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2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 1

The IMSA WeatherTech Championship fires back into life in 2018 with its longest race kicking off the season. The Rolex 24 is an event that has been growing in stature every year since the American sportscar community merged in 2014. This year the race is set to yet another classic, with arguably its strongest ever field competing tooth and nail for victory.

The race is usually decided by a matter of seconds, and this year twenty high-quality prototype entries will be fighting it out for the victory. There are some off-season driver changes from the top returning teams and some very strong new entries along with a host of top international teams and driving talent descending on Daytona International Speedway this week. Let’s take a look at the prototype entry first.

#2 Tequila Patron ESM Ligier-Nissan DPI: Ryan Dalziel/Olivier Pla/Scott Sharp

Extreme Speed Motorsport return to IMSA competition this year with another two-car entry. This #2 entry of Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp is returning from last year, but they have a new partner for their Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events. Frenchman Olivier Pla is world renowned for being seriously quick in Ligier LMP2 entries, and it was him that set the quickest time for the team at the pre-race Roar Before the 24 tests, although it was still 1.7 seconds off the ultimate pace of the Cadillac’s.

The team appeared to focus on endurance runs throughout the test, with their fastest lap only good enough for 15th overall. All three have plenty of experience of the IMSA series, although the Nissan Ligier DPI will need to be at its best to match the seemingly dominant Cadillac DPI entries. It will be interesting to see if the team can improve their ultimate pace during the race week, with rumours of some team’s sand bagging at the Roar.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Dallara-Cadillac DPI: Filipe Albuquerque/Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi

This #5 Mustang Sampling Action Express entry has proved one of the leading entries in IMSA competition for the past several seasons. They were usurped by Wayne Taylor racing last season, but look to reclaim their crown this year.

On the driving front the team have made a minor change with the Portuguese Audi factory driver Filipe Albuquerque replacing long-term driver Christian Fittipaldi for the full season. Fittipaldi has scaled himself back to NAEC entries only, so for the Rolex 24 at least nothing has changed.

Albuquerque set the cars fastest lap at the test, a 1.36.135, which put him third overall. Since the new rules came into effect last season the Dallara-Cadillac DPI entries have dominated the series, and based on the Roar this doesn’t look likely to change. If the other teams cannot make improvements expect this #5 entry to be fighting it out for the victory amongst the other Cadillac DPI entries, despite attempts from IMSA to peg back the dominant Cadillac’s.

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#6 Acura Team Penske Oreca-Acura DPI: Dane Cameron/Juan-Pablo Montoya/Simon Pagenaud

Team Penske are a giant of American motor racing, and this season have branched out into the IMSA WeatherTech series with a factory Acura DPI programme. The arrival of Penske and Acura is a real coup for the series and has drawn plenty of attention to the Rolex 24.

The team have enjoyed a good winter testing programme, but a 24-hour race for a debut is going to be very difficult. On the driving front the team have lured Dane Cameron away from Action Express, after he shone in the #31 Whelen entry last year. Partnering him for the year is the well-known Juan-Pablo Montoya, who returns to full time racing after losing his Indycar seat last year. Current Penske Indycar racer Simon Pagenaud is the team’s endurance rounds driver and this is a formidable driving trio. A debut victory may be very tough to achieve with a new car that was 1.1s off the fastest laps at the test, but if any team can do it’s Penske.

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#7 Acura Team Penske Oreca-Acura: Helio Castroneves/Ricky Taylor/Graham Rahal

The other Team Penske entry is this #7 car, with both cars proving tough opponents for their rivals. All three drivers in this car completed over 50 laps across the three days of pre-race testing, with Ricky Taylor setting the cars fastest time, although it proved 0.3s off his team mates fastest lap and 1.4 seconds off the pace of the Cadillac DPI entries.

On the driving front the team recruited 2016 champion and undisputed qualifying king Ricky Taylor away from his family Wayne Taylor racing team, to partner Helio Castroneves for the season. Castroneves has called time on a long and decorated Indycar career and although he was in the bottom half of fastest times at the test, expect him to make major improvements every time he gets in the car. Joining the duo for the endurance rounds is fellow Indycar racer Graham Rahal, who completes another top-quality entry in this stacked prototype field.

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#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Dallara-Cadillac DPI: Ryan Hunter-Reay/Jordan Taylor/Renger Van der Zande

The Wayne Taylor racing crew return this year as defending champions after a dominant championship year in 2017. The team won the first five races so return as defending Rolex 24 winners, although this year has seen some changes on the driver front for the team.

Wayne Taylor’s two sons Jordan and Ricky were a dynamic duo for several seasons but have now been split up with elder brother Ricky defecting to the new factory Acura Team Penske entry.  Younger brother Jordan is now partnered for the year by the very quick Dutch driver Renger van der Zande. He set the cars fastest time at the test with a 1.36.481, 0.6 of a second off the fastest lap. Completing the line-up is Indycar racer Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has plenty of Rolex 24 experience with this likely being his best chance of victory. All three drivers set fastest laps within the top seven, which shows that this WTR Cadillac DPI entry once again looks very strong contenders for victory.

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#20 BAR1 Motorsport Riley Mk30-Gibson: Marc Drumwright/Eric Lux/Alex Popow/Tomy Drissi/Brendan Gaughan

Former PC team BAR1 Motorsport have made the step up to the prototype ranks, with the only Riley chassis in the field. The team acquired the ex–Keating Motorsport car and with new evo updates to the car it will be an improvement from a difficult debut season last year.

The team have finalised their driver line-up at the last minute, signing experienced PC runner Marc Drumwright, former PC class champion and PWC front runner Eric Lux, former Rolex 24 front runner Alex Popow, Trans-Am racer  Tomy Drissi and Nascar racer Brendan Gaughan. All five have plenty of experience however the team may struggle to match the ultimate pace with a silver and bronze rated driver crew. Compared to the platinum and gold crews in this class a good result for the team would be a clean run and a top eight finish in class.

