IMSA’s Rolex 24 grid taking shape before holiday break

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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With a flurry of announcements in recent days, the grid for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona is starting to form up. There are plenty more to come, but here’s what we know so far:

PROTOTYPE

The combination of Daytona Prototype international (DPi) and LMP2 spec cars could author the biggest class on this year’s grid, with upwards of 20 cars possible after there were 12 cars in the class last year. IMSA’s DPi formula has attracted at least nine DPis alone with a flurry of LMP2 cars coming over either for a full-time IMSA effort or a partial season campaign thanks to IMSA’s planned 36 Hours of Florida initiative to attract pro-am teams from Europe.

Here’s how the grid looks so far:

DPi

  • Tequila Patron ESM, Nissan Onroak DPi: 2-Ryan Dalziel/Scott Sharp, 22-Johannes van Overbeek/Pipo Derani, Endurance drivers Olivier Pla, Nicolas Lapierre cars have not yet been assigned.
  • Mustang Sampling Racing, Cadillac DPi-V.R: 5-Filipe Albuquerque/Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi
  • Whelen Engineering Racing, Cadillac DPi-V.R: 31-Felipe Nasr/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Stuart Middleton
  • Acura Team Penske, Acura ARX-05: 6-Juan Pablo Montoya/Dane Cameron/Simon Pagenaud, 7-Helio Castroneves/Ricky Taylor/Graham Rahal
  • Konica Minolta (Wayne Taylor Racing) Cadillac DPi-V.R: 10-Jordan Taylor/Renger van der Zande/Ryan Hunter-Reay*
  • Mazda Team Joest, Mazda RT24-P*: 55-Jonathan Bomarito/Harry Tincknell/Spencer Pigot, 77-Tristan Nunez/Oliver Jarvis/Rene Rast

*Mazda has not formally confirmed the lineups for its two cars but has tentatively outlined these trios. The same is true for the No. 10 team, which expects IndyCar star Ryan Hunter-Reay to reprise his role as third driver as he did at last year’s Motul Petit Le Mans.

LMP2

  • JDC-Miller Motorsports, Oreca 07 Gibson: 99-Stephen Simpson/Misha Goikhberg/Chris Miller, 85-Simon Trummer/Robert Alon. Fourth driver TBA for the GAINSCO-backed No. 99 car and rest of lineup to be revealed later for second car.
  • CORE autosport, Oreca 07 Gibson: 54-Colin Braun/Jon Bennett/Romain Dumas/Loic Duval. CORE moves into P class from GT Daytona.
  • AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports, Ligier JS P217 Gibson: 52-Gustavo Yacaman/Sebastian Saavedra. Third and/or fourth driver TBA to be revealed later. Link-up of Gary Peterson’s AFS Racing with Bobby Oergel’s PR1 Mathiasen team.
  • Performance Tech Motorsports, Oreca 07 Gibson: 38-TBA. Brent O’Neill’s PC class-winning team steps up with a new Oreca 07, but hasn’t named drivers. James French and Kyle Masson expected full-season, but not yet announced.
  • BAR1 Motorsports, Riley Mk. 30 Gibson: 20-TBA. With Yacaman setting a baseline, BAR1 veterans such as Don Yount, Tomy Drissi, Mark Kvamme and Marc Drumwright have tested the car. Brian Alder has yet to finalize this car’s lineup.
  • United Autosports, Ligier JS P217 Gibson: TBA-Fernando Alonso/Lando Norris/Phil Hanson, TBA-Paul di Resta/Hugo de Sadeleer/Will Owen/Bruno Senna. The Zak Brown and Richard Dean-led Anglo-American team features this year’s highest profile guest star (Alonso) in his sports car debut, along with a combination of other F1 veterans and young stars-in-waiting.
  • Jackie Chan DC Racing, Oreca 07 Gibson: TBA-Lance Stroll/Daniel Juncadella/Robin Frijns/Felix Rosenqvist. Second car also expected of team veterans for the Jota Sport-run operation that starred in LMP2 in the FIA WEC this year, although Jarvis has gone to Mazda and Thomas Laurent is the subject of a contract dispute between JCDCR and Rebellion Racing, per Sportscar365.
  • D3+ Transformers Racing, Ligier JS P217 Gibson: 84-Robbie Kerr. Details of the Dawson Racing-led team’s plans have been sparse since Petit Le Mans announcement.

PLANS UNKNOWN/FLUID/TBD

  • VISIT FLORIDA Racing/Spirit of Daytona Racing: Highest profile question mark in the P class is Troy Flis’ team, which ran both a Riley Mk. 30 and Ligier JS P217 chassis this year but has lost van der Zande to the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R and hasn’t finalized its program status for 2018.

Other European prototype entries could also materialize here, but the cars and teams above have been announced either in full or in part.

