LMP2

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!

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.

 

Ben Keating Interview

Ben Keating has become a prominent name in American sportscar racing over the past five years. The businessman has formed a great partnership with the Dutch professional Jeroen Bleekemolen, as they have claimed several wins in both the American Le Mans Series and the more recent WeatherTech Sportscar Championship.

His most notable victory is a class win at the 2015 Rolex 24 blue riband race at Daytona. In the highly competitive GTD class this year, the same have suffered with some problems with their GT3 spec Dodge Viper.

This is something everyone in his ViperExchange team will be hoping they can put behind them going into this weekend’s race around the streets of Long Beach. After sending over a few questions for Ben, here are his responses on everything from how he got started in motorsport to this 2016 season. Enjoy and a huge thank you to Ben for taking the time to answer these questions.

First of all, how did you get into racing?

Literally, my wife bought me a driver education weekend at Texas World Speedway for Christmas 2005. I went in 2006 and fell in love. Started racing in 2007 in the Viper Racing League, which was great club racing.

How has the season gone so far with the new GT3 spec Viper?

So far, not as well as we had hoped.   #93 had a great 3rd place finish at Daytona.   But I was behind the wheel and made a mistake in the #33, which put us behind.    A 9th place was a great finish giving the situation.

Then we had an axle break at Sebring, which put us behind.    We finished 12th.

Luckily there is a lot of racing still to go.

Keating’s Gas Monkey sponsored Viper struggled during last month’s Sebring 12 Hours. He will be hoping for better next time out in Long Beach. Photo copyright Getty Images/Brian Cleary.

You recently announced your plans for Le Mans with the Murphy Prototypes team, how did this come about? 

The ACO chose put  the Viper GTSR as the 7th reserve.    We did not believe that 7 reserves would get in.Therefore, we went looking for an opportunity and there was a great fit between our team and Murphy  Prototypes.

Will you have much time to test the LMP2 car before the race?

I will do several days of testing before the race.   I expect to be up to speed by race time.

Have you ever considered a switch into the ELMS or WEC?

Yes, for sure. However it is more expensive for me. And, my businesses are all US based.    ViperExchange is the #1 volume Viper retailer in the world, and it makes sense to run a Viper in the US.

If I had a sponsor willing to help with a WEC program, then I would definitely consider it.

What has been the most memorable race of your career so far?

Cota(Circuit of the Americas, ed) 2013 was my first win in ALMS and in my home State.

Mosport 2014 – first win for GT3R Viper and  I really felt like my driving contributed a lot to the win.

Daytona 2015 – biggest win for sure

Le Mans 2015 – biggest single race event

Keating and his team celebrate their momentous GTD class victory in last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. This was a huge win for everyone associated with the ViperExchange team. Photo copyright Motorsport.com .

Is there much of a difference between the GTD and GT3 spec Viper?

Not huge changes for the Viper. Mostly it meant we had to go back to all of the parts that the car was homologated with, instead of everything we had developed over the previous 2 years. The Viper is really awesome to drive. Easiest race car I’ve ever driven to be fast in.

You’ve been partnered with Jeroen Bleekemolen for a while now, what is it that makes your partnership so successful as team mates?  

Jeroen makes me look good. He is an unbelievable driver. We have a great friendship and a great team.

And finally, what are your hopes for the rest of the WeatherTech season and Le Mans?

To win. Period, end of story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sebring 12 Hours Prototype Preview

After the scintillating opening Rolex 24 in late January, now this week see’s the WeatherTech Sportscar championship roar back into life with another premiere event, the Mobil 1 Sebring 12 Hours from Florida. The event is one of the historic sportscar classics and this year promises to be a stunning race.

If Daytona is anything to go by the 12 hours will be filled with intense and close fought racing that should keep the fans on the edge of their seats for the entire race. In the first of my previews of the event I’ll take a look at the Prototype class entry list, which features 12 cars filled with some of the biggest sportscar drivers in the world. Let’s take a look at the contenders.

