2016 Rolex 24 car-by-car preview: GTD

New Lamborghini, old 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 Daytona (GTD) class, with order done by the Roar Before the Rolex 24 times and then second car in team, if applicable:

No. 22 Alex Job Racing
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Leh Keen, Cooper MacNeil, Shane van Gisbergen, Gunnar Jeannette, David MacNeil
Roar Time: 1:47.852 (1)

Outlook: The Roar pacesetters, the WeatherTech-backed entry would be a natural to win the first Rolex 24 as the WeatherTech Championship. Which is why it probably won’t happen. The lineup is good, as Keen and Cooper MacNeil are a solid tandem, van Gisbergen is an animal in his stints, Jeannette highly underrated and David MacNeil will probably only have one stint. And Job’s team has won here before, most recently in 2013 with an Audi. But the fact it’s a new car and there’s still two true Silver or Bronze drivers in a class where most cars have really only one, it might be hard to keep pace.

No. 23 The Heart of Racing (AJR)
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Mario Farnbacher, Ian James, Alex Riberas, Wolf Henzler
Roar Time: 1:48.119 (8)

Outlook: Quite how this lineup, with four proper pros, fits into the theoretically pro-am class owes to the vagaries and quirks of the driver ratings system. But don’t blame the players of the The Heart of Racing car, the second AJR entry, for constructing the lineup that’s still good to the regulations. This was a championship-contending entry last year except for Daytona, where a DNF (18th place) resigned them to a year of catching up. If they finish this year, they should be a podium contender.

No. 48 Paul Miller Racing
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Bryce Miller, Mirko Bortolotti
Roar Time: 1:47.881 (2)

Outlook: A lot of newness here for the Paul Miller squad, with a fairly surprising switch from Audi to Lamborghini and the new Sellers/Snow full-season pairing replacing Christopher Haase and Dion von Moltke. Given all the variables at play – first race for the new car in North America, first time for this quartet of drivers, first race for the team with its new car – it’s hard to see them winning first time out. But a pole or podium would be realistic targets beyond finishing the race.

No. 6 Stevenson Motorsports
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Robin Liddell, Andrew Davis, Lawson Aschenbach, Matt Bell
Roar Time: 1:47.949 (3)

Outlook: For the John Stevenson-owned team, this car carries all the hopes and dreams for a good result in its return to the top series of North American sports car racing after a two-year hiatus. Putting all four full-season drivers in one car is a high-risk, high-reward strategy that will either give both pairings a leg up for the rest of the year in GTD, or force both to play catch-up. Like the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche, this car has no true ams, and as such won’t be suffering from the driver lineup; any issues that could strike would likely be out of the team’s control.

No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Boris Said, Kenny Habul, Dion von Moltke, Tristan Vautier
Roar Time: 1:48.321 (16)

Outlook: An eclectic mix of sports car, NASCAR and open-wheel are comprised in Stevenson’s second Audi and with none of these four drivers set for a full season, arguably, this car has absolutely nothing to lose. In a 24-hour race, that’s a bonus, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Audi veteran von Moltke or Vautier star during their stints. Both will be keen to impress and will likely provide the car’s best times.

No. 93 Riley Motorsports
Car: Dodge Viper GT3-R
Drivers: Gar Robinson, Ben Keating, Eric Foss, Jeff Mosing, Damien Faulkner
Roar Time: 1:47.960 (4)

Outlook: The No. 93 car has a shot to defend its GTD title but with an entirely different quartet of drivers alongside Viper Exchange’s Ben Keating, who’ll pull double duty. Robinson steps up from TA2; Foss and Mosing have a natural connection as teammates in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Faulkner is a highly underrated ace who could really deliver in his stints. There’s likely too many true Silvers in this car for it to win, but, as we saw last year with a theoretically better lineup, it can be done.

No. 33 Riley Motorsports
Car: Dodge Viper GT3-R
Drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Marc Miller, Dominik Farnbacher
Roar Time: 1:48.000 (6)

Outlook: Of Bill Riley’s two cars, this is its primary win contender. It’s got a tried-and-true car compared to the fleet of new FIA GT3-spec cars, an ace lineup in all four seats, and an incredible crew and strategy plan. If it can avoid issues, is a good bet for the win within the class.