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#22 Tequila Patron ESM Ligier-Nissan DPI: Pipo Derani/Johannes van Overbeek/Nicolas Lapierre

This #22 entry is the second Extreme Speed motorsport car entered, and just like their #2 entry has a strong chance of victory this year. The team have proved themselves in IMSA and were winners of the Rolex 24 only two years ago. The team have maximised their Nissan DPI package although they struggled for ultimate pace at the Roar test.

On the driving front the team have a full season pairing of Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek. Derani is returning to the team where he made his name two years ago thanks to blistering pace and van Overbeek brings a wealth of experience to the team. They are joined this year by Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre, a very distinguished prototype racer who has previous experience at the Rolex 24. The team are the most likely team to challenge the Cadillac DPI teams dominance, but may need a pinch of luck along the way if they want overall victory.

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#23 United Autosport Ligier-Gibson: Fernando Alonso/Phil Hanson/Lando Norris

United Autosport go into this race with the highest amount of press attention surrounding them, thanks to the presence of double F1 world champion Fernando Alonso. The Zak Brown affiliated team have used his connections to entice McLaren racer Alonso to the team for his sportscar debut, in likely preparation for a crack at Le Mans 24 Hours victory in the coming years.

United Autosport were front runners in the European Le Mans Series last season, and are amongst an influx of very impressive international one-off entries for this race. Partnering Alonso is young sportscar talent Phil Hanson and single seater racer Lando Norris. Hanson has impressed with the team in the ELMS last year, and Norris claimed the FIA European F3 Championship at his first attempt. Although this is an inexperienced line-up they have enough quality to pressure the Cadillac DPI entries, although they may struggle for ultimate pace with their LMP2 spec Ligier-Gibson.

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#31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Dallara-Cadillac: Felipe Nasr/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Stuart Middleton

This #31 entry is the Whelen backed Action Express entry, and may prove a surprise winner at the Rolex 24. Despite an off-season that has seen some driver changes this crew aced the pre-race Roar test, setting the fastest overall lap and unofficial lap record with a 1.35.806 from Felipe Nasr.

Nasr replaces the departing Dane Cameron in this #31 entry, partnering Eric Curran. The team have also signed Mike Conway and Stuart Middleton to bolster their driver line-up. Nasr is a former F1 racer with Sauber and along with Toyota LMP1 driver Conway they will be the quickest two drivers in this car. Curran brings a wealth of experience and Middleton is the winner of the Whelen Sunoco challenge, which grants the most successful British club racer with this coveted Rolex 24 seat. Whilst Curran and Middleton may lack the last tenth of pace compared with Nasr and Conway with such a strong package this team can absolutely win this race.

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#32 United Autosport Ligier-Gibson: Will Owen/Paul Di Resta/Bruno Senna/Hugo de Sadeleer

This #32 entry may not have the ultimate star power of its sister #23 entry, but the second United Autosport car is another promising one-off entry for the race. The team will be learning the nuances of IMSA racing with every session they complete, and they are a threat to the established order on track.

The team have brought in two high-profile racers in former F1 drivers Paul Di Resta and Bruno Senna. Di Resta is making his sportscar debut but has the talent to adapt well in the car, with Senna being the current LMP2 WEC champion. He set the cars fastest lap at the test, and was just under a second quicker than his team mates. Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer are two young drivers who were very impressive in the European Le Mans series last season. The team lacks in overall IMSA experience but have enough talent to have other teams worried going into the race.

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That wraps up part one of my prototype class preview for the Rolex 24, who are your favourites for victory? Let me know in the comments section below and a very big thank you for reading this article. A final massive thank you must go to Motorsport.com for their amazing high quality photos which grace this page. For all the latest motorsport news please visit their website here Motorsport.com . You can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and if you liked this article then stay tuned for part two of my preview of the prototype class at the Rolex 24!

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What’s Going Wrong For The Ravens?

Two weeks can be a long time. Especially in the NFL. Two weeks ago the Baltimore Ravens were riding high in the NFL, having started the season 2-0 in very convincing fashion. Yet as I write this on Monday October 2nd the Ravens season looks a lot less promising. Two successive emphatic defeats leave them at 2-2 and looking to get their season back on track.

Whilst the defense faltering has contributed to their recent poor two games, the Ravens offense hasn’t really got firing all season. Not one unit has stood out this season, from quarterback Joe Flacco, to the wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. The offensive line has also been hit with injuries already this season, as the Ravens hold the dubious honour of leading the NFL in injuries.

It’s hard to point to one single problem which explains the Ravens offensive woes. They have struggled since Gary Kubiak led Joe Flacco to his best statistical season in 2014. With current offensive co-ordinator Marty Mornhinweg in his second season since taking over from the fired Marc Trestman, Flacco has struggled so far this season. He ranks 32nd in the NFL with 601 passing yards through the first four games, and only 5.09 yards per passing attempt.

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Something Ravens fans are not used to seeing this season, an offensive touchdown. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images.

 

His bare statistics are also not pretty. He has thrown for four touchdowns and six interceptions, whilst also setting a current NFL record with an interception in ten straight games stretching into this season.  Flacco himself admitted after the most recent loss to bitter rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers “I sucked.” He also admitted about the offense “We’re not creating a lot for ourselves right now. We’re just going the hard way.”

Whilst the quarterback is the leader of the offense, Joe Cool has not been helped from his wide receivers this season. The Ravens signed receiver Jeremy Maclin after he was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs in June, with the team heading into the season with arguably the best receiving unit since Flacco joined the Ravens in 2008.

Maclin was signed for big money on a two-year $11 million dollar deal, but so far through four games the 29 year-old has accumulated only 116 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Wallace was another big name receiver signed for big money in free agency, with his two-year $11.5 million dollar deal producing his first 1000 yard season 2011. So far he has 76 yards this season and one touchdown.

The teams next highest profile receiver is third year player Breshad Perriman. He was the teams first round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, but has so far not lived up to his draft position. He was unlucky to lose his entire rookie season to injury, however through last season and the season so far he has accumulated 510 yards and three touchdowns. The failure to meet expectations so far with Perriman is evidence of a wider recent issue with the Ravens.

