Add in Mathieu Jaminet, part of the Porsche junior program, and Robert Renauer, and you have maybe the strongest driver lineup in the GTD class.

It’s difficult to peg any team as the favorite for victory. But, if you are daring enough to do so, this team may be the one to peg.

Scuderia Corsa
Car: Ferrari 488 GT3
No. 63 (Cooper MacNeil, Alessandro Balzan, Gunnar Jeannette, Jeff Segal)
No. 64 (Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Frank Montecalvo, Sam Bird)

Outlook: The team that has won the last two GTD championships has undergone an overhaul of sorts over the winter. Gone is Christina Nielsen, who partnered Alessandro Balzan to those aforementioned championships, and in is a new partnership with Weathertech Racing that sees Weatherech branding on the No. 63 Ferrari.

Still, despite the changes, it’s hard to imagine that this group won’t contend for a victory. The No. 64 features former Rolex winners in Bill Sweedler and NBCSN’s Townsend Bell, while the No. 63 has a former winner of its own in Jeff Segal – all three were triumphant in 2014.

Expect both entries to be contenders for the win.

HART
Car: Acura NSX GT3
No. 69
(Chad Gilsinger, Ryan Eversley, Sean Rayhall, John Falb)

Outlook: If you’re looking for an underdog in the GTD class to pull for, then HART might be your best bet. Comprised of Honda employees who are basically volunteering to enter the Rolex 24, this is an entry that represents a throwback to the days when a group would get together, build their own car, and show up at a race to see what they can do.

While they aren’t as seasoned as the other GTD entries, this is an entrant that can sneak up on you if you’re not careful. John Falb and Sean Rayhall partnered to take the LMP3 championship in the 2017 European Le Mans Series, and Ryan Eversley is among the more underrated GT drivers around.

Chad Gilsinger, a Honda employee who has raced in SCCA previously, represents the biggest unknown on the driving front, but a mistake-free run from him would do plenty to keep the team in contention.

And with the team using an Acura NSX GT3, which had an impressive debut in last year’s Rolex — and went on to win races in its first year of IMSA competition — there’s definitely potential for this team to surprise a lot of people.

Michael Shank Racing
Car: Acura NSX GT3
No. 86
(Katherine Legge, Alvaro Parente, Trent Hindman, AJ Allmendinger)
No. 93 (Justin Marks, Lawson Aschenbach, Mario Farnbacher, Côme Ledogar)

Outlook: Another team with a sneakily good driver lineup, Michael Shank Racing returns to GTD with a pair of Acura NSX GT3 entries. An overall winner of this event in 2012 and two-time race winners last year with the NSX, the Michael Shank led squad possesses a strong winning formula that should make them one of the GTD favorites entering the event

Their driver lineup offers no weak links, either. Katherine Legge returns to the team after helping the team to those aforementioned wins last year. Alvaro Parente is, ironically, a McLaren factory driver who has been a star in Pirelli World Challenge. Mario Farnbacher is long-time standout in GT competition. Justin Marks and Lawson Aschenbach represent two underrated road racers. Côme Ledogar, like Parente, is a factory McLaren driver, and fresh off a class at the 24 Hours of Dubai. And, AJ Allmendinger is a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star who helped Michael Shank’s team take their 2012 overall victory.

All told, it’s easy to imagine either entry taking a GTD victory.

The remaining GTD entries are below. While they may lack the star power of other GTD entries, any of the below teams could also prove to be contenders. You’ll also find some big-name GT drivers as well, such as Jeroen Bleekemolen, Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Joerg Bergmeister and Martin Tomczyk, among others.

Remember, last year’s GTD winner, Alegra Motorsports, was a big underdog last season, yet came out on top at the end of 24 hours.

Expect the GTD class to be the most tightly contested throughout the 24 hours.

Montaplast by Land Motorsport
Car: Audi R8 LMS GT3
No. 29 (Sheldon van der Linde, Kelvin van der Linde, Jeffrey Schmidt, Christopher Mies)

Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3
No. 33 (Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Adam Christodoulo, Luca Stolz)

Paul Miller Racing
Car: Lamborghini Huracan GT3
No. 48 (Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Andrea Caldarelli, Bryce Miller)

Spirit of Race
Car: Ferrari 488 GT3
No. 51 (Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Daniel Serra)

Manthey Racing
Car: Porsche 911 GT3
No. 59 (Steve Smith, Randy Walls, Harald Proczyk, Sven Muller, Matteo Cairoli)

P1 Motorsports
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3

No. 71 (Kenton Koch, Robby Foley, Loris Spinelli, JC Perez)

Park Place Motorsports
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
No. 73 (Patrick Lindsey, Joerg Bergmeister, Norbert Siedler, Tim Pappas)

SunEnergy1 Racing
Car:
Mercedes-AMG GT3
No. 75 (Kenny Habul, Thomas Jaeger, Maro Engel, Mikael Grenier)

Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GT3
No. 82 (Miguel Molina, Ricardo Perez de Lara, Martin Fuentes, Santiago Creel, Matt Griffin)

Turner Motorsport
Car: BMW M6 GT3
No. 96 (Jens Klingmann, Martin Tomczyk, Mark Kvamme, Don Yount)

 

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NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.