Mercedes, BMW, Porsche. Photo courtesy of IMSA

2017 Rolex 24 car-by-car preview: GTD

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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 second of two GT classes, the GT Daytona class. Roar Before the Rolex 24 times are listed.

While Prototype has 12 new cars and the GT Le Mans class has 11 factory or factory-supported entries, it’s GT Daytona that’s overflowing in both quality and quantity of entrants. A total of 27 cars from nine different manufacturers includes six returning marques (Porsche, Ferrari, Audi, Lamborghini, BMW and Aston Martin) and three new manufacturers (Acura, Lexus, Mercedes-AMG), and it’s possible more than half the 27 cars could contend during the week.

The GTD breakdown is by manufacturer, expected full-season entrants versus expected partial-season entrants.

EXPECTED FULL-SEASON ENTRIES

All. (Photo by Brian Cleary/bcpix.com)
All 3 Mercedes-AMG GT3s. Photo by Brian Cleary/bcpix.com

No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Mario Farnbacher, Adam Christodoulou
Roar Time: 1:46.902 (2)

Outlook: For a team that’s new to the Mercedes in IMSA, their components for Daytona aren’t new to Mercedes overall. Bleekemolen, who drives seemingly anything on four wheels at hyper speed, and Christodoulou are Merc veterans. The younger of two Farnbacher brothers joins as the team’s sneaky, speedy Silver, and with Keating continuing his dynamic duo relationship with Bleekemolen, this entry has a great chance to win in a stacked class.

No. 50 Riley Motorsports-WeatherTech Racing
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Cooper MacNeil, Gunnar Jeannette, Shane van Gisbergen, Thomas Jaeger
Roar Time: 1:47.452 (11)

Outlook: One of the many intriguing GTD entries sees the MacNeils and WeatherTech now link up with Bill Riley’s team and a Mercedes-AMG GT3, swapping Alex Job and the Porsche 911 GT3 R from 2016. This marks the WeatherTech/MacNeil component’s IMSA return after their BoP-alleged withdrawal prior to the end of 2016. Funnily it will likely be the team’s extra drivers, the “notorious SVG” – or “the Giz” – and Mercedes factory ace Jaeger who will lead the team’s pace charge.

No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Boris Said, Kenny Habul, Tristan Vautier, Maro Engel
Roar Time: 1:47.322 (7)

Outlook: Both the team and the car are new to Daytona, with Habul’s SunEnergy1 group having raced in a Stevenson Motorsports Audi last year. Engel and Vautier will set the pace here.

All 8 Lamborghini Huracán GT3s. Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini
All 8 Lamborghini Huracán GT3s. Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

No. 16 Change Racing
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Jeroen Mul, Corey Lewis, Brett Sandberg, Kaz Grala
Roar Time: 1:47.591 (14)

Outlook: Mistakes interrupted real promise for Robby Benton’s Change team in its first season in the WeatherTech Championship, including right out of the gate at Daytona when Justin Marks collided with Bryce Miller’s fellow Lamborghini. The lineup here features four accurately rated Silvers, who are either low on American (Mul) or car (Sandberg and Grala) experience. That makes this car intriguing to watch as the quartet of youngsters look to grow and gel, quickly.

No. 27 Dream Racing Competition
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Cedric Sbirrazzuoli, Lawrence DeGeorge, Paolo Ruberti, Luca Persiani, Raffaele Giammaria
Roar Time: 1:47.986 (22)

Outlook: The Enrico Bertaggia-led team makes its Daytona debut after skipping this race last year prior to the rest of its first full season. The five-driver lineup includes a number of talents, but the field is likely too deep and the team too inexperienced to make a major move up the grid.

