ELMS

2018 Rolex 24 GTD Preview Part 1

The GTD class, based around GT3 spec cars, has proved a great addition to the IMSA WeatherTech championship in recent years. It returns in 2018 stronger than ever, with 21 cars entered for the season opening Rolex 24. There is an increased international presence this year, and this only enhances the class battle that is likely to take place across the entire 24 hours. If you have missed any of my previous prototype and GTLM previews, they can be found here. Prototype Preview Part 1 Prototype Preview Part 2 GTLM Preview

Let’s take a look at the first half of the entry list.

#11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Mirko Bortolotti/Rik Breukers/Rolf Ineichen/Frank Perera

The Austrian team have established themselves as the leading Lamborghini GT3 racing team on the planet, having been front runners in ADAC GT Masters and Blancpain GT champions in 2017. The team return to the Rolex 24 after making their debut last year, and have brought with them two very strong entries.

In this #11 car is Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers, Rolf Ineichen and Frank Perera. Bortolotti has developed into one of the fastest GT3 racers in the world with this team, with young Dutchman proving very quick in the one-make Lamborghini Super Trofeo category. Rolf Ineichen is a developing talent and Frank Perera was often one of the biggest thorns for this squad in the ultra competitive Blancpain GT series for Mercedes. Fastest time at the Roar test highlights how strong this team will be in the race.

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#14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3: Dominik Baumann/Phillipp Frommenwiler/Bruno Junqueira/Kyle Marcelli

It’s all change for the Paul Gentilozzi 3GT Racing team this year, after a difficult first year as a factory Lexus team. IMSA rules have forced the team to become independent of Lexus for this year, although the team have retained a strong driver line-up.

Dominik Baumann is a promising young Mercedes factory GT driver who joins the team for the full season. He will be partnered by Kyle Marcelli, a quick driver who has raced in various American GT series over the past few years.

Joining them for Daytona will be Bruno Junqueira and Philipp Frommenwiler. Junqueira is a quick and experienced sportscar racer and Frommenwiler proved quick in the International GT Open series with this car last year.

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#15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3: Dominik Farnbacher/Jack Hawksworth/David Heinemeier Hansson/Scott Pruett

This #15 has a similarly strong line-up to it’s sister #14 entry, and now have a years experience with the car to help them move up the grid. Expect to see an improvement from this team this year, with a possible top six result achievable for the team.

On the driving front the team retain former Indycar racer Jack Hawksworth, but he will be partnered for this year by Dane David Heinemeier Hansson. He has established himself as one of the quickest amateur sportscar racers in the world, and moves across from the Rebellion WEC LMP2 team.

Dominik Farnbacher rejoins the team after racing for them at this race last year, with Scott Pruett completing the line-up. Joint record winner of the Rolex 24, Pruett recently announced that this will be his final race before retirement. The team will be doing everything it can for him to go out on a good result.

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#19 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Christian Engelhart/Christoph Lenz/Louis Machiels/Ezequiel Perez Companc/Max van Splunteren

The Lamborghini entries have looked the class of the field in pre-race testing, which bodes well for this #19 GRT Grasser entry. The team are Lamborghini experts and return with experience of this race from last year. Whilst this driver line-up may not contain the overall quality of the #11 entry, this is still a contender for class victory.

Christian Engelhart heads the driving crew, look for the car to be very quick in his hands. Ezequiel Perez Companc showed flashes of promise last year in Blancpain for the team, with Max van Splunteren an ever improving silver rated driver. These have become increasingly crucial in pro-am classes such as GTD. Christoph Lenz and Louis Machiels are two gentlemen drivers who bring plenty of GT racing experience.

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#29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS: Kelvin van der Linde/Sheldon van der Linde/Christopher Mies/Jeffrey Schmidt 

The German Land Motorsport team have risen massively in the past few years to become one of the premier Audi customer GT teams on the planet. After success in Europe the team make their full season debut in the IMSA series after several one-off entries last year that culminated in a class win at the season finale Petit Le Mans race.

South African brothers Sheldon van der Linde and Audi factory driver Kelvin will team up for the full season, and are ably supported by Christopher Mies and Jeffrey Schmidt. Mies won the Nurburgring 24 Hours with the team last year and is a very quick factory GT racer, with Schmidt well known to the team after a top ten ADAC GT Masters season with them last year. This team came within 0.3s of winning last year, so will hope they can be in the hunt again this time around.

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#33 Team Riley Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3: Ben Keating/Jeroen Bleekemolen/Adam Christodolou/Luca Stolz

The Riley motorsport team are a recent mainstay of American GT racing, returning for another year of IMSA racing with their Mercedes AMG GT3 car. The long term pairing of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen are coming off a standout year, with class victory at the Sebring 12 Hours and a close 2nd place finish in the championship.

They are joined for the Rolex 24 by Mercedes factory driver Adam Christodolou and his Blancpain GT team mate Luca Stolz. Christodolou was key to their third overall result last year with developing young driver Stolz the team can hope to achieve another class podium this year.

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#44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS: Andy Lally/John Potter/Andrew Davis/Markus Winkelhock

The John Potter run Magnus racing team have proven very popular since their inception in 2010. After a year away from IMSA racing in the Pirelli World Challenge, the team return this year for another full season effort.

