Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Rolex 24 Team Preview – GTD class

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MotorSportsTalk’s Kyle Lavigne concludes the team preview of entries for the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the GT Daytona (GTD) class. At 21 entries, it is down from last year’s 27, but remains the biggest of the three classes entered at the Rolex 24, outnumbering the Prototype class by one.

It is also the most wide open of the three classes, with seven different manufacturers represented and a  seemingly infinite number of unknowns. Further, the defending winners of the class, Alegra Motorsports, are not even entered in this year’s race.

All told, the GTD class is the most difficult one to predict, and a winner from this class could come from literally any of the 21 entries.

Below is a breakdown of the teams entered in the GT Daytona class.

GRT Grasser Racing Team
Car:
Lamborghini Huracan GT3
No. 11 (Rolf Ineichen, Mirko Bortolotti, Franck Perera, Rik Breukers)
No. 19 (Max van Splunteren, Ezequiel Perez Companc, Christian Engelhart, Christopher Lenz, Louis Machiels)

Outlook: Just in case more evidence was needed to prove that the GTD class is the most wide open, enter GRT Grasser Racing Team. Last year’s Blancpain GT champions, their performance at the Roar Before the 24 test in early January took many by surprise, as they emerged as the fastest of the GTD entrants, qualifying first during Sunday qualifying to get first pick of pit stall and garage.

This is not their first time at the Rolex 24 – they finished 15th in GTD last year with their No. 11 entry, the only car they entered in last year’s race. Now returning with a two-car effort, this team, which will contest all four rounds of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup in the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, GRT Grasser Racing Team has quickly announced themselves as contenders for GTD victory.

3GT Racing
Car: Lexus RC F GT3
No. 14 (Dominik Baumann, Kyle Marcelli, Philipp Frommenwiler, Bruno Junqueira)
No. 15 (Jack Hawksworth, David Heinemeier Hansson, Scott Pruett, Dominik Farnbacher)

Outlook: 3GT Racing returns with a pair of Lexus RCF GT3 machines after debuting the marque last year, although the weekend proved to be troublesome for the Paul Gentilozzi led squad. It’s No. 14 entry – with Scott Pruett behind the wheel at the time – crashed heavily very early on and was eliminated on the spot, while the sister No. 15 could do no better than 14th in class.

Perhaps the biggest storyline to follow with this team is the aforementioned Pruett, who will be contesting the final race of his career at the Rolex 24. Pruett and company would like nothing more than to send him out with a final victory. It might seem like a tall order, but this class can certainly deliver a surprise winner.

Magnus Racing
Car: Audi R8 LMS GT3
No. 44 (John Potter, Andy Lally, Andrew Davis, Markus Winkelhock)

Outlook: Magnus Racing returns to IMSA after spending last year in the Pirelli World Challenge championship. The last time they contested the Rolex 24 was in 2016, when they took home the GTD victory, their second Rolex 24 triumph.

They return with a strong lineup of John Potter, Andy Lally, Andrew Davis, and Markus Winkelhock, with Potter and Lally both a part of the lineups from their 2012 and 2016 victories. With a proven driver rotation and an Audi R8 LMS GT3 underneath them, the car with which they won in 2016, expect Magnus to be a major player in the GTD class.

Wright Motorsports
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
No. 58 (Patrick Long, Christina Nielsen, Robert Renauer, Mathieu Jaminet)

Outlook: Wright Motorsports, last year’s Pirelli World Challenge GT champions, both in the overall standings and in the Sprint standings, make the move to IMSA’s GTD category in 2018, and do so with a powerful driver lineup. Patrick Long is renowned for his exploits as a Porsche factory driver, and partnering him with Christina Nielsen, who has been a co-driver champion the last two years in GTD, creates a highly potent rotation right off the bat. Add in Mathieu Jaminet, part of the Porsche junior program, and Robert Renauer, and you have maybe the strongest driver lineup in the GTD class.

It’s difficult to peg any team as the favorite for victory. But, if you are daring enough to do so, this team may be the one to peg.

Scuderia Corsa
Car: Ferrari 488 GT3
No. 63 (Cooper MacNeil, Alessandro Balzan, Gunnar Jeannette, Jeff Segal)
No. 64 (Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Frank Montecalvo, Sam Bird)

Outlook: The team that has won the last two GTD championships has undergone an overhaul of sorts over the winter. Gone is Christina Nielsen, who partnered Alessandro Balzan to those aforementioned championships, and in is a new partnership with Weathertech Racing that sees Weatherech branding on the No. 63 Ferrari.

