DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Powerhouse Rolex 24 teams tiptoed through navigating the high-tech machinery of the hybrid era that dawned Friday with the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category at Daytona International Speedway.
Meanwhile, some of the best drivers in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s premier prototype class also were trying to dodge disasters on a 3.56-mile road course clogged with traffic on the opening day of the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend as 61 cars scrambled to prepare for the 2023 season opener next weekend.
“It was very busy this morning, that is for sure,” Chip Ganassi Racing No. 01 Cadillac driver Sebastien Bourdais said after the first of two practice sessions. “With 61 cars, everyone was trying to find their references, and it did feel a bit like ‘Gymkhana’ in heavy traffic, which is a little scary because everybody is really scarce on spare parts, and we all got the message loud and clear.
PRACTICE RESULTS: Click here for Session I (by class) l Session II (by class) l Combined speeds
ROLEX 24 DETAILS: How to watch, entry lists schedules for the IMSA season opener
“You are already finding yourself in situations you do not want to be in because you can’t afford to damage anything, so that is going to be a consideration for sure.”
With the Rolex 24 looming Jan. 28-29 at Daytona, the four manufacturers that have spent millions preparing for the inaugural season of GTP are very concerned about reliability when the curtain rises on the 24-hour endurance race classic.
Aside from being extremely scarce on spare parts because of supply chain problems and startup limitations, teams also have been lacked real-world testing. Some have been unable to run their cars more than a few hours consecutively while focusing on durability gremlins.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTP: Rolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars
So the speed charts Friday might not necessarily be indicative of prerace favorites. But it still was notable that the top two speeds belonged to the top two finishers in last year’s Rolex 24.
Helio Castroneves, who made a memorable charge to his second consecutive victory at Daytona a year ago, turned a 1 minute, 35.210-second lap in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing ARX-06 that nipped Filipe Albuquerque’s No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing.
“It was a good lap, always keep working hard,” Castroneves told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam. “I guess I put myself in the right positions. This is nothing. It’s all about (his teammates) and especially the engineers of Meyer Shank Racing and Acura. We’ll keep it going. It’s just the first day.”
WeatherTech Sportscar Championship: Practice One. #IMSA | @DAYTONA | @Rolex24Hours pic.twitter.com/pENXoueDsw
— #IMSA (@IMSA) January 20, 2023
Gearbox problems sidelined the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac V-LMDh for all but four laps (none at speed) during the morning session. But the new LMDh cars otherwise seemed to hold up in their first official sessions of the 2023 season.
The top nine speeds were claimed by all the GTP cars in the field – three Cadillacs, two Porsche 963s, two BMW M Hybrid V8s and two Acuras.
Team owner Chip Ganassi said it still was unlike any typical practice dominated by the top-end prototypes.
“This is obviously a new endeavor for a lot of people on pit lane this year,” Ganassi said. “Everyone’s having to change their way of thinking a little bit, the way they approach these practice sessions, the way we approach things like just understanding how to get the most out of the car with the little time you have in practice. These cars are very complex.”
Mike O’Gara, global director of operations for Ganassi, said much of the session was spent on the basics with two cars that are virtually new.
“This car depends a lot more on the data that it is generating itself to run itself,” O’Gara said. “So, things like tire pressures, brake sensors, brake pressures that were important before are critical now. They are mission critical, so we have to make sure all those basic things work before all the other systems like the hybrid system, the electronic brake bias.
“We have to have those basic things right before those other things work properly. So, this morning, we were just making sure all of that worked right, so this afternoon, and the rest of the weekend, we can just start pushing. There is a mountain of work and a mountain of data for all of our folks to look at just to make sure all of that is functioning properly before we can start pushing on the rest of the systems in the car.”
Top speeds in other categories:
LMP2: Mikkel Jensen, No. 11 TDS Racing, ORECA LMP2 07, 1:38.730
LMP3: Gabby Chaves, No. 36 Andretti Autosport, Ligier JS P320, 1:42.926
GTD Pro: Ben Barnicoat, No. 14 Vasser Sullivan, Lexus RC F GT3, 1:47.040
GTD: Andy Lally, No. 44 Magnus Racing, Aston Martin Vantage GT3, 1:47.004
FASTEST LAP BY DRIVER AND CLASS