Long term team mates John Potter and Andy Lally are very experience and with the support of Lally Potter is improving as a driver every year. Joining them for the endurance rounds is another experienced Audi racer, Andrew Davis. Factory Audi GT driver Markus Winkelhock adds some star power to this team, watch out for him at the wheel. A win on their debut would be the dream storyline for the team, but a top six result would be a great result in their first race back at this level.

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#48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Andrea Caldarelli/Bryce Miller/Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow

The Paul Miller racing team return this year as the only team running a full season programme with the Lamborghini Huracan. The Italian car has struggled to match its success in Europe in the IMSA series but the team are sticking with what they have this year.

This also applies to their regular season pairing of Bryan Sellers and Madison for the third consecutive year. The team finished ninth last year with one podium but the Rolex 24 is always an anomaly at the start of the year, so the team could spring a surprise with a class podium if they can keep out of trouble. The team are bolstered for Daytona by Lamborghini factory driver Andrea Caldarelli and Bryce Miller. In Caldarelli’s hands the car will fly and Miller provides speed and experience at this level.

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#51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3: Pedro Lamy/Mathias Lauda/Daniel Serra/Paul Dalla Lana

The Spirit of Race, factory AF Corse supported team have filed a very strong single-car entry for this years Rolex 24. The team have vast experience from racing in Europe and in the WEC, with the Ferrari 488 proving a very competitive package last year also.

In terms of driving talent, with team have signed a bevy of drivers who are usually associated with Aston Martin’s. All four drivers have strong connections to the British marque, with Lamy, Lauda and Dalla Lana all WEC GTE Am champions last year. Brazilian Serra won the GTE Pro class at the Le Mans 24 Hours as a factory Aston Martin driver. All four are very quick with Dalla Lana a very competent am, which is a crucial part of this pro-am class.

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#58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R: Mathieu Jaminet/Patrick Long/Christina Nielsen/Robert Renauer

Porsche racers Wright Motorsports return to the IMSA series this year after winning the Pirelli World Challenge title last year. Porsche factory driver Patrick Long returns to the team this year, and the team have partnered him with two-time reigning class champion Christina Nielsen.

The signing of Nielsen is a real coup for the team and gives them one of the strongest pairing for the season. For the Rolex 24 the team have drafted in Porsche factory driver Mathieu Jaminet and experienced Porsche customer GT exponent Robert Renauer. This team has a very strong driver line-up, ensuring that if they run cleanly they almost certainly be fighting for the win come Sunday afternoon.

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#59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R: Matteo Cairoli/Sven Muller/Harald Proczyk/Steve Smith/Randy Walls

Porsche’s WEC GTE factory team Manthey Racing have put together this customer programme for this years Rolex 24. The team are one of the leading Porsche motorsport teams on the planet, and the team have some very talented factory drivers heading this line-up.

Both Matteo Cairoli and Sven Muller are very quick young professional drivers who consistently shine at the wheel of Porsche GT cars. These two will be as quick as anyone in the class, but the other three gentlemen drivers will struggle to match their ultimate pace. Harald Proczyk makes the step up to this level after being a consistent top five runner in the burgeoning TCR Germany touring car series. Steve Smith has primarily raced in the German VLN Endurance series along with Randy Walls, all with the Manthey team.

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That wraps up the first half of my look at the very strong GTD class of this years Rolex 24, I want to say a massive thank you for anyone who has read this and don’t forget to comment, like or subscribe if you enjoyed this article. I have to say also a massive thank you to Motorsport.com for their incredible high quality photos which form part of this article. For all the latest motorsport news visit their website here. Motorsport.com . Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and stay tuned for part two of my GTD class preview, which is coming very soon!

 

 

 

 

2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 2

Here is a look at the second half of what is an ultra competitive Prototype class entry for this year’s Rolex 24 Hours, the opening round of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech Championship season. If you missed my preview of the first half of the class, you can find it here Part 1.

#37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Jota Oreca-Gibson: Robin Frijns/Dani Juncadella/Felix Rosenqvist/Lance Stroll

Jackie Chan DC Racing have been very competitive in the WEC last season, and now make the trip Stateside for the Rolex 24. The team have mastered the LMP2 class in the WEC, but now come up against the favoured Daytona Prototypes for the first time. The LMP2 cars struggled last year to match the DPI entries on overall pace, something the series was keen to rectify for this season.

On the driving front the team arrive with a very strong line-up. Williams F1 racer Lance Stroll returns to the race after an up-and down rookie season in F1. Partnering him is Blancpain GT champion Robin Frijns, Former FIA European F3 champion Dani Juncadella and Swedish jack of all trades Felix Rosenqvist. Whilst this line-up does not possess much prototype experience, all four are seriously quick drivers who are contenders for the most formidable line-up on the grid. Stroll set the cars fastest time at the test, but was a massive 1.7 seconds down on the overall pace. The team will need to close this gap if they want a shot at victory in such a competitive entry.