No. 48 Paul Miller Racing
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Bryce Miller, Andrea Caldarelli, Dion von Motlke
Roar Time: 1:47.928 (19)

Outlook: Miller’s going for the tried-and-true strategy in 2017 with all the same components, bar Rolex 24 debutante Caldarelli, returning from this time 12 months ago. Von Moltke also comes back as an extra ace in the hole. Given the progress Sellers and Snow, along with Lamborghini made over that time period, this is as good a bet as any for the class win. That’s provided they avoid the bizarre such as last year, when Bryce Miller collided with another Lamborghini.

No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3 R. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 54 CORE autosport
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, Nic Jonsson, Patrick Long
Roar Time: 1:47.746 (17)

Outlook: CORE’s been undone by poor reliability in the usually reliable PC class the last two Rolex 24s, with a late fire and an early engine woe putting pause to their efforts. The veteran pairing of Braun and Bennett are the two full-season drivers for the Morgan Brady-led team’s new Porsche effort. Jonsson joins up alongside them, and trades in his usual endurance race sidekick Tracy Krohn for the slightly faster American factory Porsche ace Patrick Long. Even with the newness here, CORE has prepped for this since announcing their PC withdrawal, and will be a force to be reckoned with.

No. 73 Park Place Motorsports
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Joerg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey, Matt McMurry, Norbert Siedler
Roar Time: 1:47.395 (9)

Outlook: Little is changed for the defending Rolex 24 polesitting entry, with Siedler having delivered the top spot in miserable conditions last year. Like many others in class, this is a good lineup, with few flaws to pinpoint other than pretty horrid luck at the Rolex 24. Since the IMSA merger in 2014, the No. 73 car has finished 13th, 16th and 17th in class, and that’s killed its season-long title hopes.

No. 991 The Racer’s Group
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Wolf Henzler, Jan Heylen, Mike Hedlund, Santiago Creel, Tim Pappas
Roar Time: 1:47.389 (8)

Outlook: There’s something right about Buckler, TRG and Porsche back together at Daytona once again, even if the number is 991 rather than the traditional 66 as it was when the team scored its famous overall win in 2003. As it is, Buckler’s propensity for assembling good lineups is on display once again, with factory ace Henzler – a past TRG veteran – leading a five-driver entry.

No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 14 3GT Racing
Car: Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Scott Pruett, Sage Karam, Ian James, Gustavo Menezes
Roar Time: 1:48.196 (24)

Outlook: Many things to note here. One is the all-pro lineup featuring so-called “Super Silvers” in Pruett and James, even though they’re the experienced veterans compared to youngsters Karam and Menezes, the latter of whom is fresh off an FIA WEC LMP2 title and an LMP1 test. The team name and car are completely new, and the last time Paul Gentilozzi ran a GT program, it was the less-than-storybook run with the Jaguar XKR effort in the ALMS GT days. Taken on paper the individual pieces of this entry are all very good, but the collective gelling of all pieces will take time to properly blossom. A finish must be the first goal, with anything beyond that a good bonus.

No. 15 3GT Racing
Car: Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Jack Hawksworth, Robert Alon, Austin Cindric, Dominik Farnbacher
Roar Time: 1:47.975 (21)

Outlook: Whereas the No. 14 Lexus is high on sports car experience, this one is higher on youth and potential. Farnbacher’s only 32 but is the most experienced member of this quartet; the others, Hawksworth, Alon and Cindric, are 25, 26 and 18, respectively, and the trio have really only dabbled in sports car racing prior to now. Add in the new car and new team bits and you have the recipe for a car that will succeed by surprising, with a lower bar to eclipse than others in this field.

No. 93 Acura NSX GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 93 Acura NSX GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 86 Michael Shank Racing
Car: Acura NSX GT3
Drivers: Jeff Segal, Ozz Negri, Tom Dyer, Ryan Hunter-Reay
Roar Time: 1:48.131 (23)

Outlook: The newness of all the components here collectively outweighs their individual achievements heading into the Rolex 24. Segal has managed to quietly capture Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans wins in the last three years to add to his resume. Negri is a past Daytona polesitter and overall winner with Shank. Dyer is the underrated “Super Silver” and RHR’s IndyCar accomplishments are many, although he’s been a bit unlucky in his past Rolex outings. But while Shank runs a great team and all the drivers have racked up the personal stats, the new NSX will sink or swim based mainly on reliability in its highly anticipated race debut.

