Roar Before the Rolex 24 recap: Taylor leads; times close; vibe improves

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This weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 test had the usual “first day of school” feeling in the air as everyone in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship came back from the offseason. And thus far, there don’t appear to be any obvious “teacher’s pets” candidates.

On-track, times were realistically close in all four classes. Jordan Taylor, in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP, ended fastest overall with a best time of 1:39.181 set in Saturday morning’s third of eight sessions during the weekend.

But other than the two rain-affected sessions on Sunday, the best time was anywhere from a 1:39.181 to a 1:39.953 in Prototypes. The same was true in GT Le Mans, where consistency reigned and the best times were pretty much either in the 1:44.3 or 1:44.4 bracket, and any of three different manufacturers led sessions.

The Pro-Am classes saw CORE autosport (Prototype Challenge) and Porsche 911 GT Americas (GT Daytona) dominate. CORE led three sessions with Colin Braun; Porsches topped five of the eight sessions. However it was Marc Goossens, in the returning Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R, that set the best time of the week in GTD at a 1:46.948 – go figure.

General paddock consensus was that no team really showed its true hand, with most teams opting to play things close to the vest in case of any potential Adjustment of Performance updates that could be issued before the Rolex 24.

On times from this test anyway, the gaps were so tight both in the P classes (P2, DP and DeltaWing all were within a half second at times) and GTLM (any of Aston Martin, Porsche and BMW look promising at the moment) that any hardline AoP changes could seem an overreaction.

The scariest moment of the weekend occurred during the end of the aforementioned Saturday morning session, when Byron DeFoor had an apparent right rear tire pressure issue (initially indicated as a tie rod or suspension issue) that pitched him airborne into a somersault, before landing upside down.

Fortunately, DeFoor was evaluated and released from the infield care center after the accident. He is part of the lineup in the No. 50 Highway to Help Riley-BMW, a car which won’t contend for any overall honors but will seek to raise money for charity during the race itself.

Both the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2 Honda and No. 0 DeltaWing DWC13 coupe showed impressive pace. although the DeltaWing’s test was cut short when Memo Rojas crashed from the Kink into Turn 5. He lost the aero on his car with underwing damage sustained from driving through the DeFoor accident affecting the handling.

PC saw more teams suffer through either incidents on track or driver changes off of it. The GT classes were less eventful overall, with notable stories here the GTLM AF Corse car suffering an accident in the third session and the GTD Turner Motorsport BMW Z4 GT3 arriving late, then running Sunday with BMW ace Markus Palttala behind the wheel and setting the fastest class time in the final session.

A high number of drivers made the rounds through the paddock – a heavy IndyCar contingent among them –  in hopes of securing a seemingly elusive Rolex 24 drive. Essentially the drivers were all like the disciples out in the desert, all wandering with nothing but talent, helmet and firesuits in hand but only able to taste the water – a ride in this case – if they brought suitcases full of dollars instead.

Despite the high volume of drivers seeking an opportunity, there did seem a sense this was a happier paddock than when the championship last convened on the whole at Petit Le Mans last October.

The IMSA brass really seemed to have worked hard over this offseason – the organization’s first true offseason working together rather than merging two entirely different series and philosophies as they were last year – and the usual kvetching that seemed to emanate from all corners last year quieted down a bit.

Sure, there’s going to be plenty of questions heading into this year’s Rolex 24. But if more of them center on who’s going to win rather than who’s best keeping up with the regulations, than that will be a victory in and of itself for the series.