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#38 Performance Tech Oreca-Gibson: James French/Kyle Masson/Pato O’Ward/Joel Miller

Performance Tech were the IMSA PC class champions in the final year of the class in 2017, and have now stepped up to the prototype ranks with a new Oreca-Gibson. The team were dominant last year but will face a much tougher test this year in such a strong and competitive field.

The team have retained both James French and Kyle Masson from last year, with both impressing with their overall speed. Pato O’Ward joins them for the endurance rounds and the young Indy Lights racer is very quick.  Youth is the theme with this line-up, as all three are all under 26 and despite having an all silver line-up they could spring a surprise come the end of the race. Former Mazda factory driver Joel Miller was a late addition to the team, and provides added experience to a very promising line-up.

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#52 AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Ligier-Gibson: Sebastien Saavedra/Gustavo Yacaman/Roberto Gonzalez/Nic Boulle

This #52 AFS/PR1 entry will be the most recognisable on track thanks to it fluorescent red and yellow livery, in the debut race for this team with former PC front runners PR1 Mathiasen motorsport joining forces with Indy Lights team AFS racing. The PR1 crew found the step up to the prototype class last year tough initially, although showed flashes of potential on which we should see more regularly this season.

The team have signed promising young Indycar racer Sebastien Saavedra and fellow Colombian Gustavo Yacaman for the full season. Yacaman is an experience prototype racer who is joined by Nic Boulle and Rodolfo Gonzalez. Boulle drove for the team last year and brings some experience to line-up, with Gonzalez a quick and underrated driver who gets a big chance to impress with this drive. The team struggled for ultimate pace in the Roar test, finishing 19th overall with a quickest lap two seconds off the top end pace. The team may struggle to match the front running entries, but they could spring a surprise if they get some luck along the way.

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#54 CORE Autosport Oreca-Gibson: Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/Romain Dumas/Loic Duval

CORE Autosport make their debut in the prototype class after a year racing a GTD Porsche. The former dominant PC class champions have made the jump with a Oreca-Gibson package, which has proved the dominant of the LMP2 chassis across the globe. The LMP2 spec cars appear to have a slight deficiency in overall space compared to the DPI entries, but anything can and most likely will happen at the Rolex 24.

The long-term driving duo of Jon Bennett and Colin Braun stay on for another year, with the pair working very well together. Joining them for this race are two stud racers in factory Porsche and Audi drivers Romain Dumas and Loic Duval. Both are very quick drivers who will fly at the wheel of the car. In the pre-race test Braun took the plaudits for setting the cars quickest time, quick enough for tenth overall. Whilst the team may struggle to match the ultimate pace with gentlemen driver Bennett in the team, they will likely surprise many with how strong they are in their debut prototype race.

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#55 Mazda Team Joest Riley-Mazda: Jonathan Bomarito/Harry Tincknell/Spencer Pigot

Along with Penske and Acura, the improving quality of the IMSA series is shown with this factory Mazda entry. After parting ways with long-term partners SpeedSource the Japanese manufacturer joined forced with former Audi factory team partners Team Joest. After an intensive test programme over the second half of last year the team will be as prepared as they can be going into the Rolex 24.

At the test it was Brit Harry Tincknell who set the cars quickest lap, 1.4 seconds off the fastest overall lap. Tincknell is the new signing for this #55 entry, and has plenty of success including a LMP2 class win at the Le Mans 24 Hours on his debut. Joining him for the season is Jonathan Bomarito, whose experience and pace is being carried over from the old regime. Completing the trio for Daytona is Indycar racer Spencer Pigot, who drove for the team in this race last year. In such a competitive field the team may struggle to trouble the podium unless they can improve their overall speed quickly.

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#77 Mazda Team Joest Riley-Mazda: Oliver Jarvis/Tristan Nunez/Rene Rast

The second factory Mazda Joest entry is this #77 car, another that will have been bolstered by both updates to its Riley chassis and the input of the highly successful Joest team. The team bring with them a winning mentality from their highly successful sting masterminding 13 Le Mans 24 Hours victories for Audi, and have now turned their attention to the Mazda DPI programme.

The team have switched things slightly for this year on the driving front, drafting in former Audi factory driver Oliver Jarvis for the full season to partner the young American racer Tristan Nunez, who has been nurtured and developed over several years at this level by Mazda. Completing the line-up for the endurance rounds is current DTM champion Rene Rast, who is a very quick sportscar driver who finished third overall last year in an unfancied VisitFlorida.com racing Riley. Much like their sister entry the overall pace is unknown from this Mazda package, therefore it’s hard to predict what this factory outfit can do in the race. They may need some luck to challenge at the sharp end, but discount them at your peril.

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#78 Jackie Chan DC Racing Jota Oreca-Gibson: Alex Brundle/Antonio Felix da Costa/Ho-Pin Tung/Ferdinand Habsburg

Jackie Chan DC Racing have proved to be class leaders in the WEC and Asian Le Mans Series, so have now set their sights on cracking America. The team have brought two entries for this Rolex 24, but will face stiff competition from not just the LMP2 field but the DPI entries also. The team enjoyed a good pre-race test at Daytona, gaining valuable data and Alex Brundle showed the cars potential with the ninth fastest lap.