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Mercedes Lewis scoring one of the Jaguars touchdowns as they obliterated the Ravens 44-7 in London. Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images.

 

Excluding the recent 2017 NFL Draft, from 2014 through 2016 they have drafted 12 offensive skill position players. Of these 12 only three(Crockett Gillmore,Breshad Perriman and Buck Allen have so far contributed over 500 yards, with just as many players already out of the league.

GM Ozzie Newsome and Assistant GM Eric DeCosta are very highly regarded within the league, especially for drafting players, but you have to begin to question their recent success in the last three draft classes. Of course this is only my opinion and I’m not saying they should be fired, it’s simply an observation of a recent trend which could prove problematic the longer it carries on.

No matter what offensive stat you look at, it doesn’t look pretty. The team are averaging 270 yards per game(30th in the NFL), 60 total points from four games (tied 30th)and 150 passing yards per game (32nd). It’s not just in the stats that a problem shows up. Any Ravens fan watching the games this season will have seen the offensive sputtering, with Flacco missing throws, receivers not on the same page as him and runners who are struggling to find running lanes.

By no means at all is this crisis point for the Ravens, but the recent two defeats have given cause for concern amongst fans. Of course we are only four weeks into the season, but the manner of the defeats highlight obvious offensive weaknesses which will need to be addressed if the team has any hope of returning to the playoff’s for the first time since 2014.

All stats sourced with thanks from Ravens.com and ESPN.com.

Have any thoughts on this article? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below. I hope you enjoyed reading it and if you want to reach me I’m on Twitter @JWjournalism.

 

2017 Indy 500 Preview Part 1

The 101st Indianapolis 500 should prove to be one for the ages, with its reputation as a landmark race only reinforced this year.

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Fernando Alonso News A Throwback

It’s not often the motorsport world is collectively left in shock by a piece of news, but that’s exactly what happened this week. Formula One legend Fernando Alonso announced he would miss the Monaco Grand Prix to instead contest the Indianapolis 500. Both races are prestige events in the world of motorsport, and this exciting news shows Alonso is in touch with the history of this sport.

One of the key reasons Alonso gave for wanting to do the race is so he can attempt to win the triple crown of motorsport. He has already won the Monaco GP twice, in 2006 and 2007, and has already made his intention to try to win the Le Mans 24 Hours in the future widely known, therefore the Indianapolis 500 was the only race left to win.

It appears that the initial idea for contesting the race came as a light hearted joke from McLaren executive director Zak Brown about doing Indy together. It appears from here the idea settled and began to grow in the mind of Alonso, before crunch talks at last weekends Chinese Grand Prix solidified the idea.

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Alonso and McLaren exec director Zak Brown at his Indy 500 announcement. Can the Spaniard win first time out? Photo: LAT.

 

Within the Indycar series there appears to have been a lot of support for the idea, with Stefan Wilson parking his own Indy 500 plans to accommodate Alonso, along with huge support from Indycar, Honda and the Andretti Autosport team that will run Alonso on behalf of McLaren. A weird coincidence is that Andretti Autosport team principal Michael Andretti drove for McLaren during the 1993 season.

The reason why this news was so shocking to many motorsport fans is because of the speciality of modern drivers.  In the modern age drivers are usually regimented in one series, especially at the top levels of racing. Whilst it’s not uncommon for drivers to do on-off races like this in other series, that is largely true in Sportscar or American racing rather than F1.

Alonso taking part in this years Indy 500 will make him the first driver to compete in the race and F1 in the same season since Brit cult hero Nigel Mansell halted his Indycar campaign for a late part-season at Williams in 1994. Whilst German driver Nico Hulkenberg surprised the racing world by first confirming and then winning the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours with Porsche, this did not generate as much headlines as Alonso.

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Nico Hulkenberg celebrating with teams mates Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber in 2015. Photo: Motorsport.com

 

Whilst Indycar has risen in popularity and prestige since the American open wheel reunification in 2008, the series is still no where near its previous popularity of the early 1990’s when Mansell was racing in the series. A lot of shock will have likely been the fact that a lot of people would not have thought Alonso would want to compete in the race. He has not mentioned his dreams of winning the triple crown a lot and no body would have predicted he would miss the Monaco GP to compete in the race.

A big reason why a lot of F1 drivers in the modern era do not compete in other races is because their teams are very regimented in what they allow them to do. Teams worry about another disaster situation such as what happened to Robert Kubica in 2011, where a big rally crash badly injured his hand and effectively forced a early retirement from F1. Many would have thought McLaren would have prevented Alonso from skipping the Monaco race for Indianapolis, but perhaps this is an attempt to appease a man unhappy with the current performance of his McLaren-Honda package.

This news is very exciting for motorsport fans because its a chance to see someone many people call the benchmark driver in F1 compete against the best American open wheel racers. The news will also remind many fans of a bygone era in F1. From the beginning of F1 in 1950 right up until the early 1990’s drivers would routinely add races such as the Le Mans 24 Hours to their F1 schedule.

It was not uncommon for drivers to compete in several different types of car throughout the season, and this diversification with F1 drivers is what fans loved to see. This is why the news is so exciting, as for the first time in a long while we will get to see a F1 world champion competing with the heroes from another series.

All fans of motorsport are winners with this latest news, with the announcement undoubtedly raising the profile of both Indycar and the Indianapolis 500 internationally. Hopefully the buzz surrounding this announcement and his performance in the race will convince some more F1 drivers to branch out and try the big events such as the Indy 500 or the Le Mans 24 Hours in the future. One thing is for certain however, as a fan I cannot wait to see how Alonso fares next month.

Any thoughts on this article? Please feel free to give your opinion in the comments section below and a huge thank you for reading. Follow me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Could ‘Moneyball’ Ever Work In Football?

Since the new millennium a singular concept has swept through American professional sports. The concept is known as ‘Moneyball’,  has been made famous by the 2003 best selling book and the 2011 film starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. After conquering American sports, the question is, can the concept work in football?

