TUSC: Rolex 24 GTD class preview

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The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship premieres this weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona. We’ll have sporadic posts and updates for the season opener of the unified series, which brings together the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series.

Last in our list of class previews is the GTD class.

GTD CLASS

WHAT IT IS: The second GT class, but the most heavily-populated class in the field. GTD, standing for GT Daytona compared to GTLM for GT Le Mans. Open cars, Continental tires, and like PC, requires at least one Silver/Bronze driver for three-driver lineups and two for four or five-driver lineups. SRT, BMW, Ferrari and Aston Martin have GT3-spec or close versions of their GTE-spec cars in this class; Porsche has a brand new customer car built specifically for the TUDOR Championship while Audi features five strong entries to round out the class.

WHO THEY ARE: 29 cars strong, from six different manufacturers, driven by a mix of sports car veterans, IndyCar interlopers and gentlemen drivers.

A QUICK BREAKDOWN: Porsche leads the field with 12 of the 29 entries; there are eight Ferraris and five Audis to make up 25 of the 29 cars. Two Aston Martins and a single BMW and SRT Viper apiece make up the grid.

Other than the pair of Muehlner Motorsports America Porsches, which have a primarily gentlemen lineup, or several of the Ferraris, which feature the same strategy, there’s upwards of 20 cars likely to battle for even top-10 positions in class. Picking a winner from there is nigh on impossible.

WHO TO WATCH: A mix of factory drivers, talented Silvers (who may be rated lower than they deserve, due to results), and emerging talents moonlighting from overseas all have the potential to star at Daytona.

In no specific order, some of the names you’ll likely be hearing from over 24 hours… Leh Keen and/or Shane van Gisbergen (No. 22), Marco Holzer (No. 23), Marc Lieb and/or Andrew Davis (No. 27), Jeroen Bleekemolen (No. 33), Filipe Albuquerque (No. 35), Andy Lally and/or Wolf Henzler (No. 44), Spencer Pumpelly and/or Markus Winkelhock (No. 45), Oliver Jarvis (No. 46), Rene Rast (No. 48), Davide Rigon (No. 49), Matt Griffin (No. 51), Jan Heylen (No. 58), Toni Vilander (No. 63), Timo Bernhard (No. 71), Mikhail Aleshin (No. 72), Kevin Estre and/or Connor De Phillippi (No. 73), Damien Faulkner (No. 81), Dane Cameron (No. 94) and James Davison (No. 007).

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski