2017 Rolex 24 car-by-car preview: P/PC

No. 81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07 and No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno takes a look through the entries for the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, car-by-car. Here’s a look through the two prototype classes, Prototype and Prototype Challenge. Roar Before the Rolex 24 times are listed.

With 12 cars in P that are all new and five in PC that are in their final year of eligibility, the prototype classes span the generations of recent sports car designs, teams, and lineups.

PROTOTYPE

Daytona Prototype international (DPi) spec cars

No. 5 Cadillac DPi-V.R. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 5 Cadillac DPi-V.R. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing (Action Express Racing)
Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, Filipe Albuquerque
Roar Time: 1:38.693 (5)

Outlook: On what should be a better playing field for the debuting Cadillac DPi, the No. 5 Action Express team seeks a return to winning this race for the first time in three years.

No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing (Action Express Racing)
Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Dane Cameron, Eric Curran, Seb Morris, Mike Conway
Roar Time: 1:38.902 (6)

Outlook: The time is right for the No. 31 car to finally contend at Daytona since it hasn’t in years past. Defending IMSA champs Cameron and Curran enter at the top of their games; Conway should star in his Rolex debut while Sunoco Challenge winner Morris, Andy Meyrick’s protégé, is the wild card.

No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing
Car: Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Jordan Taylor, Ricky Taylor, Max Angelelli, Jeff Gordon
Roar Time: 1:38.951 (8)

Outlook: After a rash of near misses and heartache, is this finally the year for the second generation of Taylor brothers to break through at Daytona? Gordon is the star guest driver here, and how close he is to the pace after a 10-year race layoff may determine their final outcome.

No. 55 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 55 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 55 Mazda Motorsports
Car: Mazda RT24-P
Drivers: Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez, Spencer Pigot
Roar Time: 1:38.363 (2)

Outlook: New car but the same lineup for this Mazda trio, who won’t lack for pace on their own. Suspension issues interrupted their Roar; reliability is also a key target for the same AER engine that continues into 2017.

No. 70 Mazda Motorsports
Car: Mazda RT24-P
Drivers: Joel Miller, Tom Long, James Hinchcliffe
Roar Time: 1:39.574 (10)

Outlook: Take the above description and copy and paste it here, except with a Machine Gray livery rather than Soul Red. The “Mayor of Hinchtown” makes a welcome return to Mazda for a fifth time, after a year’s hiatus.

Photo: Tequila Patron ESM
Photo: Tequila Patron ESM

No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM
Car: Nissan Onroak DPi
Drivers: Ryan Dalziel, Scott Sharp, Pipo Derani, Brendon Hartley
Roar Time: 1:39.654 (12)

Outlook: While it’s Derani and Sharp that return as defending champion co-drivers, it’s likely Derani and Dalziel – back Stateside full-time with ESM after a one-year detour to VISIT FLORIDA Racing – who will carry this car’s pace and hopes. The car doesn’t have a ton of miles and may struggle initially.

No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM
Car: Nissan Onroak DPi
Drivers: Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek, Bruno Senna, Brendon Hartley
Roar Time: 1:39.608 (11)

Outlook: Senna and Hartley are the impressive new additions here alongside the other two defending champion co-drivers, “JVO” and Brown. Hartley’s Daytona history is mixed with only one P5, last year, while Senna will look to star in what is, surprisingly, his Rolex 24 debut.

LMP2 spec cars

No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing
Car: Riley Mk. 30-Gibson
Drivers: Renger van der Zande, Marc Goossens, Rene Rast
Roar Time: 1:38.922 (7)

Outlook: Last year was a nightmare year for VISIT FLORIDA at Daytona with a tried-and-true car. More new elements enter with a new car (the Riley-Gibson), drivers (the admittedly fast van der Zande and Rast) and director of race operations (Michael Harvey), who if they can mesh quickly could produce a result.

No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports
Car: Ligier JS P217-Gibson
Drivers: Tom Kimber-Smith, Jose Gutierrez, Michael Guasch, RC Enerson
Roar Time: 1:38.596 (4)

Outlook: The car, class and most of the lineup is new. But Bobby Oergel runs a good program and won this race in PC before just two years ago. The team once again fields a similarly under-the-radar lineup, particularly with sports car debutante Enerson alongside expected pacesetter “TKS.” A podium is possible here if the car holds.

No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports
Car: Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Stephen Simpson, Mikhail Goikhberg, Chris Miller, Mathias Beche
Roar Time: 1:39.167 (9)

Outlook: John Church’s team steps up to Prototype and will find the going tougher here than it was in PC, where the team won last year. Finishing must be the first goal here for what will be a likable underdog entry in class, with Beche the all but certain car pacesetter.

No. 13 Rebellion Racing
Car: Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Nick Heidfeld, Neel Jani, Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin
Roar Time: 1:38.408 (3)

Outlook: Rebellion makes its U.S. return and Daytona debut with, surprisingly, three Rolex 24 rookies in its all-star lineup of four drivers (Sarrazin has one start in 2013). Whether the undoubted pace can translate in the race week remains to be seen.

No. 81 DragonSpeed
Car: Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Nicolas Lapierre, Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman, Loic Duval
Roar Time: 1:38.343 (1)

Outlook: Elton Julian’s team knows how to run endurance races and had some success in the ELMS. Fourth at Sebring was an impressive result last year, and in some respects they may have wanted more. A podium is more than possible for the team that was the Roar pacesetter.

PC

No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Outlook: The swan song for the PC class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona will see a new team add its name to the list of class winners, a guaranteed fourth in as many years as CORE autosport, PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and JDC/Miller Motorsports have won the last three. With those three teams now elsewhere on the WeatherTech Championship grid, it’s left to the Peter Baron, Brian Alder and Brent O’Neill-led stalwarts to make up the five-car grid.

While the PC class lacks the overall depth and star power in the three other classes, there’s still some intrigue. Performance Tech’s quartet was meant to be all 24 years of age or younger with French the only Rolex 24 veteran, although that changed following the Roar with 27-year-old Nick Boulle joining the team once more. Baron has done his usual star finding to spread between his two cars at Starworks. And at BAR1, past Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice returns to active competition after five years out, Johnny Mowlem makes one final drive at Daytona, and young guns Trent Hindman and Gustavo Yacaman will be keen to impress in their opportunities.

Expect the class to very much be a battle of survival, but it will be cool to see one of these three team owners rewarded for their persistence and dedication.

No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports
Drivers: James French, Kyle Masson, Pato O’Ward, Nick Boulle
Roar Time: 1:41.888 (1)

No. 8 Starworks Motorsport
Drivers: Ben Keating, John Falb, Chris Cumming, Remo Ruscitti, Robert Wickens
Roar Time: 1:43.320 (3)

No. 88 Starworks Motorsport
Drivers: Scott Mayer, Alex Popow, James Dayson, Sebastian Saavedra, Sean Rayhall
Roar Time: 1:44.089 (5)

No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports
Drivers: Buddy Rice, Don Yount, Gustavo Yacaman, Chapman Ducote, Mark Kvamme
Roar Time: 1:43.865 (4)

No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports
Drivers: Johnny Mowlem, Tom Papadopoulos, Trent Hindman, Adam Merzon, David Cheng
Roar Time: 1:42.701 (2)

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.