For those of you who  are not familiar with the ‘Moneyball’ idea, it’s the concept that individual players are over valued and a team filled with smaller players working to a common goal are just as effective as world class talent, costing a lot less money and allowing smaller teams to compete with bigger teams. Whilst this is a broad description of it, it’s the only way to explain it so it would work in professional football.

Existing football pundits may suggest that the concept is a novel idea but would not work in football and they could have a point. For a start, football does not have a salary cap unlike major American sports. They would suggest that this means that the concept has little relevance to football, however for me I have to disagree.

The ethos of the concept is to help smaller budget teams compete more evenly with their financially richer rivals. The sport in which gave the concept its fame is Baseball, a game which arguably has the biggest discrepancy in finances. According to Spotrac going into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, there is a difference of $179 million dollars between the L.A Dodgers $242 million dollar payroll and the Milwaukee Brewers $63 million dollar payroll.

Whilst there is a large difference in finances between the top and bottom of the Premier League for example, the financial divide is no where near as big as baseball. If teams such as the Oakland A’s can compete with major teams in baseball the same is possible within the Premier League.

Last season Leicester City proved inadvertently that the ‘Moneyball’ concept can work at a high level in football. They assembled a squad that cost under £30 million pounds, with their biggest signing being Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki for £7 million. With their own brand of counter attacking football manager Claudio Ranieri, they shocked sports fans across the world.

They started the season as favourites for relegation, with some bookmakers they were 5000-1 to win the Premier League. Yet they flew through the season, only losing three games on route to the most unlikely Premier League title in history. Whilst this is rightly being talked about as the ultimate football fairy tale story, what can be learnt from it?

What I think it shows is that the ‘Moneyball’ concept could work in professional football. If a lower budget team adopted the mentality and began searching for players who had good individual attributes, and putting them into a team which could then execute an effective game plan could very well prove to work better for that club than the existing model.

Whilst it’s possible the entire Leicester season was indeed a one-off fairy tale, it’s equally possible that Leicester proved that a new model of structuring a team can be successful in football. It will be interesting to see in the future if any other Premier League clubs adopt this mentality, and if it works the revolutionary balls of change may begin to roll.

‘Moneyball’ proved that in baseball you didn’t need to pay the high wages of a Derek Jeter to be successful and compete, so could Leicester’s success prove you don’t need a Sergio Aguero or Paul Pogba to be successful? Only time will tell.

 

What do you think of the ‘Moneyball’ concept, and do you think it could work in the Premier League? Let me know in the comments section below and thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

2017 Rolex 24 GTLM Preview

The third part of my Rolex 24 preview looks at the ultra competitive GTLM class. The premier GT class for GTE spec cars are filled with high level manufactures and some of the highest quality GT driving talent in the world.

With five different makes competing for glory, we may well see a repeat of last years climatic finish where the two factory Chevrolet Corvette’s were separated by less than a second at the flag. Of all of the classes this may well be the hardest class to predict a winner, such is the closeness of the different cars thanks to the balance of performance within the series. Let’s preview the relative merits of each of the contenders in this class.

#3 Pratt @ Miller Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Antonio Garcia/Jan Magnussen/Mike Rockenfeller

This #3 entry was the crew which narrowly missed out last year, losing by less than a second to their team mates after 24 hours of flat out racing. The highly experienced and successful team proved they were the class of the field, something that with a winter of updates they hope to replicate this weekend.

After a 1-2 finish last year they have retained their usual bevy of factory drivers, keeping their existing line up of Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller. The full season pairing of Garcia and Magnussen are both highly experienced with this GTE spec C7.R, but have retained their consistent speed over a stint which is  so crucial in Sportscar racing. On loan Audi factory driver Mike Rockenfeller is hugely experienced and the perfect driver to complement Magnussen and Garcia. He has experience of the Corvette from last year so should need little time to readjust back to the American muscle car.

You can count on the Pratt @ Miller team being highly organised as every other team in the class will be thanks to their factory links. Winning this class against such quality opposition will come down to strategy and ensuring no mistakes are made throughout this race. Whilst it would be impossible to predict a repeat of last years perfect result, if the team can stay out of trouble expect them to be right at the front in the final hours battling it out for victory.

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#4 Pratt @ Miller Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Marcel Fassler

For this #4 Corvette Racing entry 2016 proved a near perfect season. Full season drivers Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner were victorious at both the Rolex 24 and Sebring 12 Hours, on route to the GTLM class title. Whilst these kind of seasons are usually once in a career, why should they not go into this season hoping for the same success?

Gavin and Milner are a formidable partnership with both well versed with the C7.R. They, much like many other in this class, are very good GT drivers who are very unlikely to make mistakes or put in a risky passing move. Marcel Fassler completes the line-up, and is the perfect team mate for them to have. The ultimate team player and hugely talented Swiss driver has experience of the Corvette from last year and the on-loan factory driver will be hoping for another Rolex watch come Sunday afternoon.

With such professional teams and drivers the race will come down to the best strategy calls and staying out of trouble. Purely based on last season this entry could be considered the favourites going into the race, but almost anything could happen in this class once the race gets going.

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#19 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM: Bill Auberlen/Alexander Sims/Augusto Farfus/Bruno Spengler

After a learning year with the new M6  GTLM machine in 2016, the long established BMW Team RLL will be hoping for at the very least a class podium this year. This was the entry that finished fifth in class last year, although with a further year of development they will be looking for more than this for their weeks effort.

The importance of this race is clear from the fact BMW has assembled it’s premier GT drivers from across the world to take part in this race. Joining the newly paired Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims, both very good GT drivers in their own right, are BMW DTM factory drivers Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler.

Both Farfus and Spengler are regulars at this race and therefore will need little time to adjust to the car, especially when their talent is also factored in. All four drivers in this car are very quick and experienced GT racers and whilst some may question Sims considering this is his first race in the GTLM spec M6,  his recent success with the GT3 version shows he has considerable talent and may well prove the surprise of the weekend in this class.

