IMSA: Historic 50th season kicks off this weekend with Roar Before the Rolex 24

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IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – IMSA’s 50th Anniversary begins Friday at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona which features three days of action.

The unofficial start to what promises to be an unforgettable season of full fields and unprecedented manufacturer involvement got going with the annual IMSA Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday.

Series regulars and special guest stars for the Rolex 24 turned out in force to participate in photo shoots and interview sessions throughout the day with media from the United States and around the world, including IMSA’s new broadcast partner – NBC.

The feeling of anticipation was palpable among the many IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi), LMP2, GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) making the media rounds.

“You see great names coming already for this race,” said Helio Castroneves, who is returning for his second full season of WeatherTech Championship competition as co-driver of the No. 7 Acura Team Penske DPi with 2017 Prototype co-champion Ricky Taylor. “It sounds like we’re going to have a lot of cars with DPi, but also in GTD and GTLM. You have factories, there are so many in the series. When you have that kind of scenario, it shows that everybody is interested. I see no reason for it going down. It’s actually just going to continue going up.”

“It’s just amazing,” said Dirk Mueller, 2017 Rolex 24 GTLM winner and co-driver of the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT with Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais. “I don’t know how long we’ve been saying, ‘It’s the best championship, it’s the best championship, it’s the best championship.’ It is the best championship, that’s for sure. It keeps on getting better and better.

“All the ingredients are in here: fantastic cars, really, really good teams, good manufacturers, good drivers and it keeps getting better. It makes me somewhat proud to be part of it. It’s like a huge community and people outside it, they’re getting jealous.”

The green flag falls on the first WeatherTech Championship practice session of the season Friday at 11 a.m. ET. The weekend also features an IMSA Prototype Challenge race Saturday beginning at 12:15 p.m. The three-hour race can be seen on IMSA.TV and heard on IMSARadio.com. Ticket holders for the Rolex 24 At Daytona are admitted free while tickets are available for the event at daytonainternatonalspeedway.com.

50th Anniversary Celebration Begins:
While there have been plenty of glimpses of what is in store for IMSA’s 50th Anniversary in 2019, the official start to the celebration begins this weekend at the Roar Before the Rolex 24.

The celebration will last throughout the season in each championship. The four cornerstones of the golden anniversary include Drivers & Teams, Tracks, Manufacturers and Fans. During the year there will be many opportunities for fans to reive their IMSA memories to see historical cars and meet drivers from the past. Many teams and manufacturers have already announced plans to run historical liveries during the year.

IMSA released a commemorative book in August entitled “IMSA: Celebrating 50 Years.” The 216-page book is available for purchase and contains the stories of the drivers, cars, teams, manufacturers, events and executives that make up the storied history of IMSA.

The book tells the story of its formation between John and Peggy Bishop and Bill France, Sr., to the first race at Pocono in 1969, to its current standing as a highly regarded sanctioning body that will lead seven motorsport platforms in 2019, including its flagship – the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

IMSA also will be the featured marque at the annual Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in August.

New for 2019:

Michelin begins its status as the “Official Tire Supplier” of IMSA this weekend as well as officially beginning its entitlement of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup which begins at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

IMSA also starts its six-year partnership with the NBC Sports Group in January to televise the WeatherTech Championship, which will feature an 80 percent increase of network coverage in 2019. A majority of programming (45 hours) will be broadcast on NBCSN and all races will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App.

Defending Champions Have New Looks:
Two of the three championship teams from the WeatherTech Championship will have new looks in 2019.

The Prototype class champion from 2018 – the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac DPi-V.R., driven by Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran will have a new addition as Pipo Derani joins the team as a full-time driver in the team’s now Daytona Prototype international (DPi) class, with Curran joining the team for the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup rounds.

The GT Daytona (GTD) class champion of the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini will have Ryan Hardwick joining champion Bryan Sellers. Hardwick enters the car as the World Final Champion in the AM class in Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America in 2018.

The only champions without a change are the pair of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette Racing machine. The duo won the title without winning a race in 2018.

Stars In Cars:
Once again, the Rolex 24 At Daytona will feature some of the biggest names in motorsports.