Brundle has been a mainstay of LMP2 racing and massively impressed with the team last year. Joining him for the race is another regular driver in Chinese talent Ho-Ping Tung, a front runner in the teams ALMS entries. New to the team are two very talented young racers in Antonio Felix da Costa and Ferdinand Habsburg. Felix da Costa is a quick single seater convert who has been picked up by BMW as a factory driver and Habsburg came of age with a very impressive display at the Macau Grand Prix last year. The teams lack of experience in this series may hamper them in the race, but the team have brought a very high-quality line-up and add an extra element of competitiveness to this prototype entry.

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#85 JDC-Miller Oreca-Gibson: Robert Alon/Simon Trummer/Austin Cindric/Devlin DeFrancesco

The #85, affectionately dubbed the yellow boat, returns for another year at this level after a very impressive debut campaign last year. The team stick with their trusted Oreca-Gibson package, although have made some slight changes on the driving front for this year.

The team have retained Robert Alon after his impressive displays last year, but with the team expanding to two entries this year he’s been split up from his team mates of last year. Partnering him is former GP2 front runner Simon Trummer. He is a very quick young driver who makes the switch across to sportscar racing. He immediately set the cars fastest lap at the test, 1.5 seconds down on the #31 Whelen entry. Completing the line-up is talented young Nascar racer Austin Cindric and FIA European F3 racer Devlin DeFrancesco. The team are prime candidates for a giant-killing act this year, so keep an eye on their progress in the race.

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#90 Spirit of Daytona Dallara-Cadillac DPI: Matt McMurry/Tristan Vautier/Eddie Cheever III

Long term IMSA entrants Spirit of Daytona are much changed this year, after a difficult 2017 season for the Daytona based team. The team ditched their Riley LMP2 chassis halfway through last year, and have now switched to the dominant Cadillac DPI package. The team have also lost title sponsor VisitFlorida.com so return this year under the Spirit of Daytona banner.

On the driving front it’s also all change for the team, with 2017 drivers Marc Goossens and Renger van der Zande replaced by Tristan Vautier and Matt McMurry. Vautier moves across from Blancpain GT in Europe and has plenty of American racing experience. He is joined by young American Matt McMurry in what is a very strong line-up for this team. A late addition to the team is young racer Eddie Cheever III. He impressed at the Roar test with the second fastest lap time, just 0.2 seconds off top spot. The team took third last year in an uncompetitive package so with the Cadillac DPI package the team have all the necessary ingredients for success this year.

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#99 Gainsco JDC-Miller Oreca-Gibson: Stephen Simpson/Chris Miller/Misha Goikhberg/Gustavo Menezes

A fans favourite returns in 2018, with the iconic red Gainsco red dragon appearing with this expanded JDC-Miller team. The most surprising team of last year have expanded to two entries this year, and will look to build on a very good year for the team in 2017.

The team have retained their drivers from last year, namely Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller. All three-impressed many with their consistently fast driving last year although Simpson is the stand-out in this entry. He set the fastest lap at the test and has consistently been a tenth or two ahead of the rest in this car. Completing the driving talent is young WEC LMP2 racer Gustavo Menezes, and the addition of such a highly regarded and very quick prototype racer only enhances their chances of a good result. If the team can run cleanly expect a surprise from this team.

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That wraps up 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 my preview of GTLM class coming very soon.

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!

2017 Le Mans 24 Hours GTE Am Preview Part 2

This is part two of my preview looking at the upcoming Le Mans 24 Hours, one of the centre piece races on the motorsport calendar. To view part one of the preview click here . Let’s take a look at the second half of the 16-car GTE Am class entry for this years race.

#83 DH Racing Ferrari 488 GTE: Tracy Krohn/Nic Jonsson/Andrea Bertolini

DH Racing earned their invite to the worlds greatest sportscar race by winning in the Asian Le Mans series, and with AF Corse supporting their entry they could spring a surprise during the race week.

On the driving front they bring a familiar colour scheme back to Le Mans, with the distinctive green and blue Krohn livery indicating long time driving partners Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson make up two thirds of this entry.

Both are experienced and this will ensure they should stay out of trouble during their stints, the first basic aim for every sportscar driver. Completing the line-up is Italian Andrea Bertolini, someone is a proven commodity at this level. He is very quick in Ferrari GT cars and won this class in 2015, showing he can provide an edge for this team. Whilst it may be difficult on pure pace don’t count this team out for a chance of a podium.

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DH Racing have an outside chance of a podium if they can keep a consistent pace throughout the race. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE: Rob Smith/Will Stevens/Dries Vanthoor

The popular JMW team returns to Le Mans after a years absence, as they transition from their faithful Ferrari 458 Italia to the newer 488 GTE car for this race. This could potentially prove problematic for the team, but with the package already proven internationally they could find themselves on the podium Sunday afternoon.

Am driver Rob Smith has been solid so far in the European Le Mans Series, which is all you can ask from your bronze rated driver. Alongside him are two very capable GT racers, former F1 racer Will Stevens and young Belgian Dries Vanthoor.