GT LE MANS

Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The manufacturer-driven factory GT class will look similar as it did in 2017 at the Rolex 24, albeit with fewer one-off entries. With recent manufacturer end-of-year events in Germany, lineups for most of this class have been revealed.

CONFIRMED

  • Corvette Racing, Corvette C7.R: 3-Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia, 4-Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner. Endurance drivers to be named later; Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler were in this role in IMSA last year.
  • BMW Team RLL, BMW M8 GTE: 24 and 25, lineups to be determined but drivers include: John Edwards/Connor De Phillippi/Alexander Sims/Jesse Krohn (full season), Bill Auberlen/Augusto Farfus/Philipp Eng/Nicky Catsburg (endurance races).
  • Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford GT: 66-Dirk Mueller/Joey Hand/Sebastien Bourdais, 67-Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook/Scott Dixon. No changes.
  • Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911 RSR: 911-Patrick Pilet/Nick Tandy/Fred Makowiecki, 912-Laurens Vanthoor/Earl Bamber/Gianmaria Bruni. “Mako” and Bruni are the extras here while Tandy and Bamber return back to the U.S.

EXPECTED, NOT YET ANNOUNCED

  • Risi Competitizone, Ferrari 488 GTE: Lone Ferrari and lone privateer is usually the last to confirm its plans in this class and 2018 is no different. Hope is a return to full-season after missing handful of 2017 races.

GT DAYTONA

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Lots of changes in this class, but the last couple weeks have seen a bevy of announcements.

CONFIRMED

  • Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GT3: 63-Alessandro Balzan/Cooper MacNeil/Gunnar Jeannette/Jeff Segal, 64-Townsend Bell/Bill Sweedler/Frankie Montecalvo/Sam Bird. Balzan and MacNeil are the lone full-season pair here, MacNeil replacing Christina Nielsen, with the No. 64 car the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup second car extra.
  • Michael Shank Racing, Acura NSX GT3: 93-Lawson Aschenbach/Justin Marks/Mario Farnbacher/Come Ledogar, 86-Katherine Legge/Alvaro Parente/Trent Hindman/AJ Allmendinger. Lots of change here with seven of eight drivers new, although Allmendinger is one of Shank’s longtime friends and drivers. The No. 86 car was announced as a Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup entry but could grow into a full-season.
  • Wright Motorsports, Porsche 911 GT3 R: TBA-Patrick Long/Christina Nielsen. Last year’s PWC GT champ (Long) and IMSA GTD champ (Nielsen) join forces with Wright in its full-season WeatherTech return. Wright’s usual No. 58 wouldn’t be a surprise selection and the extra drivers will be announced later.
  • Riley Motorsports-Team AMG, Mercedes AMG-GT3: 33-Jeroen Bleekemolen/Ben Keating. Pairing back for another year; lose both Mario Farnbacher and Hindman to Shank, but Riley is still renowned for completing lineups with aces throughout.
  • 3GT Racing, Lexus RC F GT3: 15-Jack Hawksworth/David Heinemeier Hansson. First car revealed here will see the talented Silver-rated Dane, “DHH,” share with Hawksworth. Second car and endurance drivers remaining a work in progress.
  • HART, Acura NSX GT3: 69-Ryan Eversley/Chad Gilsinger. Popular pair to drive Honda of America employees’ car in Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events, again with extra drivers to be announced later.
  • P1 Motorsports, Mercedes-AMG GT3: New team that’s run in IMSA Prototype Challenge (LMP3 class) and Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series expects to run a Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup schedule, likely with Kenton Koch as lead driver. Team has tested at Daytona.

A PAIR OF AUDI PROGRAM UPDATES

Magnus Racing has confirmed Andy Lally for 2018, and John Potter always drives, but the team hasn’t outright it’d be back to IMSA in 2018 after a one-year trip to Pirelli World Challenge. It’s expected though that Magnus will be back in the IMSA paddock next season with at least one Audi R8 LMS.

Meanwhile with Stevenson Motorsports closing its doors and the unfortunate and untimely loss of the team’s founding patron Johnny Stevenson shortly after the season, the remnants of that team with its Audi R8 LMS could be revived under a new name and structure. Formal details haven’t been revealed.

2017 ENTRIES THAT HAVEN’T YET ANNOUNCED 2018 PLANS

It’ll be easier to list the cars that ran in 2017 whose teams haven’t formally announced their full 2018 plans. Those are below:

FULL SEASON 2017

  • No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3
  • No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R
  • No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3
  • No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3
  • No. 16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3
  • No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3

PART SEASON 2017

  • No. 29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
  • No. 80 Lone Star Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
  • TRG, either No. 007 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3, or No. 991 Porsche 911 GT3 R

There were a number of Daytona and Sebring extras in this class last year and there usually figure to be some again, and often it’s extra Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches and/or Aston Martins.

With some combination of north of 20 cars in both the Prototype and GT Daytona classes, and at least nine GT Le Mans entries, the 60-car cap for the January 27-28 race seems well within range for IMSA.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”