Two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso made his Rolex 24 debut last year and is back in 2019 as part of the Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi alongside regulars Jordan Taylor and Renger van de Zande. They will also be joined by Kamui Kobayashi, Alonso’s teammate in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Alex Zanardi, the two-timeCART champion and former Formula 1 driver, makes his debut at Daytona in the Roar and the Rolex. Zanardi, driving for BMW, uses a specially-modified steering wheel and hand controls to drive after losing his legs in a Champ Car crash back in 2001. Since then, he has also become a multi-gold medalist in the Paralympics.

Racing at The Roar:
After its successful debut with a race at the 2018 Roar, there once again will be an IMSA Prototype Challenge race over the weekend.

The season-opener on Saturday, Jan. 5 will be the first three-hour race for the series, which shifts to a single-class LMP3 format in 2019 as well. It will start at 12:15 p.m. EST. The race can be seen on IMSA.tv and can be heard on IMSARadio.com and RadioLeMans.com.

Roman De Angelis won the race in 2018 driving for ANSA Motorsports.

A viewer’s guide to the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona: What to watch in the debut of GTP

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona could put an unbelievable twist on one of motorsports’ most famous adages: Money buys speed, how fast do you want to go?

Money is being burned at an ungodly rate for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener, but the correlation between cash and performance might be completely disjointed after 24 hours on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

The debut of a new premier hybrid prototype category has some of the world’s largest automakers flocking to the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP), where annual budgets have been estimated at $15 million per for the new Le Mans Daytona hybrid (LMDh) cars.

With nine GTP cars starting the Rolex 24 at Daytona across Acura, BMW, Cadillac and Porsche, it’s safe to say the manufacturers have committed at least nine figures to launching what many are calling a new golden age for sports car racing.

But there’s no guarantee that any of the cars will finish the race. In fact, some are predicting it’s inevitable that all will spend at least some significant time in the Daytona garage repairing a high-tech car that never has raced for 24 consecutive hours. And in an era of pandemic-related supply-chain worries, there are major concerns that full repairs will be impossible even if necessary.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

It’s added another layer to the pressure involved with one of the most prestigious races in the world.

“From a manufacturer perspective, this is high-stakes motorsports,” Wayne Taylor Racing No. 10 Acura driver Ricky Taylor told NBC Sports. “This is as big as it gets. To debut at the Rolex 24 is such a high-stakes event and puts such a big test on everybody. The pressure all the manufacturers and teams are under is immense. Once we get through it and survive, there’ll be a sigh of relief. But until then, we all feel the eyes of the manufacturers on us.

“It’s going to be a pressure cooker for sure.”

Along with “unpredictability” and “reliability” being buzzwords the past two weeks at Daytona, there also has been some wistful predictions that this year’s Rolex 24 will be a throwback to a bygone era when endurance races truly were a survival of the fittest instead of the fastest.

After turning into a series of 24 one-hour sprint races for many years, no one is predicting that drivers will punish their equipment with so much at stake and so few safety nets.

“This race is going to be like races from the bloody ‘70s and ‘60s,” pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist of defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing told NBC Sports. “So it’ll be like when you watch that ‘Ford vs. Ferrari,’ and they’re coming into the pits repairing serious things and still going out and coming back. It’s going to be like that, mate.

“Yeah, we don’t know. We are not 100 percent confident that our car is as reliable as it needs to be. We definitely would have liked another year. All season before we came here to this race. But everyone’s in a similar boat. Some manufacturers are further down the line than others in terms of mileage. We’re still finding things popping up here and there that we didn’t see or suspect. It’s going to be a tough race without a doubt. I’m almost certain that we’ll be spending some time in the garage. Hopefully we get lucky, but let’s say we’re not going to be surprised if we are back in the garage at some point. We don’t want to jinx anything, but it’s prepare for the worst and hope for the best sort of thing.”

Teammate Simon Pagenaud said the race will be “the 24 Hours of the Mechanics. It’s going to be a team that’s able to repair the car the fastest way possible. It’s a little more like it used to be about reliability and making sure you take care of your equipment.

“We don’t have enough time yet to be able control fully the reliability, and we haven’t done enough laps to be able to say what’s going to break first or second. You’re going into it with a bit of jitters not knowing. It’s going to be definitely a very, very different race, I think.”

