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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INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix

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Here’s what the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers had to say, courtesy of IndyCar Media Relations, after Saturday qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s nice when you have the car to do it. We had the speed on Friday, so to finish it off today is nice. It’s only goal one. Two races; one for pole, one for the race. We need to close it out. Verizon has been very good to us, and Team Chevy as well. Engine package has been phenomenal to get the most out of it. You see how well we work together with Team Penske and Team Chevy. We just have to be smart and get through the first couple laps. Save the tires, save some fuel and be smart if a caution comes out in the middle of the race. We’ll see what we have for tomorrow.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Tough qualifying today. We’ve been struggling a little bit finding the best setup for the car. We need to concentrate for tomorrow so that we have a great car for the race. It’s a long race and you never know what can happen. We will keep working, improving and doing our best and will try to have a top 10 tomorrow.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “We’re struggling a little bit with the reds (Firestone alternate tires) – we just didn’t find the gain like everybody else did. I’m not entirely sure, honestly. Obviously, Robbie (Wickens) is doing well, so it’s a bit of a mystery for us. We went more towards his (Wickens’) setup and the balance kind of went out the window for me. It’s weird because we’ve been able to copy and paste setups all year long between the two of us and it just didn’t work here. I feel bad for the Arrow Electronics boys – obviously, the car’s capable of more. We just didn’t get it today.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Overall, it’s been a good weekend – we’ve still never been out of the top five in every session. Hopefully, me and the Lucas Oil boys can keep chipping away and come up with a slightly better car for the race tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): 
“I just didn’t think we had great space to work in out there on the track. There were about five other guys before us and they are all trying to get their spacing right, as well. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just there’s a tight window for everything. Maybe we should have waved off a third lap on the black (Firestone primary) tires and got ourselves better time on the reds (Firestone alternate tires). It is what it is, though, and we only really had one lap to try and get something going. Then, we had people starting to back up in front of us and never got to show our speed. I think the PNC Bank car had enough for the Firestone Fast Six, but we’ll have to show that speed tomorrow in the race.”

ED JONES (No. 10 First Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda):
 “The guys on the First Data car made some great changes today after we struggled a little bit early on in the weekend here at Road America. That was the most confident I’ve felt with the car so far this weekend and I felt we were going in the right direction. We were capable of being in the Firestone Fast Six today, but we got held up a bit. On the upside, we have a really fast First Data car and something we can use to improve on up the grid for tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “That was close. We were off the whole time. I gave it everything the last lap. A surprise front row. I keep getting front rows every weekend. Not the pole, but yeah, I’m pretty happy. But only five hundredths off, come on. I think I did a really neat lap. Josef (Newgarden) did a great lap. That was all I had.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): 
“I got traffic on my fast lap, but it would have just put us in the top 13, not enough to advance. The car is understeering all weekend. We tried something overnight that didn’t work, so it put us behind a session and we’re back to the car we had yesterday. It was the same car, so we were going to do the same lap time as yesterday when we tried the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but getting traffic didn’t help. But it wasn’t going to change a lot – maybe a few positions, which always helps, but we’ve got a little bit of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 GEHL Honda): “We wanted to be further up and get the GEHL Honda in the top six. We’ve started in the top six every year, but there was nothing more in the car today. For maybe the first time this year, I’m confident saying that; there was nothing more. We only lacked one-tenth (of a second) over four miles from fourth (place), but that’s what Indy car racing is now. Yeah, we qualified ninth, but when you think that a tenth of a second over four-plus miles can move you five spots, it’s crazy, but that’s the reality of Indy car. We’ve just got to try to find a little more improvement for tomorrow, make the car a little more consistent for the race, and hopefully, we can go out there and attack. I think a lot of people have a lot of questions for the race. There is no warmup this year, so we’ll see how it goes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): (About if he feels he’s in a good position to win tomorrow): “Yeah, I don’t know. I’d like to say so, but I’m not sure I believe it myself. It’s been a bit of a tough day. I thought after yesterday we thought we had everything under control, and things were looking good, and this morning we rolled out and struggled with grip and then we went into qualify and really struggled for good. I think I only did one good lap to be honest with you in Q2 on that new set of option tires. Everything was really scrappy and really difficult to put anything together. In (the Firestone Fast Six), I really didn’t get anything done properly. We tried one lap on both sets, but I’m not convinced it was the right thing to do – hindsight 20/20. Just one of those where you come out of the car and you’re not quite sure what else you should or would have done, but not super happy with the way things have gone. The guys did a really good job, but I just — yeah, I’m struggling to read anything that’s happening out there, it’s up and down, making a lot of mistakes, so don’t really feel great about it.

