2016 Rolex 24 car-by-car preview: GTLM

New Ford, new Ferrari. Photo: IMSA

MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno takes a look through the entries for the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona, car-by-car. Here’s a look through the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class, with order done by the Roar Before the Rolex 24 times and then second car in team, if applicable:

No. 100 BMW Team RLL
Drivers: Lucas Luhr, John Edwards, Kuno Wittmer, Graham Rahal
Roar Time: 1:45.088 (1)

Outlook: BMW’s GTE variant of the new M6 is a bigger beast compared to the outgoing Z4, but it showed nicely at the Roar test. Daytona has been BMW’s Achilles Heel for years, with top end straight line speed always the weak point. But the goodness is there – Wittmer a welcome addition to the team – and with Rahal (2011 overall) and Luhr (2001 GT) past class winners.

No. 25 BMW Team RLL
Drivers: Bill Auberlen, Dirk Werner, Augusto Farfus, Bruno Spengler
Roar Time: 1:45.120 (3)

Outlook: In truth, this is probably BMW’s stronger of its two GTLM lineups by a fraction of a percent – so not by much. I could see this car as a class win contender; of course, I could say that for basically all the cars in this class!

No. 4 Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fassler
Roar Time: 1:45.106 (2)

Outlook: If any bad luck hits Corvette Racing, it generally seems to hit the No. 4 crew. Gavin and Milner haven’t lost their pace and Audi factory ace-on-loan, Fassler, makes his return to the team after a several-year hiatus.

No. 3 Corvette Racing
Car: Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Mike Rockenfeller
Roar Time: 1:45.124 (4)

Outlook: The defending champions of last year have swapped Mike Rockenfeller for Ryan Briscoe and should be consistent, and quick, throughout. Garcia is arguably one of the top GT drivers in the world and will lead this car’s charge.

No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
Drivers: Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais
Roar Time: 1:45.248 (5)

Outlook: The symmetry of a Ford with the No. 66 winning 50 years after a Ford GT did overall in 1966 is too rich to ignore. In truth, first race out for the most hyped new car in the field might be a tough one, even given the caliber of people and drivers assembled. A finish is the first goal, a win a bonus.

No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing
Car: Ford GT
Drivers: Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe, Stefan Muecke
Roar Time: 1:45.2469 (7)

Outlook: Much like its sister car, the No. 67 Ford has great parts but will have to see how it endures in its first 24-hour race. The bright side, like its sister car, is the Ford EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 engine has been well-developed in the prototype ranks and any of three in this car could maximize its potential.

No. 911 Porsche North America
Car: Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, Kevin Estre
Roar Time: 1:45.524 (9)

Outlook: I wouldn’t put too much stock in Porsche’s bottom-of-the-class Roar times. With the lone older car in the class (now in its third year, with upgrades) and a less-than-favorable pre-Roar BoP assessed, the car and its drivers haven’t yet shown their full potential. Pilet, Tandy and Estre are three of the best at the moment and it’d be a bigger surprise if the car doesn’t make strides during race week.

No. 912 Porsche North America
Car: Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Earl Bamber, Fred Makowiecki, Michael Christensen
Roar Time: 1:45.543 (10)

Outlook: The No. 912 lineup isn’t far off the No. 911 car. Here’s hoping the Mako of two or three years ago resumes after a tough 2015 season and Christensen lives up to his potential. Right now, Bamber is this car’s best bet.

No. 68 Scuderia Corsa
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Alessandro Pier Guidi, Alexandre Premat, Daniel Serra, Memo Rojas
Roar Time: 1:45.266 (6)

Outlook: The privateer entry makes the first of four starts in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup with a new car and a newly organized lineup. The Giacomo Mattioli-led team is very strong and in its first GTLM start, doesn’t have a ton of expectations … which is a good thing.

No. 72 SMP Racing
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Victor Shaitar, Andrea Bertolini, Gianmaria Bruni, James Calado
Roar Time: 1:45.314 (8)

Outlook: Just as SMP’s BR01 Nissan is the top Prototype class sleeper, this car has to be the top GTLM class sleeper. A mostly pro lineup including Bruni, arguably the best GT driver in the world, and a better-than-you-realize Shaitar could deliver success in the Ferrari 488 GTE’s worldwide race debut.

No. 62 Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella, Toni Vilander, Davide Rigon, Olivier Beretta
Roar Time: No time

Outlook: The team’s already in a tight race to make the Rolex 24, with its car build completed in mid-January at Michelotto ahead of a shakedown at Fiorano. Its first real running will be after it arrives Stateside, race week. But the Dave Sims-managed, Giuseppe Risi-led team has always starred in endurance races and has one of the best lineups in class.

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”

Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”

Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).