Photo courtesy of IMSA

IndyCar, Formula 1 drivers use Roar to set baseline for Rolex 24 later this month

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They didn’t necessarily feature prominently at the top of the time sheets, but teams and drivers from the Verizon IndyCar Series and FIA Formula 1 World Championship definitely made their presence known at this weekend’s Roar Before the 24 at Daytona International Speedway.

On the team side, one of the most-high profile stories entering the weekend was the first official appearance of Acura Team Penske at an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event. This weekend’s running ultimately does not count toward the Rolex 24 Hours race Jan. 27-28 or championship results, nor do the lap times necessarily indicate strong performances.

It’s entirely possible that teams did not have setting the outright fastest times as their ultimate agenda, but seeing the Penske team take part in an official IMSA event was noteworthy in and of itself.

On the whole, the weekend appeared to be a successful one for Roger Penske’s squad. Their Acura ARX-05 chassis appeared to gain speed as the weekend progressed, beginning 12th and 15th on the speed charts before ending qualifying fifth (the No. 6 entry) and sixth (the No. 7 entry) in the first official qualifying session of the year, one that decided the order in which teams select their pit and garage stalls for the Rolex 24.

Further still, the team suffered no major setbacks. They did not appear to suffer any mechanical problems with their cars and none suffered contact at any point during the weekend.

Looking at the overall speeds across the weekend, the fastest lap of the No. 6 entry was a 1:36.988 from Dane Cameron, good for sixth overall across the three days, while the No. 10 turned the tenth fastest lap overall, with Ricky Taylor turning in a 1:37.231.

All told, it made for a solid debut for Penske and Acura. Also of note: IndyCar drivers Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal ranked 29th quickest and 49th quickest, respectively, in the overall fastest lap rankings.

In GTLM, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, whose No. 66 entry is the defending winner of the Rolex 24, threw down the proverbial gauntlet, dominating most of the weekend and spending all seven sessions near the front of the leaderboard, if not in the lead outright. In fact, the team swept all three practice sessions on Saturday, putting one of their cars at the top in each one.

Sunday’s qualifying session saw Joey Hand, in the No. 66 Ford GT drop a time of 1:43.610, the fastest GTLM lap of the weekend. Further, three of the five fastest laps of the weekend came from Chip Ganassi drivers. Ryan Briscoe, in the No. 67 entry, turned the third fastest lap overall while Sebastien Bourdais, one of Hand’s co-drivers in the No. 66, ended up fifth quickest overall. Scott Dixon, the third driver entered in the No. 67 entry, ended up 11th quickest in the overall GTLM lap rankings.

In short, it was a simply dominating performance for a Chip Ganassi squad that is looking to repeat its 2017 Rolex 24 triumph.

On the other end of GTLM, BMW Team RLL, using brand new BMW M8 GTLM machines, languished near the bottom of the GTLM field most of the weekend. In fact, their entries took up the bottom eight lap times across in the GTLM lap rankings. Alexander Sims, in the No. 25 entry, was the fastest of the BMW Team RLL drivers, with a best lap of 1:45.056, good enough for only 20th overall of the GTLM drivers.

They finished the qualifying session in seventh (No. 25) and eighth (No. 24).

In the GT Daytona field, new IndyCar entrant and long-time IMSA stalwart Michael Shank Racing enjoyed a competitive weekend in a very deep GTD field, even going fastest in Practice 4 on Saturday afternoon with the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3.

Their strong form continued on into qualifying on Sunday, with Alvaro Parente putting the No. 86 entry in a solid fourth at the end of the session. Lawson Aschenbach qualified the No. 93 entry in 12th respectively.

In a release posted on the team’s website, team owner Michael Shank displayed a great deal of enthusiasm about how the weekend went, highlighting a significant improvement over last year’s debut with the NSX.

“Everything has improved so much from last year at this time,” Shank revealed. “We have made huge gains with the car and I am very happy with it.

“Qualifying was pretty much where we thought we would be for right now so we are fairly pleased. The 93 car didn’t handle exactly how we thought it would but Alvaro (Parente) did a great job in the 86 and got us a good spot as far as where we will be set up for the 24. I feel very good about where we are and how much progress we’ve made.”

On the driver front, Tristan Vautier was second quickest overall, with a best lap of 1:36.037 for a resurgent Spirit of Daytona Racing. Ryan Hunter-Reay was seventh quickest overall, Sebastian Saavedra 38th, and Spencer Pigot 47th. IndyCar on NBCSN’s Townsend Bell was 41st overall in the GT Daytona class.

On the Formula 1 side, Fernando Alonso had what on the surface appeared to be a quiet weekend. Alonso ended only one session inside the top 10, and he and teammate Bruno Senna — nephew of the late F1 great Ayrton Senna — only put the Nos. 23 and 32 Ligier LMP2 Gibsons in 12th and 15th during Sunday’s qualifying.

Alonso’s fastest lap, at 1:37.515, ranked only 21st on the overall list of fastest driver lap times across the weekend. But, a deeper analysis reveals that Alonso’s quick lap was actually the best from the three Ligier teams – AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsport also entered a Ligier chassis.

Further still, this is the first time Alonso and his team, United Autosports, are visiting Daytona International Speedway and entering the Rolex 24, with Alonso entering a sports car race for the first time as well.

All told, the results of Alonso and United Autosports may not be quite as bad as they seem. Additionally, like Penske, they encountered no major mechanical problems and did not suffer damage from contact during the weekend, meaning they were able to maximize their time on track.

Alonso’s F1 counterpart, Lance Stroll, also had what appeared to be a quiet weekend, going 24th quickest across all drivers who turned lap times. However, his lap of 1:37.604 was the third best of Jackie Chan DCR JOTA drivers, behind teammates Alex Brundle (14th quickest) and Antonio Felix da Costa (19th quickest).

Like United Autosports, this is Jackie Chan DCR JOTA’s first time at the Rolex 24. And, also like United Autosports, they were able to complete the weekend without suffering contact or major mechanical problems.

Also of note: Lando Norris had the 37th quickest overall lap, while Paul Di Resta was 54th quickest overall.

Overall driver times are linked below. The first practice of the Rolex 24 takes place on January 25th.

Combined overall driver lap times

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.