Here’s a viewer’s guide of some topics to keep an eye on during the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona:

Testing time: Though announced in January 2020, LMDh cars have been on track since only about a year ago. Porsche was the first to commit and has logged more than 30,000 kilometers of testing. Cadillac also has done significant real-world testing, but Acura admittedly has done little endurance testing, and BMW has tried to play catch up since being the last automaker to commit to the project.

Only Porsche and Cadillac can claim to have simulated the duration that cars will face this weekend. Porsche Penske Motorsport conducted a 36-hour test that managing director Jonathan Diuguid confirmed was “slightly higher” than 24 hours consecutively. Gary Nelson, team manager for Action Express, confirmed the No. 31 Cadillac ran for a full 24 hours at Sebring International Raceway last November. Acura also had attended the session but cut the test short after mechanical problems.

–Tortoise and hare: Every manufacturer has at least two cars, which creates opportunities for divergent strategies. When his team won the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Nelson said it was pushed hard by Chip Ganassi Racing’s prototypes in this tactic to wear down the competition.

“In old-school endurance racing, they’d call one a rabbit,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “He’d try to run the guts out of everybody to keep up with him, while the other (car) just followed around. There’s potential for something like that. I don’t think it’s in our playbook, but potentially there are people in these corporate offices, these manufacturers coming in, because they advanced through racing in the ‘80s and ‘90s and now they are managing these motorsports programs for these corporations. It’s very possible there’s someone from that era will say we’re going to have one rabbit, one tortoise. That’s very likely.

“We see that, I don’t think we take the bait. I think we stay with the plan.”

–LMP2 overall win? If mechanical problems do crop up for the GTP cars, the door will be opened for a victory by a car in the junior LMP2 prototype class. The LMP2 cars lap a few seconds slower and will need to make roughly nine extra pit stops than the GTP cars.

But according to NBC Sports analyst Calvin Fish, those factors would leave LMP2 cars about an hour behind GTP. That means if major mechanical problems befall all the GTP cars, an LMP2 likely would be leading. Diuguid said it would take over an hour to change out the major components on the hybrid system.

“If you have to change the gearbox, a suspension component or a hybrid component, your opportunity to win is probably over,” Diuguid said.

Nelson also predicted that teams will be more aggressive with making brake changes. Though his car’s brakes made it 24 hours last year, they generally require at least one swap. Nelson believes that will happen anywhere between the sixth and 18th hour – but probably on the early end in a concept similar to short pitting in NASCAR.

“We’re hoping our brakes make it all the way and haven’t seen anything that told us they won’t,” Nelson said. “A few years ago, we were changing brakes on anything between 6 and 18 hours. If everybody had to change the brakes in past years and you’re the last to do it, you have the least amount of time to gain it back.”

–Electric pit stops: Though it’s not IMSA-mandated, teams are using electric power only to enter and exit the pits for myriad reasons. The practice allows for a more efficient acceleration and deceleration that helps ensure hitting the speed limit. And it puts less strain on gearboxes that will be stressed over 24 hours.

–New tire strategies: With teams restricted to about a dozen fewer sets of tires, teams will be double-stinting for fuel only without opting for fresh rubber.

Nelson said the Action Express Whelen Engineering team was planning to make its tire changes coincide with its driver changes (unlike the normal practice of changing tires on most pit stops).

–Three’s the magic number: More than half the GTP teams are employing a trio of drivers instead of the maximum four that has been popular with many teams in past years. Though Colton Herta is listed as the fourth driver on BMW’s two cars, the IndyCar star might only drive one.

The shift comes as Penske and Porsche plan to field full-time entries in the World Endurance Championship, which allows only three drivers per car.

–GTD battles: Mercedes dominated qualifying, but there have been charges of sandbagging by the Ferrari and Porsche GT favorites.

That isn’t the case with defending GTD Pro class winner Pfaff Motorsports, whose No. 9 Porsche struggled to make laps in practice.

Women in racing: Led by the all-female Iron Dames lineup, there will be several opportunities for women to reach the podium or take a class victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Sports car ace Katherine Legge is teamed with Sheena Monk on the No. 66 for Gradient Racing.