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An intense, barnburner 2016 Rolex 24 is set to occur

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s been a semi-weird week ahead of the 54th Rolex 24 at Daytona, with rain making Thursday an irrelevant day of running and then one final intense practice session on Friday setting the stage for what figures to be a barnburner of a race.

Here’s the provisional grid for today’s race.

There’s a number of story lines to hit, so here’s what to look for:

  • The P2, DP and the DeltaWing interaction: We know the P2s and DeltaWing have the pace. They’re faster, they’re lighter… and they’re also more fragile. The compelling story line here is that the variety of potential spoilers, be it the polesitting SMP Racing BR Engineering BR01 Nissan, the DeltaWing, the pair of Ligier JS P2 Hondas from Michael Shank Racing and Tequila Patron ESM and the two Mazdas, have their best shot yet to upset the apple cart. Key to their success will be long green flag runs. With too many yellows, it will box the field up and negate any outright pace advantage. And you can bank on about 10 to 12 yellows – if it gets to be more than that, the P2 advantage may slip away.
  • Pruett’s quest for six: Scott Pruett, with a win, would win the Rolex 24 for the sixth time overall. It would break a tie with Hurley Haywood, at five, for the most overall. He’s got a great chance to win in the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP, which he’ll share with Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque.
  • Wide-open GTLM, which is glorious: There’s no favorite in GT Le Mans, which is awesome. Corvette won last year and Porsche the year before that, and in 2016 their cars are more evolutions than revolutions. BMW and Ferrari meanwhile debut new turbocharged cars, the M6 GTLM and 488 GTE respectively, and have looked impressive on pace all week. The wild card, though, and the star attraction heading into the race is the new Ford GT, entered by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing with a key partnership with Multimatic.
  • And wide-open GTD too for good measure: Seven manufacturers have produced 22 FIA GT3-spec cars, most new with a handful of slightly older cars, to produce the other “big show” heading into the race in GT Daytona. It’s hard to rule out too many of the efforts, although Lamborghini, Porsche and Audi – the three VW brands – have had a minuscule edge over Ferrari, Dodge, BMW and Aston Martin. The Park Place Motorsports Porsche, qualified by Norbert Siedler, starts on pole in arguably the deepest class this year.
  • PC likely a battle of survival: With only eight cars, all spec cars and a higher volume of gentlemen drivers, Prototype Challenge is probably the least attractive of the four classes but it’s not something to be entirely overlooked. On paper, CORE autosport and Starworks Motorsport must be considered the favorites, with any of the other five entries in the mix for podiums provided they run the distance.

Notable Quotes

Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing; No. 66 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT, GT Le Mans class, making its debut): “It’s the grand opening for the Ford GT, the whole brand new program starting with the 24-hour race. It’s a pretty big challenge but looking forward to it. We’ve got a great team with Chip Ganassi Racing to try and make it work and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing; No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford, Prototype class): “The balance and performance is still quite a ways off, maybe a little broader now – I think 2, 2.5 seconds to the quick P2s and some of the other cars. We’re going to have our work cut out and have to hope for a little bit of attrition on the P2 side, which in the past has helped. But in the past we’ve also been a lot closer on straight-up pace.”

Andy Meyrick (Panoz DeltaWing Racing; No. 0 DeltaWing DWC13, Prototype class): “I know this place well and I know the car, so it didn’t take much time to get up to speed. The car was quick right out of the box. Everyone was struggling with cold temperatures whereas we were pretty strong. We’ve got a good setup from the Roar and I don’t think we should change it. We’re starting a ways back but it was the right decision to skip qualifying so now we just need to not make mistakes in the first hour or two and move forward.”

Rick Mayer (Risi Competizione race engineer, No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE, GT Le Mans class): “All of our running so far has been in the wet. Toni and Fisichella, the only two guys who have driven the car yet today, say that it was good in the wet for them. We’ll wait until tomorrow until we get in the dry. Qualifying was pretty treacherous because it started raining pretty hard once we went out. Then one of our sister cars had an accident, which caused a red flag, so we really only got two timed laps.”

Gary Nelson (Action Express Racing team manager, Nos. 5 and 31 Corvette DPs, Prototype class): “We came to Daytona International Speedway focused on winning the Rolex 24 and following qualifying, that goal is still attainable because our drivers took care of our Corvette DPs.”

ROLEX 24 PRE-RACE CONTENT

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”