Photo courtesy of IMSA

New (but familiar) faces emerging in the IMSA paddock with Felipe Nasr, Tristan Vautier and Matt McMurry

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As an international event that attracts drivers and teams from around the world, the Rolex 24 at Daytona sometimes features unknowns to the American sports car racing scene. And while they don’t always feature prominently in the storylines of the event, last weekend’s Roar Before the 24 test session indicated that quite a few could run at the sharp end of the grid.

Here are drivers who could make their marks at the Rolex 24, which will be held Jan. 27-28 at Daytona International Speedway.

FELIPE NASR – WHELEN ENGINEERING ACTION EXPRESS RACING

Former Sauber F1 driver Felipe Nasr likely wasn’t on many lists as a driver positioned to be in a leading role, but he stole the spotlight in a big way at the Roar.

The 25-year-old Brazilian set the fastest time of the weekend, pacing the Sunday afternoon qualifying session to give the No. 31 Action Express DPi-V.R top pick of pit and garage stall.

Though new to American racing, Nasr was a star on the rise three years ago in Formula One. As a rookie with Sauber in 2015, he scored points in two of his three races, finishing fifth at the Australian Grand Prix and eighth at the Chinese Grand Prix.

His 2015 campaign in F1 totaled six finishes in the points, a strong showing for a rookie driver with one of the smaller teams. However, his 2016 campaign went off the rails. He had only one points finish – ninth at the Brazilian Grand Prix –  and was ousted when the team signed Pascal Wehrlein for the 2017 season.

Sidelined for 2017, Nasr looked stateside for an opportunity and landed a good one with Action Express, which had victories with both of its cars in 2017 and won three consecutive Prototype championships from 2014-16 in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Don’t be surprised if Nasr is a fixture at the front of the field — not just during the Rolex 24 but during the 2018 season.

TRISTAN VAUTIER/MATT MCMURRY – SPIRIT OF DAYTONA RACING

The resurgent (and rebranded) Spirit of Daytona Racing spent a lot of time at the front of the Prototype class, ranking in the top four of every session except the last (which suspension damage ended early for the team).

After struggling with three chassis in 2017 (two Multimatic/Riley LMP2s before switching to a Ligier JS P217 and getting a win), the team’s rebound extends to its drivers.

Full-time driver Tristan Vautier is also on the comeback trail in the American racing scene. A champion of the 2012 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Vautier seemed on track for stardom in the IndyCar Series after a promising 2013 rookie campaign.

But he didn’t return to IndyCar until 2015, running a partial season with Dale Coyne Racing. Over the past two seasons, he raced only once in IndyCar, subbing for the injured Sebastien Bourdais in June 2017 at Texas Motor Speedway (where he ran in the top five much of the race prior to a lap 151 crash).

Aside from his sporadic presence in IndyCar, Vautier has been working on a budding sports car career. He contested the entire Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup in 2016, winning a race along the way. And he spent the 2017 season as a full-time IMSA competitor, piloting a Mercedes-AMG GT3 for SunEnergy1 Racing. He set a GT Daytona class record on his way to scoring a pole at the 2017 Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Alongside Vautier, Matt McMurry also represents something of an unknown quantity. At only 19, the Phoenix native lacks the seasoning in a lot of the Prototype class’ heavy hitters.

A closer look at his career reveals a driver who is remarkably accomplished. In 2014, he became the youngest driver to enter and finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans (with Caterham Racing).

McMurry also is a veteran of the Rolex 24 with three previous starts, one from the pole position with Michael Shank Racing in 2015 and two in the GT Daytona class with Park Place Motorsports in 2016 and 2017.

Now with a high-profile team seeking to be a contender, Vautier and McMurry could become household names for race fans in 2018.

GRT Grasser Racing Team

From the “Where did they come from?” file, GRT Grasser Racing Team – a full-time Blancpain GT team slated to run only the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in IMSA – emerged from a very deep GT Daytona class as the fastest entry from the Roar Before the 24.

But a quick glance at its record in European sports car competition reveals a bit of a powerhouse, especially in its recent history. Drivers Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart brought home a 2017 Blancpain GT championship, and Engelhart and Rolf Ineichen won the 2017 ADAC GT Masters season finale.

It remains to be seen how GRT Grasser Racing Team will perform in the Rolex 24, but its prowess at the Roar put them among the GT Daytona powers. And given that last year’s GTD winner was an underdog in Alegra Motorsports, GTD could be primed for another unexpected winner.