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#24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM: John Edwards/Martin Tomczyk/Nick Catsburg/Kuno Wittmer

The other of the two car BMW RLL effort is this #24 car, which will be hoping to improve on a poor showing last year. They retired in a scary manner when one of the front wheels dislodged just at the braking point for turn one. Of course they will hoping they can remain reliable this year with a years worth of experience with the car, however more than that, they will hoping to be right in the thick of the battle for the class lead throughout the race.

Existing BMW GT driver John Edwards is partnered this year by factory driver and recent GT convert Martin Tomczyk, a driver whose pedigree has been forged into the ultra competitive German DTM championship, therefore it will likely not take him long to start posting fast times in the car. Nick Catsburg and Kuno Wittmer are great additions to the line up as both are very quick GT drivers. Catsburg is another driver who has excelled with the GT3 spec M6  and Wittmer is a former GTLM champion and will be no slouch with the M6.

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#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE: Giancarlo Fisichella/Toni Vilander/James Calado

The sole Ferrari in the GTLM class this year is the stalwart Risi Competizione entry. Whilst they are only competing with one car they have proved themselves one of the quickest and most consistent teams in this class over the previous few years.

With so much experience on this team it’s rare to see them make a mistake, one of their keys to success. The new 488 GTE has proved very competitive in the World Endurance Championship and this success should filter over to the U.S if this team can have a clean run.

Full season Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander are well versed with IMSA racing and are two of the fastest Ferrari GT drivers in the world. Completing the factory driver line-up is Brit James Calado, a recent convert to GT racing who came on leaps and bounds in his second season last year. If he can keep improving he will be this teams secret weapon throughout the race.

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#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Joey Hand/Dirk Muller/Sebastien Bourdais

A lot changed in the space of a year for this Ford GT programme. This time last year they were making their debut on their return to international Sportscar racing, unsure of their true potential in comparison with their rivals. The Rolex 24 presented itself with the inevitable teething issues for the team, however six months later they were celebrating success at the Le Mans 24 hours.

A year on and after their Le Mans success they will be hoping to secure another prestigious title with the Rolex 24 trophy. The Chip Ganassi team have a tremendous record of success with this race, and have retained their stellar driver line up to further enhance the team. All three drivers in this car are experienced GT racers who can produce consistently quick stints throughout the race. Joey Hand and Dirk Muller have good working relationship after being team mates last year, whilst Indycar racer Sebastien Bourdais is very quick and has great experience of Sportscar racing, both here and at Le Mans.

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#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook/Scott Dixon

The second of four Ford GT’s entered this year is this #67 entry, which shares the burden of expectation with the other three Ford’s entered. The team improved rapidly throughout 2016 and many would rank them as the likely closest challenger to a repeat of a Corvette 1-2 this year.

The car has proved remarkably fast, although balance of performance tweaks after the test day may not suit the car on the Daytona circuit. With the very professional Chip Ganassi team running the cars they have one of the best teams in the paddock behind them, and the three drivers in this car are highly professional racers.

Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook are the full season pairing, being joined by long term Indycar racer Scott Dixon. Westbrook has a wealth of experience both in Europe and America, whilst still retaining his outright speed.

Briscoe has recently transitioned from Indycar to Sportscar racing, and has adapted well in recent seasons, especially to the new Ford GT. Having a driver the calibre of Dixon to complete the line-up is a huge plus for this team over its rivals. He is a multiple Indycar champion and despite being a Sportscar novice, adapted well to GT racing last year. With a year of experience behind him anything is possible for both him and this team.

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#68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT: Billy Johnson/Stefan Mucke/Olivier Pla

Along with their usual two car IMSA series effort, the Chip Ganassi team have been joined for this marquee event by their counterparts competing in the WEC. The teams are the same barring personnel, although the IMSA team may have a very slight edge simply because of their expanded experience within the series, although this is unlikely to have an effect on the overall result.

This team struggled to adapt to the WEC in their first season, with a best result of fourth at Le Mans the Nurburgring. This season everyone linked with the programme will be hoping for improvements, so for this entry a podium would likely prove a good result for this team depending on the circumstances in the race.

The trio is the same as last year, making things easier in comparison to teams with new driver line-up’s for this weekend. Both Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke are world renowned established Sportscar racers so expect them to be on top form for the race, whilst American racer Billy Johnson has adjusted well to international GT racing and will only make improvements with every passing season in the car.

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#69 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT: Tony Kanaan/Andy Priaulx/Harry Tincknell

The #69 team are the second of the WEC entries guesting at Daytona, hoping to claim class victory for the Ford GT programme. Despite not being regulars on the IMSA scene, with a car as quick as the Ford GT and a team like Ganassi running the outfit, this team should have a very good chance of victory.

The notion is only further enhanced by the driver line-up assembled. Tony Kanaan is the third driver, although to have a driver of his talents join the outfit is only a massive positive for this car. He has prior experience with this programme from last year and will always put in fast times no matter what car he is driving.

The full season WEC line-up is the two Brits, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell, both at different stages of their Sportscar careers. Priaulx is vastly experienced and is now a proven commodity in GT racing and is showing why he was a multiple world champion touring car racer previously. Harry Tincknell has recently established himself as a major young Sportscar prospect after his showings with first the Jota LMP2 team and now this Ford GT programme. He adjusted very quickly to GT racing last year and despite lacking major experience of this race, don’t expect that to stop him from impressing all weekend.

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#911 CORE Autosport Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR: Patrick Pilet/Dirk Werner/Richard Lietz

2017 has seen a renewed effort from Porsche with their international GT programmes, with widescale change for this coming season. They have developed a new 2017 spec 911 RSR, with for the first time in history a mid engine 911. Whilst this may anger purists they clearly feel this is their best route to victory at the ultra competitive GTE platform.

Along with a new spec 911 they have also significantly changed their GT driver roster. Both Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy have been promoted to the LMP1 programme after their impressive performances over the past few years, with several top quality drivers coming in. For this #911 entry the sizeable change is somewhat lessened, with the same CORE Autosport team running the Porsche North America operation, along with several long term factory drivers in the line-up.