Both have come on very well this year with the WRT team in the Blancpain GT series, with the only slight question mark being how quickly they find the limit with the step up to the GTE spec racer. Expect both of these two to impress and produce consistently quick times which could put them into contention for the podium as the race wears on.

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JMW are outsiders for a podium, depending on how quickly they get to grips with the new Ferrari 488. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR: Mike Wainwright/Ben Barker/Nick Foster

Gulf Racing come into Le Mans having flown slightly under the radar in the WEC this season. The team have been compromised by having to run a 2015 spec Porsche 911 as opposed to their rivals in 2016 cars.

The team will be led by Ben Barker, a driver who has proved he can be very quick at this level. Australian Nick Foster has showed plenty of speed even though he is still adjusting to the series, with am driver Mike Wainwright improving with his consistency over stints even if he does seem to last a tenth or two compared to some of the quickest am drivers.

For this team a top six in this highly competitive class would be a massive achievement for them, and something that would greatly bolster their WEC campaign. The team will need to have a clean and consistent run, but this is well within their reach.

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The iconic Gulf livery once again graces Le Mans, so can Gulf Racing do the colours proud? Photo: LAT Images.

 

#88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR: Klaus Bachler/Khaled Al Qubaisi/Stephane Lemeret

Proton competition are a very experienced team at this GT level, and despite having two year old Porsche’s they are still in with an outside shot of a podium, such is their quality.

Proven Porsche specialist Klaus Bachler was a late addition to the team, although he is already well known to the team from previous years. Partnering him is former team mate Khaled Al Qubaisi, who returns for this one-off race after taking the year off because of business commitments. He has proven himself as a very capable driver and should pick up right where he finished last season.

Completing the trio is Le Mans rookie Stephane Lemeret. He’s proven his pace by winning the GT class of the Asian Le Mans Series with DH  Racing, and if he can adapt quickly to Le Mans and the jump in standard expect this team to be in outside contention for a podium.

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This Proton entry has the potential for a class podium despite the two year-old 911. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage: Euan Hankey/Rob Bell/Salih Yoluc

This young British team have taken the GTE class by storm in the ELMS this season, leading the class after the first two rounds. This is despite the team being novices at this level.

The team have already have a proven competitive package with the 2016 spec Aston Martin Vantage claiming the GTE Pro WEC class title. Whilst the team will not a trio of professional drivers at their disposal, they do have a very good line-up for this pro-am class.

Euan Hankey and Salih Yoluc have proven an increasingly potent partnership in recent seasons, with Hankey continuing to mentor Yoluc. Completing the trio is McLaren factory GT driver Rob Bell, a very quick GT driver who claimed the class pole last year when with Clearwater Racing. This team have the potential to fight for the class win and should not be taken lightly as contenders in this competitive class.

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TF Sport are the rising team in the GTE ranks, can they continue their good form with a Le Mans class win? Photo: LAT Images.

 

#93 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR: Patrick Long/Mike Hedlund/Abdelaziz Turki Al Faisal

The third and final Proton entry numerically speaking perfectly fits the pro-am format of this class. The team will be undoubtedly be led by Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, who is a very quick professional driver of whom very few racers could get more out of a GTE spec Porsche 911 than him.

Alongside him are drivers Mike Hedlund and Abdelaziz Turki Al Faisal. Hedlund makes his debut at the race and will provide some consistency for this entry. Abdelaziz Turki Al Faisal is an experienced and solid driver, the kind of driver who is pivotal to any teams chance of victory in these pro-am classes. For this team the name of the game appears to be consistency, which can prove the key to a class podium in this class.

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This #93 entry will rely on the pace of Porsche factory Pat Long, how far will this take them? Photo: LAT Images.

 

#98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage: Paul Dalla Lana/Mathias Lauda/Pedro Lamy

This #98 Aston Martin racing entry will likely enter the race as favourites for the class victory, with bad luck seeming to be the only reason why the team have not previously won this class.

The team are currently leading the class in the WEC and with the might of the factory Aston Martin team behind them they have a great chance of victory. With the 2016 spec Aston Martin Vantage already a proven reliable and very quick car, it really seems like nothing but misfortune can stop this team.

The trio of Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana are a proven package and can be argued to be the highest quality line-up in this class. The team are very well prepared and it is hard to bet against this team finally winning the GTE Am class after years of misfortune.

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This #98 Aston Martin Racing entry is undoubtedly the class favourite, will they finally end their misfortune at this race? Photo: LAT Images. 

 

#99 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage: Ross Gunn/Andrew Howard/Oliver Bryant

Beechdean AMR have established themselves at this level after winning the 2016 GTE Am class of the ELMS. Over the winter a lot has changed for this team however, with the team now badged as Beechdean AMR as opposed to a full factory Aston Martin Racing entry.

On the driving front the team have once again built a very good line-up this year. Team boss Andrew Howard is an ever improving am driver and will likely prove one of the faster am’s in this class. Aston Martin factory driver Ross Gunn is improving with every year and appears to be being groomed for a future role with the factory GTE Pro class effort.

Oliver Bryant completes the trio and is a quick GT driver who could prove to be the teams secret weapon. The team have a proven Aston Martin package and with this quality line-up the team could well prove enough to secure a class podium.