No. 93 Michael Shank Racing
Car: Acura NSX GT3
Drivers: Andy Lally, Katherine Legge, Mark Wilkins, Graham Rahal
Roar Time: 1:47.929 (20)

Outlook: Like the No. 86 Acura, the sister Acura has a lot of good among its collective parts. Interestingly, Legge is the only one of these four drivers without a Rolex, with Lally (numerous GT wins), Wilkins (PC in 2014) and Rahal (overall/DP in 2011) all having visited Daytona’s victory lane. Reliability will tell the tale for this car, as it will the other car.

No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Robin Liddell, Andrew Davis, Lawson Aschenbach, Matt Bell
Roar Time: 1:46.916 (3)

Outlook: The number is new – or old, as it’s a Stevenson classic reincarnated – but the hopes are the same for Stevenson with its only entry at this year’s Rolex 24. The team is in a better position to contend this year after making its return to IMSA’s top level last year, having made solid progression during 2016.

No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 63 Scuderia Corsa
Car: Ferrari 488 Italia GT3
Drivers: Alessandro Balzan, Christina Nielsen, Matteo Cressoni, Sam Bird
Roar Time: 1:47.705 (16)

Outlook: After last year’s tried-and-true run in the 458 GT3’s swansong, this year the twice-defending GTD season-long class champions have a tried-and-true 488 GT3 making its Daytona race debut. It’d be hard to bet against a driver lineup, car and team that have quickly established a track record of success.

No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

No. 96 Turner Motorsport
Car: BMW M6 GT3
Drivers: Jens Klingmann, Maxime Martin, Jesse Krohn, Justin Marks
Roar Time: 1:48.467 (25)

Outlook: Despite a late lineup confirmation and being the only BMW M6 in a stacked GTD class, the trio of BMW veterans and past Rolex 24 class winner Marks make for one of the best quartets in class. Will Turner’s team usually finds a way to contend even if the odds are long, and a solid top-five result can’t be ruled out here.

EXPECTED PART-TIME OR DAYTONA-ONLY ENTRANTS

No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Outlook: More than in recent years, there’s an onslaught of European extra entries into the GT Daytona class and among these 11 cars that will either run a partial season or may grow into a full-time effort, there’s plenty of possible under-the-radar spoilers.

The two American teams listed – Alegra Motorsports and Alex Job Racing (pictured above) – will doubtless contend. Job’s late deal comprises past Rolex 24 and defending Le Mans winners Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, talented Silver-rated Frankie Montecalvo and Audi factory ace Pierre Kaffer with a team that knows how to get it done. Alegra, meanwhile, combines the talents of IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup champions Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare and Michael de Quesada with help from Porsche factory ace Michael Christensen. Expect at least one of these two teams to be in sneaky podium contention as the race nears its end.

No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

Grasser, Konrad and Manthey will run at Daytona after also competing in this month’s 24 Hours of Dubai. ADAC GT Masters champions Land Motorsport (pictured above, leading Spirit of Race) make their Rolex 24 debut with American star Connor De Phillippi and Christopher Mies joined by fellow talented youngsters Jules Gounon and Jeffrey Schmidt. And in Spirit of Race (AF Corse) and Aston Martin Racing, you have two dedicated endurance veteran teams with excellent lineups.

Ignore these entries at your own peril, because there’s a very solid chance at least three to five of them could make some serious noise this week.