Both Patrick Pilet and Richard Leitz are long term Porsche factory GT drivers, and have consistently proven their talent at this level. With these calibre of factory drivers it’s very rare to see them make a mistake or post anything other than quick laptimes throughout stints. The only other new element aside from the car is the teams third driver, the recently signed Dirk Werner.

He has been a consistent thorn in the side of Porsche with the factory BMW Team RLL programme these past few years, but has now switched allegiance to the Porsche marque. He will have had plenty of testing to adjust to the newer 911, although the mid-engine concept should make it easier to learn in comparison with the previous rear-engine format I expect.

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#912 CORE Autosport Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR: Kevin Estre/Laurens Vanthoor/Frederic Makowiecki

The second Porsche entry is very similar to its sister car, with two experienced Porsche GT drivers joined by a newly signed one. Porsche only employ the very best as factory drivers, something that is consistent with both their LMP1 and GT programme. They have retained Frenchmen Kevin Estre and Frederic Makowiecki, both of whom are supremely talented racers who can be relied upon to perform at the highest level for 24 hours.

These two are joined by new signing Laurens Vanthoor, a supremely talented rising star of GT racing, having established himself as arguably the fastest GT3 driver in the world with parent group stablemate Audi. With the withdrawal of their LMP1 programme Vanthoor has switched over to Porsche, a brand at the moment with greater chance of promotion. Adjusting to different cars are never usually an issue for drivers of immense talent, so getting up to speed during the week should not be difficult for Vanthoor. Learning the intricacies of the Daytona circuit may take longer, with this being his first time competing at this race.

Porsche are always contenders in sportscar racing,  the only question mark may surround the new spec 911. Although it will have been tested extensively, testing cannot replicate the rigours of a 24 hour race, and the team may encounter issues they had never previously seen. If they can stay reliable they will be in contention for the victory, but will they be able to stay out of trouble?

That wraps up my preview of the GTLM class, one that should provide plenty of excitement and intrigue for the entire 24 hours. It will be hard to top the close racing and drama of last year, however don’t discount similar action. Predicting a winner in this class is impossible it will simply come down to who executes and reacts with their strategy the best with so many variables.

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I would like to say a huge thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it, any comments would be hugely appreciated. I have to also give thanks to the brilliant Motorsport.com for their high quality photos in this article, everyone should visit their site for the latest news and photos from across the globe. Follow me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

 

 

 

2017 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview

The 2017 international motorsport season begins in earnest with the 55th running of the Rolex 24 Hours from the Daytona International Speedway. This years running marks a new era for the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar championship, with wide scale changes to the premier prototype division thanks to a new combined rulebook aligning the previous LMP2 and Daytona Prototype cars.

With the new DPI regulations they should ensure greater equality between the previous LMP2 and Daytona Prototype entries. Whilst there will be inevitable balance of performance issues to iron out in the build up to the race, one thing that can be guaranteed is the overall quality and competitiveness in the prototype category. Every car in the premier class has a chance of victory, should they have a good run and be blessed with that all important luck needed to win such a prestigious 24 hour race.

Last years victors Extreme Speed Motorsport return to the IMSA series full time this year after two years in the World Endurance Championship, but they will have plenty of competition for the victory once again this time out. Let’s take a look at the entries and assess their chances of victory.

#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier-Nissan DPI: Ryan Dalziel/Scott Sharp/Pipo Derani

Tequila Patron and the Extreme Speed team have returned stateside after a mixed two years in the WEC, and despite a new range of prototype entries expect them to pick up exactly where they left off in this series. This is the crew that came out victorious in last years Rolex 24, therefore the target will be on their back all weekend as they aim to do something very difficult and retain their trophies from a year ago.

Despite being the reigning champions a lot has changed for this crew from last year. Most notably is the new Ligier-Nissan DPI package that they have chosen to use. With such a new set of regulations its currently unclear which package will prove most suitable for the Daytona track, with the Roar not giving away too much as teams don’t want to show their hands too early.

On the driving front the team also has some changes, with the team switching across Ryan Dalziel and Johannes Van Overbeek for this year. With the talented Scot Dalziel now partnering Sharp and Pipo Derani this team has a great mix of speed and experience in this lineup.  Derani in particular stole the show last year with his consistently fast driving, and if he can repeat those feats this year, backed up by Sharp and Dalziel this team has every chance of victory if their new DPI package can stay reliable.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing  Dallara Cadillac DPI: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque

The Action Express team have established themselves as one of the premier prototype teams in the IMSA series over the past three to four year, largely based on the results of this number five entry.  With back to back titles in 2014 and 2015, this entry was beaten only by its teammates in last years championship.

The team always run strongly at Daytona and last year once again challenged for the overall victory until the final hours. They have remained with General Motors, although this years new DPI is badged as a Cadillac rather than a Chevrolet. Aside from the new DPI car the team have stuck with a driver line up that has produced major success for them.

Both Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi are hugely experienced whilst retaining their speed, something Audi factory driver Filipe Albuquerque does not lack. He showed well with the team last year and this year will be hoping they can remain in the lead fight right up until the chequered flag. Along with the #2 Extreme Speed motorsport entry this is one of half a dozen cars who have a very good chance of victory. Expect to see this car at the front for large portions in the race if they can run cleanly.

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#10 Konica Minolta Dallara Cadillac DPI: Jordan Taylor/Ricky Taylor/Max Angelelli/Jeff Gordon

The battles between the Action Express and Wayne Taylor racing teams have gone down in this championships short history, with the two of them separating themselves from the rest of the full season entries in the past three years. This year their battle for victory will be renewed beginning with the Rolex 24, a race that has not been kind to this team in recent years.

The team have always found trouble late on when in contention for victory, something the team will be hoping a new set of regulations may help with. They have decided to also stick with what they know and the GM brand, and have retained three quarters of their driver line up from a year ago.