Still, despite the changes, it’s hard to imagine that this group won’t contend for a victory. The No. 64 features former Rolex winners in Bill Sweedler and NBCSN’s Townsend Bell, while the No. 63 has a former winner of its own in Jeff Segal – all three were triumphant in 2014.

Expect both entries to be contenders for the win.

HART
Car: Acura NSX GT3
No. 69
(Chad Gilsinger, Ryan Eversley, Sean Rayhall, John Falb)

Outlook: If you’re looking for an underdog in the GTD class to pull for, then HART might be your best bet. Comprised of Honda employees who are basically volunteering to enter the Rolex 24, this is an entry that represents a throwback to the days when a group would get together, build their own car, and show up at a race to see what they can do.

While they aren’t as seasoned as the other GTD entries, this is an entrant that can sneak up on you if you’re not careful. John Falb and Sean Rayhall partnered to take the LMP3 championship in the 2017 European Le Mans Series, and Ryan Eversley is among the more underrated GT drivers around.

Chad Gilsinger, a Honda employee who has raced in SCCA previously, represents the biggest unknown on the driving front, but a mistake-free run from him would do plenty to keep the team in contention.

And with the team using an Acura NSX GT3, which had an impressive debut in last year’s Rolex — and went on to win races in its first year of IMSA competition — there’s definitely potential for this team to surprise a lot of people.

Michael Shank Racing
Car: Acura NSX GT3
No. 86
(Katherine Legge, Alvaro Parente, Trent Hindman, AJ Allmendinger)
No. 93 (Justin Marks, Lawson Aschenbach, Mario Farnbacher, Côme Ledogar)

Outlook: Another team with a sneakily good driver lineup, Michael Shank Racing returns to GTD with a pair of Acura NSX GT3 entries. An overall winner of this event in 2012 and two-time race winners last year with the NSX, the Michael Shank led squad possesses a strong winning formula that should make them one of the GTD favorites entering the event

Their driver lineup offers no weak links, either. Katherine Legge returns to the team after helping the team to those aforementioned wins last year. Alvaro Parente is, ironically, a McLaren factory driver who has been a star in Pirelli World Challenge. Mario Farnbacher is long-time standout in GT competition. Justin Marks and Lawson Aschenbach represent two underrated road racers. Côme Ledogar, like Parente, is a factory McLaren driver, and fresh off a class at the 24 Hours of Dubai. And, AJ Allmendinger is a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star who helped Michael Shank’s team take their 2012 overall victory.

All told, it’s easy to imagine either entry taking a GTD victory.

The remaining GTD entries are below. While they may lack the star power of other GTD entries, any of the below teams could also prove to be contenders. You’ll also find some big-name GT drivers as well, such as Jeroen Bleekemolen, Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Joerg Bergmeister and Martin Tomczyk, among others.

Remember, last year’s GTD winner, Alegra Motorsports, was a big underdog last season, yet came out on top at the end of 24 hours.

Expect the GTD class to be the most tightly contested throughout the 24 hours.

Montaplast by Land Motorsport
Car: Audi R8 LMS GT3
No. 29 (Sheldon van der Linde, Kelvin van der Linde, Jeffrey Schmidt, Christopher Mies)

Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3
No. 33 (Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Adam Christodoulo, Luca Stolz)

Paul Miller Racing
Car: Lamborghini Huracan GT3
No. 48 (Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Andrea Caldarelli, Bryce Miller)

Spirit of Race
Car: Ferrari 488 GT3
No. 51 (Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Daniel Serra)

Manthey Racing
Car: Porsche 911 GT3
No. 59 (Steve Smith, Randy Walls, Harald Proczyk, Sven Muller, Matteo Cairoli)

P1 Motorsports
Car: Mercedes-AMG GT3

No. 71 (Kenton Koch, Robby Foley, Loris Spinelli, JC Perez)

Park Place Motorsports
Car: Porsche 911 GT3 R
No. 73 (Patrick Lindsey, Joerg Bergmeister, Norbert Siedler, Tim Pappas)

SunEnergy1 Racing
Car:
Mercedes-AMG GT3
No. 75 (Kenny Habul, Thomas Jaeger, Maro Engel, Mikael Grenier)

Risi Competizione
Car: Ferrari 488 GT3
No. 82 (Miguel Molina, Ricardo Perez de Lara, Martin Fuentes, Santiago Creel, Matt Griffin)

Turner Motorsport
Car: BMW M6 GT3
No. 96 (Jens Klingmann, Martin Tomczyk, Mark Kvamme, Don Yount)

 

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F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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