No. 30 Frikadelli Racing
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Klaus Abbelen, Sabine Schmitz, Sven Mueller, Patrick Huisman, Frank Stippler
Roar Time: 1:47.963 (5)

Outlook: Your top non-SMP Racing sleeper in this year’s Rolex 24. Another team that’s played the lineup game to perfection since team principal Abbelen managed to get three full-time pros plus Top Gear TV host and driver in her own right Schmitz in the pro-am class. The bummer here is that Connor De Phillippi was bumped out as a result. The team’s got a meatball and a beer glass on the side of the car but the team, with team manager Erik Meyer and a crew featuring “head meatball” Cole Scrogham, will surprise if the reliability is there.

No. 44 Magnus Racing
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Andy Lally, John Potter, Marco Seefried, Rene Rast
Roar Time: 1:48.070 (7)

Outlook: Lally’s impressed by the new car, Potter remains one of sports car racing’s best true gentlemen drivers with speed, patience and consistency, and Seefried and Rast are certifiable bonuses as the extra drivers. This is Magnus’ best lineup and best shot for an encore of its 2012 race win, which is serious business – but with the Magnus webcast set to return (but will “Rom Nation?”) and its usual race preview video in the works, they know how to have fun too.

No. 73 Park Place Motorsports
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Joerg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey, Matt McMurry, Norbert Siedler
Roar Time: 1:48.186 (9)

Outlook: I struggle where to place this car. Bergmeister remains an ace but will have to, at least this first race, readapt back to the GTD ranks. Lindsey is a good am while McMurry should be better placed in GTD compared to prototypes for his second Rolex 24. Siedler, incidentally, might be this car’s steadiest hand and surprise driver – and perhaps as he goes, so goes the car. John Horton remains criminally underrated as an engineer and will get the car running well. The question I have is whether this car will do enough to break out of the very tight midpack.

No. 96 Turner Motorsport
Car: BMW M6 GT3
Drivers: Jens Klingmann, Bret Curtis, Ashley Freiberg, Marco Wittmann
Roar Time: 1:48.207 (10)

Outlook: Like in GTLM, for BMW in GTD at Daytona, it’s hard to put too much stock in their performance at this track versus the rest of the season. Ending only 0.4 off the fastest GTD time was a plus. Although the respective –manns will be worth watching, the key for this car is how well Freiberg and Curtis do in their stints to keep pace with some of the other more experienced Silver or Bronze drivers.

No. 97 Turner Motorsport
Car: BMW M6 GT3
Drivers: Markus Palttala, Michael Marsal, Maxime Martin, Jesse Krohn
Roar Time: 1:48.307 (14)

Outlook: This car has the better of Turner’s lineups for the Rolex 24, with BMW factory ace Martin and BMW Junior Krohn joining the dependable full-season pairing of Palttala and Marsal. Pace and reliability, not for the drivers, but for the car, will determine its progress and result in a race Turner has recently struggled.

No. 11 O’Gara Motorsport
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, Richard Antinucci, Edoardo Piscopo
Roar Time: 1:48.253 (11)

Outlook: For a first-time entrant into the championship, Tom O’Gara has assembled some pretty reliable and exciting puzzle pieces. The team features the defending GTD drivers champions, two Lamborghini Super Trofeo champs (Antinucci 2015 North America, Piscopo 2014 World Final) and the “this looks really good in the buildup” Lamborghini Huracán GT3, with a crew featuring ace team manager Shane Senaviratne and engineer Gerald Tyler, both of whom worked with Bell in Indy Lights a while ago. A win would be a lot to expect on debut, but frankly, don’t rule it out given the caliber of operation that has the potential to “wow” this paddock.

No. 63 Scuderia Corsa
Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT3
Drivers: Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen, Jeff Segal, Robert Renauer
Roar Time: 1:48.266 (12)

Outlook: Good team, good lineup, tried-and-trusted car. What’s not to like? This is another very good pick for the win given the pieces at play. Key to watch here is how Ferrari newcomers Nielsen and Renauer do in comparison to Ferrari veterans Balzan and Segal in their respective stints.