#99

Beechdean could spring a surprise with a class podium in only their second Le Mans 24 Hours. Photo: LAT Images.

 

This wraps up the second part of my look at the GTE Am class for the Le Mans 24 Hours. This 16 car class is increasing in quality every year and with such a competitive class any number of a half dozen entries can realistically win.

I would like to thank LAT Images and Dailysportscar.com for their high quality images and research which greatly helped with this article. Finally I would like to everyone for reading this you can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Next up I will preview the GTE Pro class, which should be posted very soon.

2017 Le Mans 24 Hours GTE AM Preview Part 1

It’s the time of year when the motorsport world turns it’s attention to the centre-piece Sportscar race of the year, the fabled Le Mans 24 Hours. The race has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years as Sportscar racing proves more popular with fans, who prefer the flat out nature of Sportscar races in comparison with the conservation races that Formula One have become.

The GTE Am class may be struggling for numbers in the World Endurance Championship, for Le Mans the class has returned to a far more healthy number of entries with 16 cars set to battle it out for class honours. The class enjoys a truly worldwide entry with teams and drivers who compete in the WEC, IMSA WeatherTech and Asian Le Mans series all competing against each other.

The overall quality of the entries in this class improves with every passing year and this edition is no different. Just like with every other class winning is very tough with every team needing to have a faultless run along with a helping hand from lady luck to prevail over the 24 hours. Let’s take a look at the first half of the class entry for this year.

#50 Larbre Competition Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Fernando Rees/Romain Brandela/Christian Philippon

The French Larbre team are always a welcome addition to the GTE Am class over the last few years, as they return this year after a failed attempt to move into the GTE Pro class of the WEC for this year after Chevrolet factory backing couldn’t be agreed.

The team will definitely stand out this year, and not simply because they are the only team fielding a Corvette in the class. This year the team have a striking art car livery, done by French street artist Ramzi Adek. It appears to have come about thanks to driver Romain Brandela through his connections as BMW France public events manager, the manufacture being known for its art cars.

On track the team may struggle slightly to match the front running pace as the team are one of the few teams in class to have two bronze drivers. Completing the trio is former factory Aston Martin driver Fernando Rees, someone who is both blindingly fast and is well known to the team having driven for them before he joined AMR. With him behind the wheel the car will fly, however they will struggle to maintain this pace once the other two drivers get in.

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Larbre will catch the attention of the crowd with their thundering Corvette and distinctive art car livery. Photo: LAT Images.

#54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE: Thomas Flohr/Francesco Castellacci/Olivier Beretta

This Spirit of Race entry is run by the Ferrari GT specialist AF Corse team, who return to Le Mans with an arsenal of entries across the two GT classes. The team have showed flashes of promise in their first season at this level, with gentleman driver and team backer Thomas Flohr improving under the tutelage of his pro team mates.

AF Corse is the perfect team to run their entry, making their debut at the race that much easier. Flohr is the teams bronze rated driver and has improved already this year, with help from his full season team mate Francesco Castellacci, an Italian who has found a full season drive after bouncing around partial seasons with the likes of Aston Martin and AF Corse over the past five years. He is a talented driver who will prove the surprise for this entry over the course of the race.

Completing the line-up for Le Mans is Ferrari factory driver Olivier Beretta, who replaces fellow factory driver Miguel Molina who is being called up to the factory Ferrari GTE Pro entry. Beretta is a proven winner at Le Mans with six class wins along with five further podiums across his Le Mans career. Adding such a high calibre factory driver vastly improves this entry and should put them in contention for the class podium with a clean run. The only potential worry will be how quickly Flohr adapts to the circuit across the week.

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Spirit of Race have a chance of a class podium in their debut Le Mans, with Ferrari factory driver Olivier Beretta spear heading their entry. Photo: LAT Images.

#55 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE: Duncan Cameron/Aaron Scott/Marco Cioci

Spirit of Race have two entries in this years race and this #55 entry is their regular European Le Mans Series entry. It’s been a rough start to the season for the team in the ELMS but they have the potential to bounce back with a great result at this blue riband event.

Regular driver pairing Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott a good driver pairing. Cameron has improved greatly as a bronze rated driver and has plenty of experience at this level in recent seasons. Team mate Aaron Scott has put in good performances in the opening rounds of the season and will be the teams hidden gem come race week, much like Castellacci in the teams other entry.

Completing the entry is the teams hired gun Marco Cioci, a very quick Italian who is vastly experienced with Ferrari GT cars. He has proven himself at this level with several GTE Am podiums in his racing career, with the only potential question mark for this team going into the week being their tyre choice. They have been running on spec Dunlop rubber all year yet for this race have switched to Michelin tyres. What effect will this have on their pace throughout the week.

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This gorgeous #55 Spirit of Race entry will be led by Marco Cioci, but Aaron Scott could prove their secret weapon. Photo: LAT Images.

#60 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE: Richard Wee/Hiroki Katoh/Alvaro Parente

Clearwater racing have grabbed headlines previously with their striking chrome livery, yet with a years experience they are returning to Le Mans with hopes of a class podium. This is their one-off second entry for the race, and with AF Corse providing assistance they have everything in place.