Owner Wayne Taylor’s sons Jordan and Ricky return and will be right on the pace all weekend, ably supported by the vastly experienced Max Angelelli in his final race before retirement. Angelelli has been a huge asset to this team since his days partnering Wayne and will be hoping he can end his career on a high note. For their final driver the team have caused a stir by signing retired Nascar legend Jeff Gordon. Whilst he has limited Sportscar experience, he has plenty of pace and is a good addition to this already formidable lineup. This is another entry to look out for throughout the 24 hours.

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#13 Rebellion Oreca 07-Gibson:  Sebastien Buemi/Nick Heidfeld/Neel Jani/Stephane Sarrazin

The Rebellion team embark on their first season in the LMP2 category after being mainstays of the LMP1 privateer class. Along with their WEC programme is a crack at the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, consisting of the premier races on the IMSA calendar.

With a stable Oreca-Gibson chassis/engine combination the highly experienced team have put together an all star line-up for the Rolex 24. LMP1 factory drivers Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin (Toyota) and current WEC champion and Le Mans 24 Hours winner Neel Jani (Porsche) are joined by regular driver and ex-F1 mainstay Nick Heidfeld.

The team having previous experience from their 2013 successful foray into the American Sportscar scene, are will be looking for a debut victory this time out. If the team can have a clean run, this entry is a very serious contender for the overall win. With such a competitive class and the 24 hour race duration anything can happen, although if I was forced into choosing a pre-race favourite, I would likely back this Rebellion racing entry.

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#22 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier-Nissan DPI: Ed Brown/Johannes Van Overbeek/Bruno Senna/Brendon Hartley 

The other Extreme Speed motorsport entry is not going to play second fiddle to the teams other car. This entry still has a very good chance of victory, given the professionalism and quality of this team, along with a great driver line up.

Porsche LMP1 factory driver and former WEC champion Brendon Hartley is an excellent signing for this team, one of the genuinely fastest guys on the sportscar scene at the moment. Former F1 driver Bruno Senna has also joined this lineup, showing his talents with a excellent adaption to prototype racing in the LMP2 class of the WEC last season.

Full season drivers Johannes Van Overbeek and Tequila Patron CEO Ed Brown complete the lineup. Van Overbeek has a wealth of experience and speed, forming an excellent working relationship with long term co-driver Brown. The only slight question mark surrounding this entry may be Brown.

He is one of the few true amateur drivers in the class, and whilst he has excelled and improved rapidly in sportscar racing, he may struggle to match the consistent ultimate pace of the world class professional drivers he will be competing with. Do not count this entry out as you may regret it, although they may need a little extra help if they want to be wheeled into victory lane come Sunday afternoon.

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#31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Racing Dallara Cadillac DPI: Dane Cameron/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Seb Morris

The defending WeatherTech IMSA champions return for a crack at the Rolex 24. the jewel in the IMSA season crown. This entry stepped out of the shadows of their illustrious team mates last season to win the title, and will be hoping they can repeat this result this season, despite the major changes in the prototype class.

It’s unclear as to the ultimate pace of the new Cadillac DPI entries, having not topped the times at the pre-race Roar before the 24 test several weeks ago. Were they sandbagging, or are they genuinely short on pace compared to their rivals? Only the teams themselves know.

On the driving front the full season lineup of the very fast Dane Cameron and Eric Curran are joined by Brits Mike Conway and Seb Morris. Conway is a Toyota factory prototype driver and is an excellent signing for this team. Morris is a slightly different story, having won the Sunoco challenge, which rewards the best overall driver in British national racing with a drive in the Rolex 24. Such alumni of this prize include F1 driver Felipe Nasr, so do not discount Morris. He was a very quick single seater driver before switching his attention to GT racing, having shown similar pace in British GT last year.

With Conway leading the lineup this entry may lack that blistering ultimate pace of their rivals over the course of a stint, but do not think they are simply here to make up the numbers. They are the reigning champions and that alone will mean no other team counts them out.

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#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Ligier JSP2-Gibson: Tom Kimber-Smith/Jose Gutierrez/Mike Guasch/RC Enerson 

The PR1/Mathiasen have been front runners in the prototype challenge class for the past several years in the IMSA series, tasting some success with class victory in the 2015 Rolex 24. With the widespread change in the prototype class regulations, the team have made the step up for this season.

Given pre-season testing choosing the Ligier JSP2 package seems a smart move at this moment, and the team have stuck with a lot of their PC class drivers. With familiarity and experience needed with the move up this is a smart move by the team. The vastly experienced Tom Kimber-Smith will likely lead this team, having plentiful experience at this level from the past few years.

Jose Gutierrez showed himself well last season in his sportscar debut, having made the jump across from the Pro Mazda single seater series. Although he didn’t complete the entire season, a year of adapting to the series will put him in good stead for this season. Mike Guasch is a quick amateur driver for this team, and has spent a large portion of his recent career with the team. After winning the LMP3 class in the European Le Mans Series, he will be hoping his good form can continue into 2017.

Completing the lineup is the young American single seater racer RC Enerson, who makes his sportscar debut this weekend. He has progressed up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder right up to Indycar last season, although his lack of experience will sportscar may hamper him during the week. He is tremendously fast and once he adapts to the car and the level of traffic, expect him to flash some seriously fast times during the race.

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#55 SpeedSource Riley Mazda DPI: Jonathan Bomarito/Tristan Nunez/Spencer Pigot 

The works backed SpeedSource Mazda team return to the IMSA series in 2017 having shown promise throughout the 2016 season. With a new Mazda badged Riley DPI, which in my opinion is the best looking car in this class, will be hoping they can finally deliver on their long running promise.

The team is highly talented and this extends to the driver line up. Former single seater convert Jonathan Bomarito has now added experience to his speed and is well versed with the team having spent the past few years with them. He will provide the most experience, although both young team mates Tristan Nunez and Spencer Pigot have also raced this entry last year.

Nunez has adapted well having progressed through the Cooper Tyres IMSA lights series, having been nurtured by this team he gets better with every passing season and is now established as a prominent IMSA sportscar driver, despite being only 21. Pigot is a single seater who flashed promise in Indycar last season, and returns to Daytona looking to improve upon last years frustrating race where mechanical issues forced them out. If the Mazda DPI proves quick expect this team to be taking full advantage of it, and maybe they can achieve a rare and long overdue podium come Sunday afternoon.