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “It’s so competitive out there. I thought we had a really good chance at doing better in qualifying, but we ended up on the wrong end of the timing sheet. We just missed making it to the second round by a few tenths, so that’s a bit disappointing. That said, tomorrow is a long race and a lot can happen. I’m confident we can move up the field and get that good result we’ve been chasing the last few races.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “We’ve been making progress throughout the weekend, little steps at a time and qualifying was our best session yet. The car is now performing within that half-second window of the front of the field. There’s always that last hundredth of time left to get, so I’m a bit annoyed that we didn’t get it, but it was still a pretty good lap. I got as much as I could out of the car. There was just a little bit of oversteer out of Turn 12 and that’s probably the half a tenth that we needed to transfer. I would have liked to have got through to the next round, but it was still a decent effort considering how much progress we’ve made.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “Qualifying was definitely a solid improvement. It’s nice to have the Direct Supply car in the top 10 to start the race tomorrow. We’ve been making pretty big changes every session and we hadn’t really found anything that worked until qualifying. We were struggling with the front of the car in some places and the rear of the car in other places, we just had to try and tack it down a little bit. Obviously, it helped being on new tires and the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but the car has come alive – certainly a step in the right direction. To only be a tenth or so off the Firestone Fast Six, compared to where we were in practice, is a really good improvement. I’m happy with that, but we want to be higher up and we’ll try for that tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “That’s not the result that we’re all here for, obviously, and I think everyone here at Carlin is disappointed with that qualifying result, but at the same time I know Max (Chilton) and I both have a lot of confidence in this team and our engineering staff. We’ll look at all of the data tonight and learn from each other and try to come up with a plan for tomorrow’s race. The nice thing is that we’re still learning and we’re still constantly making progress, so it’s not like we’re out of options. We still have a lot left to try and a lot left to learn, so we’ll just keep moving forward.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “This weekend so far has been really good for us just confidence-wise. To show the speed that we have, I think we deserve to be in the top six – the car definitely does. I just made a mistake and just overdrove the reds (Firestone alternate tires) in the top 12 trying to make into the Firestone Fast Six. I calmed myself down and gathered it up, but I could only get us up to 11th. We have a great race car and I’m excited to see what we can do on race day.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “We can do a lot from fourth. It’s always disappointing when you lead your two groups and miss out on the pole, but it’s so close. It’s amazing that around a four-mile track, it’s so tight. It’s just a testament to get to the championship, but huge hats off to the whole NAPA Know How team. We really struggled yesterday afternoon and made some good decisions overnight that paid off.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We didn’t test here, so we were a bit behind the 8-ball, but we made the right changes and I think we put a good effort out today. I was hoping to go one better at practice and be P2, but starting third is somewhere we can work from tomorrow in the race. It’s going to be interesting with no warmup tomorrow and trying to get the right setup on the race car, but it’s the same for everybody. We have an idea with where we are with older tires, so we’ll try and estimate where we need to be with the setup and put our best effort out there. To fight at it from third is a good thing, so we can do it from there.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It was definitely a good day. The entire team worked extremely well. The No. 30 boys always have, but it is great to give them back a nice position in qualifying. We were just four hundredths (of a second) off from the top six (in Round 2) and that shows how competitive the field is. I’m extremely happy to start seventh, which is the best position here so far. It’s a long race. We believe we have a strong car for the race, so I’m looking forward to having a strong result.”

ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Today we had no issues, which was important. Yesterday was for sure a setback, as we needed to run the whole day so that we could experiment with the red (alternate) Firestone tires and the softer compound. So not being able to run on the red tires yesterday really did not help our qualifying effort today. It is what it is at this point, so we will come back tomorrow and be ready to run a good race.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “Even though the results might not have shown it, I think we made a lot of progress here today at Road America. We definitely closed the gap from the beginning of the weekend and I really felt like I got everything out of the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet that I could. With us starting where we are tomorrow, we’ll have the freedom to try a completely different strategy, and hopefully, we can come away from a track I love with a decent result.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Yet another tough qualifying session for us as we search to find the speed we need to get. We’re going to take a look overnight, and hopefully, we can figure something out for the race. Hopefully, we set ourselves up for a fun race and get to pass a lot of cars.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “We’ve been slipping backward ever since Practice 1 on the time sheets and just missed it. We’re a little bit loose there. I don’t think I got the most out of Lap 1 and we’re outside looking in by three tenths (of a second), so it’s not like we were that close. Hopefully, we’re better with (tire degradation) than we were with new tires. The race is obviously a different pace, but you still want to start further up than 15th.”

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