Enlisting McLaren factory GT driver Alvaro Parente is a smart move from the team, as he has established himself as one of the fastest GT3 drivers in the world, and has Le Mans experience. Hiroki Katoh is a vastly experienced Super GT racer who is another great addition to the team, with am driver Richard Wee completing the line-up. He has Blancpain GT Asia experience and will have two very quick team mates to learn from over the course of the week.

The team has a great line-up for the race and with the team gaining experience at this level rapidly, they could be in with a chance of victory. In the hands of Parente and Katoh this car will be very quick, but as with every GTE Am entry the pace of the amateur bronze rated driver will dictate the cars chances of class honours.

#60

Clearwater Racing are an ever improving team and is a testament to the growth of the Asian Le Mans Series.  Photo: LAT Images.

#61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE: Weng Sun Mok/Keita Sawa/Matt Griffin

This #61 entry is the teams designated full season WEC entry, and this team keeps consistently surprising people with their pace. They claimed pole on their debut in the race last year and finished an impressive fourth in class. This year they claimed a debut victory in the opening round of the WEC at Silverstone several months ago, and will be an outside contender for victory if they have a good race.

This driver line-up may not necessarily be as highly rated as some others in this class, however they are definitely worthy of high praise. Led by experienced Irishman Matt Griffin, a very fast and consistent GT driver, along with team mates Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok.

Sawa is a very quick silver driver who is the reigning Asian Le Mans Series GT champion, with Weng Sun Mok another reliable bronze driver who has built up a good relationship with Sawa through the ALMS. The team could prove surprise winners as they have consistently exceeded expectations at this level.

#61

Don’t discount the Clearwater team, who are improving rapidly at the highest level of GT racing. Photo: LAT Images.

#62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE: Cooper MacNeil/Townsend Bell/Bill Sweedler

This #62 entry is definitely one of the favourites in this class, with last years Am class winners Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler returning with the team they claimed victory with. For this entry the mantra of what isn’t broke doesn’t need fixing is prevailing, with the only major change for the team being the addition of silver driver Cooper MacNeil, who will likely be one of the quickest silvers in the class.

Bill Sweedler is a very quick bronze rated driver and has a great working relationship with Townsend Bell, himself a very quick and experienced GT racer. This team has been very successful both at Le Mans and in the IMSA WeatherTech series, with able support from renowned Ferrari specialists Kessel Racing.

This entry has to be one of the top favourites for this class considering the high quality driver line-up which could be seen as the best in the class by some. After last years success it would be unwise to bet against this team repeating a class win this year.

#62

This Scuderia Corsa entry is one of the favourites going into the race, looking for a second consecutive class win. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#65 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE: Christina Nielsen/Alessandro Balzan/Bret Curtis

Scuderia Corsa has two strong entries this year, doubling their chances of a podium place come Sunday afternoon.

Reigning IMSA GTD class champions Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan are together once again, and with such a successful partnership expect them both to lead this car in terms of pace.

Completing the line-up is bronze rated driver Bret Curtis, who is an experienced racer who will anchor this car and with such a competitive class the class contending cars will be the ones with the best bronze rated drivers. This team is highly professional and with a clean run they can easily compete for a podium place, however they may lack the last tenth or two compared to their sister car simply because of how strong Sweedler is as a am driver.

#65

Scuderia Corsa has a great chance to secure class victory with two very high quality entries this year. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR: Christian Reid/Matteo Cairoli/Marvin Dienst

Dempsey Proton have established themselves as mainstays of this class recently and have a three car entry this year, beginning with this #77 car.

The team have had a good start to the WEC season, despite this car being two years old now. Competing against more modern machinery is going to prove extremely difficult, and the team may need to rely on misfortune or adverse weather to secure a top result this year.

On the driving front the team have a very good line-up with the experienced Christian Reid a good solid am driver and will be very consistent. He’s partnered with Porsche junior driver Matteo Cairoli, who has impressed massively so far with his consistently quick performances. Completing the trio is former single seater racer Marvin Dienst, 2015 German F4 champion and someone who will likely impress all week.

#77

Despite having a two year-old car, this team still has a chance of victory, such is the strength of the team and its drivers. Photo: LAT Images.

 

That sums up Part One of my preview for the GTE Am class at this years Le Mans 24 Hours. I would like to thank LAT Images and Motorsport.com for the high quality images and Dailysportscar.com for their expert knowledge, some of which helped when sourcing info for this article. I would lastly like to thank everyone who reads this blog as this is what I write for. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and Part two will be posted in the next few days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Antonio Giovinazzi deserving place in F1

Antonio Giovinazzi. The 22 year old Italian has taken the GP2 series by storm in his rookie season, but he still doesn’t seem to have been placed with the tag of an up and coming talent. Some of the rivals he has previously beaten are being linked with Formula One drives for next year, so why is Giovinazzi not yet being considered for the step up to F1?

The Italian has a stellar junior racing CV, winning at every category he has raced at. From the very beginning Antonio has not followed the traditional path, something that has served him incredibly well to this point. Beginning racing in the Formula Pilota China series in 2012, was a double edged sword for Giovinazzi. He dominated the series with 13 podiums from 18 races, however racing so far away from Europe kept him out of the spotlight.