No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Ezequiel Companc
Roar Time: 1:47.411 (10)

No. 61 GRT Grasser Racing Team
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen, Milos Pavlovic, Roberto Pampanini, Christoph Lenz
Roar Time: 1:48.619 (26)

No. 18 DAC Motorsports
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Emmanuel Anassis, Zachary Claman De Melo, Anthony Massari
Roar Time: 1:48.975 (27)

No. 21 Konrad Motorsport
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Marc Basseng, Marco Mapelli, Lance Willsey, Luca Stolz, Franz Konrad
Roar Time: 1:47.566 (13)

No. 46 Ebimotors
Car: Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Fabio Babini, Emanuele Busnelli, Emmanuel Collard, Francois Perrodo
Roar Time: 1:47.466 (12)

No. 23 Alex Job Racing
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, Frankie Montecalvo, Pierre Kaffer
Roar Time: 1:46.973 (5)

No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport
Car: Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Christopher Mies, Connor De Phillippi, Jules Gounon, Jeffrey Schmidt
Roar Time: 1:46.957 (4)

No. 28 Alegra Motorsports
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare, Michael de Quesada, Carlos de Quesada, Michael Christensen
Roar Time: 1:47.142 (6)

No. 59 Manthey Racing
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Reinhold Renger, Harald Proczyk, Steve Smith, Sven Mueller, Matteo Cairoli
Roar Time: 1:46.810 (1)

No. 51 Spirit of Race
Car: Ferrari 488 Italia GT3
Drivers: Peter Mann, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon, Maurizio Mediani, Rino Mastronardi
Roar Time: 1:47.698 (15)

No. 98 Aston Martin Racing
Car: Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Marco Sorensen
Roar Time: 1:47.850 (18)

No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 98 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Sims, De Philippi deliver first win for BMW M8 GTE in Michelin GT Challenge at VIR

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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DANVILLE, Va. – After coming tantalizingly close two weeks ago at Road America, the BMW M8 GTE is a first-time winner.

Co-drivers Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi delivered the new-for-2018 race car’s first victory anywhere in the world in a strong and strategic performance aboard the No. 25 BMW Team RLL machine en route to the Michelin GT Challenge victory at VIRginia International Raceway.

The No. 25 duo combined to lead a race-high total of 32 laps of 88 trips around the 3.27-mile road circuit that comprised the two-hour, 40-minute race. Sims led the final 31 laps and crossed the finish line 1.323 seconds ahead of Jan Magnussen to take the victory.

The VIR victory was redemption of sorts for the No. 25 team after the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase, when De Phillippi appeared on his way to victory only to be forced to pit lane for fuel with two laps to go.

Sunday, the team had to overcome a midrace incident in which Sims tangled with the GT Daytona (GTD) class car of David Heinemeier Hansson. Sims had to serve a drive-through penalty for incident responsibility.

“It’s fantastic,” Sims said. “The team’s done an awesome job. They’ve been working really hard all year. Some races haven’t really gone our way. But they haven’t given up. BMW and Rahal have done a mega job. It’s fantastic to get us this first win for the M8. Connor did a great job at the start of the race to get us up to third.

“He did a flawless stint, despite my mistake at the start of my first stint. I kind of held my hands up. That was my mistake. We deserved the drive through. We got back in the race after the safety car and had mega pace. I was really, really pleased.”

It was Sims’ fourth career WeatherTech Championship victory and the second for De Phillippi. Both drivers’ last victory came at Motul Petit Le Mans last season, Sims in the final race for the BMW M6 GTLM and De Phillippi with the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi team in GTD. De Phillippi became a BMW factory driver prior to this season.

“It was down to the last pit stop,” De Phillippi said. “Obviously, after the contact, we had to rethink what we were going to try to do. We went with a more aggressive strategy and we saw that if we stayed out longer we’d have a clear track and the others would be hitting the GTD traffic. We went forward with that strategy and with that we gained while they were stuck in traffic which was enough to keep us out front.

