Photo: IMSA

DiZinno: Roar Before the Rolex 24 notes, musings, observations

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The Roar Before the Rolex 24 is akin to the first day of school for the North American road racing season. Here’s a variety of nuggets, notes, and other musings gathered from a few days down in Florida, across the spectrum of racing series that all coalesce and converge within the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship paddock:

  • Were the Ligier JS P2 Hondas too quick? The challenge at the Roar is ensuring you show enough speed, but not too much speed in your laps to ensure you might get hit with a pre-race Balance of Performance adjustment. And the question in the Prototype class this year is how fine of a line did the Ligier JS P2 Hondas straddle in their quest for speed. Both Tequila Patron ESM – particularly team rookie Pipo Derani – and Michael Shank Racing with aces Ozz Negri and Olivier Pla were regular pacesetters. Negri took last year’s pole. Reliability is the question heading into the race, with Honda’s 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 Prototype engine set for its first outing in the car. With the pace there though, here’s hoping there isn’t too big – or any – shift that prevents the car from reaching its potential during race week.
  • Stop your DeltaWing and Mazda jokes, for now. It’s no secret that neither the DeltaWing nor the Mazda Prototype has sterling reliability records in this race in particular. And it’s also true that testing does not a race make. But if you aren’t taking these two teams more serious now than in past years, you’re making a big mistake. The DeltaWing team is bullish on its new gearbox, Mazda on its new gasoline-powered AER engine, the MZ-2.0T, and both teams have solid lineups for the race. If the reliability is there, both teams seem to have more pronounced speed to spring a surprise from the race.
  • DPs still keen to end on top. None of the Daytona Prototype teams played their full hand this weekend. Rest assured despite the P2-spec car challenge, the DPs are still the race favorites, and it would still be more of a surprise if any of the P2 cars were to topple the DPs in the race itself.
  • The GTLM sandbagging could stop some flooding. You remember how last month, bad as it was, Missouri suffered significant flooding? I’d offer up some of the theoretical sandbags from the entire GT Le Mans field to help the waters subside in the Midwest. If you want to talk about not pushing for your potential, look no further than this class. There’s no logical, conceivable reason or otherwise why all-new GTE cars for four of the five manufacturers (and an updated Porsche 911 RSR as the fifth) should be running 1.7 seconds or more slower than last year’s pole time of 1:43.488. The best time this year was 1:45.106. No one showed their hand and the tightness between all of BMW, Corvette, Ford, Ferrari and Porsche was still fairly pronounced. In simplest terms, we went full Sgt. Schultz and learned nothing about this class this weekend.
  • GTD is too tight to pick. The new cars from Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini – which total 14 of the 22 cars entered in class – all showed strongly during the week. Blended with the more venerable Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 (back for a one-off sendoff) and two Dodge Viper GT3-Rs, there were still 18 of the 22 cars separated by less than a second in class. And times were comparable enough to last year (2015 pole time, 1:47.272; 2016 best Roar time, 1:47.852) to know no one was too far off their potential. Only BMW and Aston Martin struggled at this test.
  • PC is PC. The Prototype Challenge class has some good pro drivers involved and enough gentlemen drivers to foot the bills. That’s about the most polite way to put it for this class, which still exists but may prove troublesome during the race itself if the speed differential between classes forces risky moves. This tweet from my friend Ryan Eversley sums it up well:

Other notes gleaned beyond the times:

  • The IndyCar contingent of drivers don’t really have a ton to say about their day jobs. Testing for the new year, with new aero components, hasn’t started yet and won’t until later this month.
  • The run of press conferences on Friday brought a lot of things to light in official context after all were bubbling for months. It was welcome to hear the formal confirmations of Michael Shank Racing’s 24 Hours of Le Mans plans (and new third driver Laurens Vanthoor), Mazda’s new MZ-2.0T engine and O’Gara Motorsport’s extra Rolex 24 drivers.
  • It was a tough weekend for Visit Florida Racing, which was more than 1.1 seconds off pace during the week and fought through engine and gearbox issues. Ryan Hunter-Reay, new to the team this year and actually the most recent of the team’s three drivers who’s driven a Corvette DP (2013, Wayne Taylor Racing), said the grip level was off most of the weekend.
  • Speaking of IndyCar, A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ Jack Hawksworth told me the team hasn’t yet finalized its engineering plan for 2016 but should announce it shortly. George Klotz takes over as that team’s Team Director with Don Halliday, previously Takuma Sato’s race engineer, now overall Technical Director.
  • One of Hawksworth’s Starworks Motorsport PC teammates, Felix Rosenqvist, hasn’t yet finalized his 2016 plans. The talented young Swede won last year’s FIA Formula 3 European championship and has tested in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series for Team Pelfrey. He’d be a valuable addition to the Mazda Road to Indy.
  • Mikhail Aleshin is happy to be back Stateside this year. More in a bit on him in a separate post.
  • Lance Stroll’s reputation for having too many incidents in F3 popped up again after his first lap accident on Friday. To his credit, the 17-year-old Canadian immediately owned it, and the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team repaired its No. 01 Riley-Ford for later running throughout the weekend.
  • This was Martin Plowman’s last race weekend as a bachelor before he and fiancee Nicole tie the knot later this month. Plowman drives for CORE autosport at the Rolex 24.
  • Kenton Koch is a smart cookie – and I mean that in more ways than one. The IMSA Prototype Lites champion is making his PC class debut this race and noted how reflective and fortunate he is to have this opportunity. Few drivers of his age, 21, have that level of maturity, and it’s a welcome tonic to the usual kvetching you hear on the race weekend. The only thing I think he could improve upon is his own cookie-baking skills…
  • Sebastien Bourdais noted how weird it was to be walking into a Ford Chip Ganassi Racing hauler, as he tries to beat them in IndyCar with KVSH Racing.
  • Stevenson Motorsports is going for a high risk, high reward strategy by putting all its full-season drivers in one of its new Audi R8 LMS cars for the race. With a good result, both pairings start the year with a shot at the GT Daytona championship; a poor result will kill both pairing chances before the year even gets going.
  • The funniest livery by far? Frikadelli Racing’s Porsche 911 GT3 R. It features a meatball and a beer glass on the side of its car. This car may not win in GTD but it’s sure as hell a sentimental pick, although it has a very good lineup on paper.
  • NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell is loving O’Gara Motorsport’s new Lamborghini Huracán GT3, which he’ll share with Bill Sweedler, Richard Antinucci and Edoardo Piscopo at the Rolex 24.
  • Scuderia Corsa welcomed Christina Nielsen to the team with a birthday cake and celebration on Sunday. The occasion interrupted an interview I was having with team principal Giacomo Mattioli and two key members of their organizational staff, Stefan Johansson and Eric Bachelart!
  • Damien Faulkner was already the lone non-Texan in the No. 93 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R, and the joke grew even funnier when the Irishman swapped his previous firesuit for Sebastiaan Bleekemolen’s previous ViperExchange.com suit – which has a Dutch flag on it.
  • A conversation I had with CJ Wilson and his team, CJ Wilson Racing’s, newest Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge driver, Daniel Burkett, involved the words “dipstick” and “clench” at various points in the convo. There’s a first time for everything in this business.
  • Speaking of the Continental series, the voluminous number of Porsche Caymans in either GS or ST (14 of the 26 cars at Daytona) has led to the joke the series’ acronym of CTSCC actually stands for “Continental Tire Spec Cayman Challenge.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.