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#70 SpeedSource Riley Mazda DPI: Tom Long/Joel Miller/James Hinchcliffe

The other Mazda factory entry is this #70 car, both of which have shown well at the pre-race Roar before the 24. Whilst it was the #55 car that set the headline times at the test, this entry has just as much a chance of victory or class podium. The SpeedSource team are highly professional and have plenty of experience in this race, plus the might of Mazda North America supporting their efforts.

The team remains largely unchanged on the driving front, with long time Mazda drivers Tom Long and Joel Miller providing a wealth of experience for this entry. Both are also capable of produce a very fast average pace across a stint, especially former single seater convert Miller. Completing the trio is Indycar star James Hinchcliffe, who reunites with the SpeedSource team for Daytona after taking last year out. He will be the star turn and if he can adapt to the new Mazda DPI car quickly, he will likely be the one setting the cars fastest times. So much in unknown going into this race, but if the testing pace proves to be an accurate reflection of outright speed, expect this car to be on the podium if it can keep clean and reliable.

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#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson: Loic Duval/Ben Hanley/Henrik Hedman/Nicolas Lapierre

The very young DragonSpeed racing team make their Rolex 24 debut with one goal in mind this weekend, to claim overall victory in this prestigious race. The team are racing their Oreca 05 from last season, updated to new 07 spec, and have impressed so far.

The team debuted at the Sebring 12 hours last season and again have returned stateside before taking on the European Le Mans Series this year. What the team lack in sportscar experience they more than make up for with their driver line up. Amateur Swedish racer Henrik Hedman has plenty of sportscar experience however he will likely to struggle to match the pace of the professional drivers simply because he is an amateur doing this for fun, do not think that will mean he is slow and he will be a very good and consistent driver for the team.

Joining him is Brit former single seater Ben Hanley, who like a shooting star rose to prominence very quickly before seemingly disappearing just as quickly. He is still a very quick racing driver who seems to have finally found a home with this DragonSpeed team. Completing the lineup are sportscar royalty, Audi factory driver Loic Duval and LMP2 WEC champion Nicolas Lapierre. Both have plenty of top line sportscar experience and will provide blistering pace for this car when they are at the wheel.

Having topped the pre-race test this team are looking good if they can keep this pace up consistently across the week culminating in the race. If they can be reliable this team has every chance of a class podium, despite the seeming disadvantage of an amateur driver, such is the overall quality of the team and the rest of the lineup.

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#85 JDC/Miller Motorsport Oreca 07-Gibson: Mikhail Goikhberg/Stephen Simpson/Chris Miller/Mathias Beche 

The second team to step up from the Prototype Challenge class is this JDC/Miller motorsport entry, and they will have fond memories of this race from last year. They survived a race of attrition in this class to secure an unexpected victory, something that carried across to the rest of the season as they finished third in class.

The team have chosen the Oreca 07-Gibson as their weapon of choice, with the DragonSpeed team showing the potential of the car in the re-race test. If this team can get to grips with the car and extract similar pace they will definitely be contenders for yet another upset victory this year.

The team has gone with familiarity for this year, having retained Stephen Simpson and Mikhail Goikhberg for this year. Both excelled last year and a resurgent Simpson reminded people why he was a formerly highly rated A1GP and Indy Lights driver. He has not lost any of his previous pace, he has simply now added experience to his sportscar armory. Goikhberg adapted well after winning the 2014 Mazda Prototype Lights series, he has found a home with the JDC/Miller team and rewarded them with an excellent season last year.

Chris Miller also returns this year after partial IMSA seasons with the team over the past several years. He has struggled with attaining a full season drive for several years now, which only makes his performances for this team even more impressive, considering his lack of experience. He is an underrated driver deserving of a full season IMSA drive, and so far he will be joining the team for the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events. Completing the lineup is Swiss racer Mathias Beche, a driver who has firmly established himself as a promising sportscar talent. He has impressed in recent years with the Thiriet by TDS and Rebellion racing teams, and is currently being rumoured to be joining the Toyota factory LMP1 programme this year. He will be hotshoe in this car and will lead the team as far as they can go in this race.

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#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Riley Mk30-Gibson: Renger Van Der Zande/Marc Goossens/Rene Rast

Long time IMSA entrants VisitFlorida.com racing return having gone a slightly different route to their traditional rivals. Whilst the likes of Action Express and Wayne Taylor racing have gone with the DPI route, this team have instead gone for a more European twist with their new LMP2 spec Riley Mk30. The team have made no secret of their desire to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours in the coming years, with their’s the only traditional Riley on the grid this year.

After an overhaul with their previous driver line up this year seems more stability, with the vastly experienced and very quick Belgian Marc Goossens remaining with the team for this year. He will have a new team mate in Dutchman Renger van der Zande, with Ryan Dalziel returning to the Tequila Patron ESM team. Van der Zande has long been one of the fastest drivers in the PC class, and is long overdue this promotion to the Prototype class.

This lineup is completed with Audi factory driver Rene Rast, someone who has solidified his success at this race in the GTD class in years prior. With plenty of Audi LMP1 experience he should find the adjustment to the Riley relatively easy, and he will be very fast throughout the week no doubt. This locally based team have never had much luck in this race, and could a new car bring a change in their fortunes? Based on testing times they may struggle, but many expect the order to have significantly change come the race.

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That wraps up my preview of the Prototype class for this years 2017 Rolex 24. The class seems rejuvenated this year with plenty of intrigue as genuinely you could not call a winner for this race. I will be one of the many sportscar eagerly glued to the race this weekend, excited to see the outcome. I have to say thank you for reading this and I hoped you liked it, any comments would be greatly appreciated. I have to also give a final thanks to Motorsport.com for their high quality photos which grace this page, I urge everyone to visit their site for the latest news and high quality pictures from across the motorsport world. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.