No. 540 Black Swan Racing
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Nick Catsburg, Tim Pappas, Patrick Long, Andy Pilgrim
Roar Time: 1:48.281 (13)

Outlook: Pappas has a keen eye for talent; he’s brought Jeroen Bleekemolen and Damien Faulkner to these shores in the past, and the appointment of Nick Catsburg for 2016 continues that tradition at Black Swan Racing. Add in Porsche factory ace Long and the dependable, effervescent personality that is Pilgrim, and this is a sneaky good podium contender within GTD.

No. 28 Konrad Motorsport
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Rolf Ineichen, Lance Willsey, Franz Konrad, Fabio Babini, Marc Basseng
Roar Time: 1:48.309 (15)

Outlook: Konrad has race experience but the combination of new car, too many “true ams” and a deep GTD field probably limits this car to the fringes of a top-10 finish in class, at best. Maybe higher, but it’s hard to see.

No. 51 Spirit of Race
Car: Ferrari 458 Italia GT3
Drivers: Raffaele Giammaria, Matteo Cressoni, Marco Cioci, Peter Ashley Mann
Roar Time: 1:48.335 (17)

Outlook: Another car where the lineup at play is probably better than the (older) car. I don’t see this car figuring into podium contention, although a mid-to-low top-10 is possible if it survives the night stage into the morning.

No. 16 Change Racing
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Spencer Pumpelly, Corey Lewis, Justin Marks, Kaz Grala
Roar Time: 1:48.559 (18)

Outlook: There is a lot of good here that Robby Benton has assembled… but I think the really good results come later in the year when it’s just Lewis and Pumpelly for the sprint races. Lewis, Marks and Grala are all talented but inexperienced; Marks has a class win in 2009, but no Rolex 24 starts since 2011. Pumpelly is the team’s lone veteran workhorse and he’s new to the car and team. Given the fact it’s a new car with a new team in its first race, the team would be smart to temper expectations.

No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports (with Krohn Racing)
Car: Audi R8 LMS ultra
Drivers: Christopher Haase, Pierre Kaffer, Nic Jonsson, Tracy Krohn
Roar Time: 1:48.871 (19)

Outlook: The Audi equivalent of the Spirit of Race entry, with a really good-for-GTD lineup and an older car that ain’t gonna win the race on pace, but might on reliability. It would be a popular triumph though for both Lizard and Krohn, as two U.S. veteran teams combine for this one-off in the classic “Krohn Green” livery.

No. 98 Aston Martin Racing
Car: Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Richie Stanaway
Roar Time: 1:48.911 (20)

Outlook: AMR did not have a good Roar and you would have figured this car to be much higher up the timesheets than it was. Oddly, a move to GTD is probably what’s hurt this car’s chances the most. In an 11 or 12-car GTLM field, Aston Martin could be a podium contender, but in a deeper GTD field it’s hard to see them finishing in the top five.

No. 007 TRG-AMR
Car: Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
Drivers: Antonio Perez, Ricardo Perez, Santiago Creel, Lars Viljoen
Roar Time: 1:49.175 (21)

Outlook: Kevin Buckler remains one of sports car racing’s most enthusiastic supporters, and 20 years after his debut as a driver in 1996, it’s the enthusiasm that runs much stronger than this car’s results chances. He’ll still get plenty of ink from the weekend though thanks to a marketing linkup with Force India F1 ace Sergio Perez.

No. 21 Konrad Motorsport
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Emanuele Busnelli, Jim Michaelian, TBA
Roar Time: 1:51.157 (22)

Outlook: A projected all-gentlemen lineup with a new car is not a good combination for a 24-hour race. A good goal for this car is that it doesn’t make its way into any stories for being the lapped car that trips up the leaders.

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

GARAGE 56 SPECS: Full comparison of NASCAR Cup car to Le Mans car

BUTTON’S BIG MOVE: Hendrick drone tour was NASCAR entryway for F1 champion

France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”