IMSA: Breaking down how the Roar Before the 24 played out

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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As the first official event of the year, last weekend’s Roar Before the 24 provided the first chance to see the 2018 edition of cars and drivers from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and guest drivers from various other championships, running together for the first time in a new season.

As a result, it can be easy to get swept up in the results and lap times from each session. However, as is always the case in testing, the individual lap times are only the tip of the iceberg.

SANDBAGGING ANYONE?

It wouldn’t be testing without a sandbagging controversy, would it?

For various reasons, theories abound that certain teams weren’t necessarily showing everything they had. Among the accusers was Andy Lally, who took to Instagram on Friday evening and, after acknowledging the tightly packed GT Daytona field, threw a sandbagging accusation at three teams running Ferrari 488 GT3 entries.

Further, in a story originally posted by Sportscar365, a pair of GTD cars were parked during night practice on Saturday evening after data appeared to show they weren’t showing their true pace. P1 Motorsports’ No. 71 Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Michael Shank Racing’s No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 were both barred from continuing on in that session after completing five and nine laps, respectively.

While no other cars or teams were actually penalized due to sandbagging, it is still worth noting that the individual lap times should always be taken with a grain of salt. Setting a fast lap will undoubtedly bring a lot of attention, but that isn’t necessarily the goal of testing.

CADILLACS DOMINATE PROTOTYPE

While lap times may not be indicative of outright speed, as previously described, the results from the weekend as a whole do indicate one generalization: the Cadillac DPi-V.Rs are fast.

In fact, they may be the fastest cars in the Prototype class. A Cadillac finished at the top of every single session, with Felipe Nasr, in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering entry for Action Express, qualifying first with a best lap of a 1:35.806, a second quicker than last year’s pole speed in the Rolex 24. Further, Action Express Racing, Wayne Taylor Racing, and Spirit of Daytona Racing swept the top four spots multiple times during the seven practice sessions between Friday and Sunday.

The DPi-V.R did see an off-season change in its engine, which is now a 5.5-liter V8, down from last year’s 6.2-liter model. It remains to be seen how it will fare in a 24-hour endurance test, but in terms of outright speed, the Cadillacs seem to have plenty of it.

In looking at the overall fastest laps of the weekend, the only non-Cadillac drivers in the top 10 were two from Acura Team Penske, making its official debut in IMSA competition for 2018. Dane Cameron had the sixth quickest lap overall in the No. 6 Acura ARX-05, while Ricky Taylor had the tenth fastest lap overall in the No. 10 entry.

In Sunday qualifying, the No. 2 Nissan DPi from Tequila Patron ESM also featured in the top 10, qualifying seventh, along with a pair of Oreca 07 Gibsons – the No. 78 Jackie Chan DCR JOTA Oreca qualified ninth and the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca qualified tenth.

However, the early favorites for the 24-hour endurance race back at Daytona on Jan. 27-28 appear to be the Cadillacs.

GTLM SET FOR ANOTHER SLUGFEST

Prototype always gets the top billing, but perhaps IMSA’s most competitive class is GTLM, which has seen thrilling finishes in each of the last two years. Both Corvette C7.Rs from Corvette Racing dueled to the finish in 2016, with the No. 4 entry of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, and Marcel Fassler taking the win. Meanwhile,  the No. 66 Ford GT from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing saw Dirk Mueller bully his way around the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE of James Calado for the lead late in the 2017 race, and he then held off Patrick Pilet in a Porsche 911 RSR from Porsche GT Team to seal the GTLM win.

This year’s affair looks like it could see more of the same. While the Ford GT entries from Chip Ganassi spent the most time at the top of the GTLM time sheets, with Joey Hand putting the No. 66 Ford in first during qualifying on Sunday, the field is remarkably close. Hand’s pole time of 1:43.610 was less than four tenths of a second quicker than the sixth place No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari, which turned in a 1:44.037 in qualifying.

While the brand new BMW M8 GTLM entries from BMW Team RLL were down on speed by comparison – the No. 25 entry qualified the better of those two, with a lap of 1:45.056 –  the remainder of the GTLM field appears set for another thriller.

GRT GRASSER RACING TEAM A SURPRISE LEADER OF GT DAYTONA

The 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona will see a stacked GT Daytona field, featuring such teams as Wright Motorsports (last year’s overall and Sprint champions of Pirelli World Challenge), Michael Shank Racing (GTD race winners on two occasions in 2017), Scuderia Corsa (GTD champions each of the last two years), and Magnus Racing (long-time IMSA competitors returning to the series after competing in Pirelli World Challenge last year).

Yet, the team that went to the top at the Roar was GRT Grasser Racing Team, a team entering the Rolex 24 as a one-off entry. Though relatively unknown in the United States, GRT comes with a championship pedigree, as winners of last year’s Blancpain GT Series.

Their No. 11 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 qualified first on Sunday, with Rolf Ineichen turning the fastest overall lap of the weekend GTD field, doing so in Practice opening practice on Friday morning.

The competition in GTD is very steep – the top 18 cars were separated by less than one second in qualifying – but GRT quickly announced themselves as early contenders.

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Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).