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Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toby Price win Dakar Rally

Dakar.com, Frederic le Floc'h / DPPI
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Driving a safe final stage that placed him 12th across the line, Nasser Al-Attiyah claimed his third Dakar Rally victory on Thursday. Toby Price claimed his second Dakar win in motorcycles after winning the final stage.

Al-Attiyah could afford to play it safe since he entered the stage with a 51-minute advantage over the field. Price barely had a minute to spare and was forced to push hard through the short 112-kilometer course.

Price’s victory was all the more dramatic in light of his riding the entire rally with a pin in his wrist from a broken scaphoid bone.

In the Quads class, Nicolas Cavigliasso showed his dominance by winning nine of the 10 stages.

Here are some of the other highlights:

In the cars class, Last year’s overall class winner, Carlos Sainz finally earned a stage win, but it was too little, too late. … Sebastien Loeb challenged for the class win throughout the stage and finished less than one minute back. … Cyril Despres rounded out the top three. … Nani Roma finished sixth, four minutes behind the leader, but less than five minutes ahead of Nasser Al-Attiyah.

Class Leaders: Al-Attiyah won his third Dakar by a margin of 46:42 over Roma and one hour, 54:18 over Loeb.

In motorcycles, Toby Price saved the best for last. He won his first stage of the rally and secured the class win. … His victory came with a margin of 2:21 over Jose Florima. … Matthias Walkner enter entered the stage with an opportunity to take the overall lead. His third-place finish was not bad, but it came with his principal rival finishing first. … Pablo Quintanilla took a fall early in the stage and injured his foot. Riding hurt, he finished the stage 22nd – nearly 20 minutes off the pace. … American Andrew Short finished seventh for his eighth top 10 of the rally.

Class Leaders: Price ended the rally with the biggest advantage of the year. He beat Walkner by 9:13. Sam Sunderland finished third, 13:34 behind the leader.

In side by sides, Reinaldo Varela won his second consecutive stage and third overall. … He had a comfortable margin of 3:39 over Cristian Baumgart and 6:10 over Francisco Lopez Contardo.

Class Leaders: Contardo’s third-place finish in the stage was more than enough to secure the class victory over Gerard Farres Guell, who finished one hour, 2:35. Varela finished one hour, 5:19 behind in third.

In quads, In a show of utter dominance, Nicolas Cavigliasso won his ninth stage of the year. … Alexandre Giroud stood on the podium for the fourth time this year. While he didn’t win a stage, he never finished worse than sixth. … Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli rounded out the top three.

Class Leaders: Cavigliasso won by an advantage of one hour, 55:37 over Ferioli and two hours, 11:38 over Gustavo Gallego

In trucks, Ton Van Genugton rebounded from a poor Stage 9 in which he finished 12th to win his second stage of the rally. … Ales Loprais scored his first podium of the rally; his previous best finish was fourth in Stage 9. … Dmitry Sotnikov stood on the final rung of the podium.

Class Leaders: Eduard Nikolaev finished sixth in the stage, but won with an advantage of 25:36 over Sotnikov and one hour, 34:44 over Gerard de Rooy

Stage Wins

Motorcycles
Sam Sunderland [2] (Stage 5 and 7), Matthias Walkner [2] (Stage 2 and 8), Joan Barreda [1] (Stage 1), Xavier de Soultrait [1] (Stage 3), Ricky Brabec [1] (Stage 4), Pablo Quintanilla [1] (Stage 6), Michael Metge [1] (Stage 9) and Toby Price [1] (Stage 10)

Quads
Nicolas Cavigliasso [9] (Stage 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10) and Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli [1] (Stage 3)

Cars
Sebastien Loeb [4] (Stage 2, 5, 6 and 8), Nasser Al-Attiyah [3] (Stage 1, 4 and 9), Stephane Peterhansel [2] (Stage 3 and 7) and [1] Carlos Sainz

Side-by-sides
Francisco Lopez Contardo [4] (Stage 2, 6, 7 and 8), Reinaldo Varela [3] (Stage 1, 9 and 10), Gerard Farres Guell [1] (Stage 3), Sergei Kariakin [1] (Stage 4) and Rodrigo Piazzoli [1] (Stage 5)

Trucks
Eduard Nikolaev [3] (Stage 1, 2, and 9), Andrey Karginov [2] (Stage 3 and 4), Ton Van Genugton [2] (Stage 5 and 10), Dmitry Sotnikov [2] (Stage 6 and 8), and Gerard de Rooy [1] (Stage 7)

For more watch the daily highlight show on NBCSN. Click here for the complete schedule.

Or check out the streaming show at 8:30-9 p.m. by clicking this link.