Giovinazzi moved back to Europe for 2013, but found the running difficult in the ultra competitive FIA European F3 championship. Driving with the Double R team he struggled with no podiums in thirty races, finishing the year 17th overall. In a truncated British F3 campaign he was more successful, with two wins he finished second overall in a small yet high quality field.

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Giovinazzi in action during his dominant title winning Formula Pilota China campaign in 2012. Photo copyright Formula Pilota China.

After a year learning the circuits and adjusting to the step up in standard, he joined front running team Carlin for 2014. Helping him was support from Jagonya Ayam, the Indonesian KFC franchise. With sizeable long term support Giovinazzi was free to focus on racing. His sophomore campaign was far more successful, with two wins and five further podiums from 33 races. 6th overall was his reward and was seen as one of the top contenders for the following campaign, with the drivers ahead of him all moving up the single seater ladder.

Returning to European F3 for a third year was a risky move for the Italian, with anything other than fighting for the title would seriously halter his career momentum. Staying with Carlin for another year proved fruitful, with six wins propelling him into a title fight with the experienced Swede Felix Rosenqvist. Giovinazzi ultimately finished second, but a win in the one-off F3 Masters at Zandvoort and 4th in the Macau GP showed he was a name to watch.

Not content with having a break during the off-season, he teamed up with fellow Jagonya Ayam backed driver Sean Gelael for two rounds of the Asian Le Mans Series. Winning both rounds kept them both sharp as they prepared for the step up to GP2.

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Giovinazzi in the opening round of the 2015 FIA European F3 championship at Silverstone. 2015 would be the year he solidified himself as an up and coming driver. Photo copyright FIA F3/TSphoto.

Giovinazzi joined the Prema team for both parties first season in the premier feeder series to Formula One. Whilst both had showed well in F3, expectations were kept low with both being newcomers to the series.  Even with expectations kept low for his rookie season, he will have been disappointed with his start to the season.

With a best finish of 11th from the opening four races, any slim chance of a title challenge seemed to have vanished.So what happened at the next meeting shocked everyone in the paddock. At the all new Baku city circuit in Azerbaijan he proved the class of the field, winning both races whilst others around him struggled to adapt to the challenging street circuit. The two wins propelled him into title contention, as he sat in third position, only eight points behind title leader Artem Markelov. Winning both races of the same meeting had not previously been done since Davide Valsecchi in 2012.

Over the course of the season consistent points scoring kept him in the title chase, as one of the most evenly contested title fights for years played out. With several drivers all vying for the decisive advantage, wins for Giovinazzi in Belgium and Italy were the perfect shot in the arm for his title bid.

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Antonio celebrating his double victory in Baku. He was the first driver to do the double since 2012, and the two wins thrust him right into title contention after a poor start to the year. Photo copyright GP2series.com .

His strong finish to the season continued at the penultimate round supporting the Malaysian Grand Prix. A win in the longer feature race was backed up with a fourth in the sprint race, these results proving enough to propel him into the title lead for the first time all year.

With a month to wait until the title deciding final round in Abu Dhabi, the pressure is on for everyone involved. In theory Raffaele Marciello is still in mathematical contention, but being 39 points behind with 48 available, it will be extremely tough for him to come out as champion.

Realistically, the title is going to come down to Giovinazzi and Frenchman Pierre Gasly. Giovinazzi is seven points ahead of the latest Red Bull prodigy, and although its a cliche to say its all to play for, it really is.

Despite Giovinazzi bidding to become the series first rookie champion since Nico Hulkenberg in 2009, he has yet to receive much attention from Formula One. In September it was announced he would be joining Ferrari to conduct simulator work, but this is so far his only link to F1.

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Giovinazzi has also dabbled in sports cars over the past year, and could provide another avenue to becoming a professional driver should he be inexplicably overlooked by the F1 paddock. Photo copyright Motorsport.com . 

From the outside it seems a strange move, with such a remarkable debut GP2 campaign and the budget he can bring from his sponsors, the fact he’s not even being linked with any of the remaining available F1 seats seems very strange indeed. Whether the F1 paddock knows something the fans don’t is unknown, but this is a pivotal time in his career.

If the F1 community for some reason discards him, he will still have plenty of options left open to him. He could continue in single seaters and follow the path of 2015 champion Stoffel Vandoorne. He switched the the highly competitive Super Formula series before attempting the move back to F1.

He could similarly change tack and join the burgeoning sports car ranks. The World Endurance Championship and other affiliated series are enjoying a renaissance in the past half decade, with plenty of young drivers moving across from single seaters to the dream of  professional deal with a sports car manufacture.

Whatever happens in Abu Dhabi, Giovinazzi has already proved any remaining doubters wrong this season. His performances have proved he’s a very talented young racing driver who will likely succeed in whatever aspect of racing he competes in over the coming years. Watch out for Antonio Giovinazzi, this is not the last we will hear of him.

What are your thoughts on Antonio Giovinazzi? Please feel free to share your opinion below, I would hugely appreciate it. Thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.