“The Michelin tires were hooked up and held up so well we didn’t have to put any on the last stop. Alex just drove the wheels off to it for the finish. This win feels amazing. This is a new program, and obviously when you switch to a new brand and a new family you always want to win the first year out. I got one at the Nürburgring, and now to do one with my full-time team in this series, it’s really special to me and feels really great.”

After winning the Michelin GT Challenge each of the past two years, Magnussen came up just shy of a three-peat in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R along with co-driver Antonio Garcia. It was the team’s seventh podium result of the season and sixth consecutive and it vaulted them into the GTLM championship lead by four points, 269-265, over No. 67 Ford GT co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe with three races to go.

John Edwards and Jesse Krohn made it two BMW M8s on the podium with a third-place run in the No. 24 BMW Team RLL entry. In addition to it being the first victory for the M8, it also was the first time two M8s finished on the podium in the same race.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing saw its GTLM winning streak stopped at four in the Michelin GT Challenge. No. 66 Ford GT co-drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller finished fourth, while the No. 67 entry of Briscoe and Westbrook was forced to retire early from the race with clutch problems. Westbrook started the race from the pole position and led the first 28 laps before pitting to turn the car over to Briscoe, and the problem reared its ugly head shortly thereafter.

No. 912 Porsche co-drivers Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor came back from an opening lap incident with the No. 4 Corvette to finish fifth.

Baumann In Right Place At Right Time As Lexus Wins Thriller At VIR

Dominik Baumann and 3GT Racing celebrate a GTD triumph. Photo courtesy of IMSA

It was an example of being in the right place at the right time for Dominik Baumann in a victorious effort alongside co-driver Kyle Marcelli in Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway.

Running in the fourth position with 30 minutes remaining, Baumann successfully navigated his No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 through a series of incidents involving the top three ahead of him. Once clear, he went on to lead the race’s final 17 laps, beating the No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Long to the stripe by 0.567 seconds in a thrilling last-lap battle for the GT Daytona (GTD) class win.

The race-winning sequence began when the No. 44 Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Andy Lally got a run on the race-leading No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 of Lawson Aschenbach. The two made slight contact allowing the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Jeroen Bleekemolen to pull alongside Lally for the lead. One corner later, Lally and Bleekemolen made side-to-side contact, sending the No. 33 into a spin with Baumann capitalizing to pass both for the lead.

“I saw the Audi and Mercedes fighting in front of me and going off,” said Baumann, who won earlier this year alongside Marcelli at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. “We just stayed out of trouble and just did our race.”

“Thanks to the Mercedes, and the Audi and the Acura coming together, it inherited us the lead, and those closing laps under pressure are tough to drive, and Dominic was a true professional today,” added Marcelli. “I think if you look up and down the grid, we’ve all made a few mistakes, but it’s just minimizing them. It’s a track that’s demanding physically and mentally and easy to make mistakes and drop wheels and fill the radiator full of grass. It was he who made the least mistakes who came out with a victory today.”

It certainly wasn’t easy for Baumann from there, however. In the closing minutes, Katherine Legge made up a nearly 10-second deficit in her No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing w/ Curb-Agajanian Acura NXS GT3 to get to the bumper of Baumann on the final lap.

The two raced side-by-side up the backstretch of the 3.27-mile circuit, but Baumann had the benefit of the inside line. Long took advantage of the battle ahead of him and was able to slip by Legge to finish second alongside co-driver Christina Nielsen.

Legge and co-driver Mario Farnbacher finished third, with Legge making up significant ground in the GTD points race with two races remaining. A midrace unscheduled pit stop for contact for the points-leading No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow relegated the team to a sixth-place finish. Sellers and Snow now lead Legge by 13 points, 275-262, heading to the penultimate race of the season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 of Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette finished fourth, with Bleekemolen and co-driver Ben Keating finishing fifth. Lally was hit with a stop and go penalty for his previous contact with Bleekemolen and finished seventh with co-driver John Potter.

Next up for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the penultimate round of the season, the America’s Tire 250 as part of the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 7-9.

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