#0 Panoz DeltaWing Racing DeltaWing DWC13: Katherine Legge/Andy Meyrick/Sean Rayhall

The DeltaWing team will be looking for a return on the tremendous promise they showed in the early running of the Rolex 24 in January. The car led the race for a period on genuine pace alone and was running highly when it tripped over a Prototype Challenge car in the middle of the evening.

If the team can replicate it’s pace at Sebring this week and stay out of trouble they could very well challenge for the podium at least if not win the race. The Panoz team are highly experienced and their driver line up of Katherine Legge, Andy Meyrick and Sean Rayhall are more than quick enough to keep this car at the front of the race throughout the 12 hours.

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#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier JSP2-Honda: Scott Sharp/Johannes van Overbeek/Ed Brown/Luis ‘Pipo’ Derani

The Tequila Patron ESM team will be still on a high from their momentous victory in the Rolex 24 six weeks ago. The team drove the perfect race and the Ligier LMP2 prototype proved itself to be the fastest car on the grid for the majority of the race.

Now at Sebring they will be looking for a repeat result, but the notoriously bumpy Sebring circuit is vastly different from Daytona. Overall downforce is more important here and that should favour the LMP2 cars, such as the ESM Ligier.

On the driving front Pipo Derani announced himself as one of the best young prototype racers in the world with his performance at Daytona. He will once again be ably supported by experienced team mates Ed Brown, Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek. This car will be considered one of the favourites for victory in this weeks build up to the race.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque

The Action Express team will be hoping to bounce back with their #5 entry after a disappointing Rolex 24 by their standards. The #5 Mustang Sampling car finished fourth after some late car issues in the final portion of the race.

This time around the team will be hoping they can return to winning ways, as they look to get themselves off to the best possible start in the championship. The teams driver line up of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque is one of the best line up’s in the class, something the team will look to exploit as they go in search of at least a podium place this weekend.

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#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP: Ricky Taylor/Jordan Taylor/Max Angelelli/Rubens Barrichello 

For the Wayne Taylor team, the Rolex 24 was once again a case of close, but no cigar as they took up their almost customary position now of a close second at Daytona.  The team were the fastest Daytona Prototype entry and were one of the few DP teams who looked to be able to take the fight to the ESM team.

This weekend they will be looking to go one better, although another podium place would set them up perfectly for a good championship run in 2016. On the driving front the team have retained Rubens Barrichello after his late call up in Daytona, as Jordan Taylor still looks to recover fully from a nasty illness that has plagued his off-season preparation. Anything is possible for this team, as they look to avenge their Rolex defeat here at Sebring.

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#24 Insync Alegra Motorsport Riley-BMW DP: Dominik Farnbacher/Daniel Morad/Carlos de Quesada/Cameron Lawrence

The Alegra motorsport team make their WeatherTech debut this weekend at Sebring, with their older style Riley-BMW DP. They are an ambitious team and have been testing at the circuit to build their knowledge, although the team lacks significant experience compared to their competition.

The team have employed Dominik Farnbacher, Daniel Morad, Carlos de Quesada and Cameron Lawrence to pilot the car, although the biggest knock on them is their lack of prototype racing experience.

All four have extensive GT racing experience and have showed pace at that level, but with so many unknowns surrounding the team and the drivers lack of prototype experience predicting a result for this team is impossible. Anything more than a finish in the top ten would be a bonus and if the car and team can show potential that will be surely considered a good result for this team.

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#31 Whelen Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Dane Cameron/Eric Curran/Scott Pruett

The second Action Express racing entry was, much like it’s sister #5 entry, similarly affected by reliability issues late on in the Rolex 24.  For the second round the #31 car will be looking to deliver on the pace they showed in Daytona. The team have their Corvette DP’s well sorted and will be hoping to show this in the end result.

A podium would be a good result for the car championship wise, although at any chance of a win this car will be giving it everything. The huge experienced winner Scott Pruett joins this #31 car after racing for the #5 car at the Rolex 24, and this addition will only enhance their chance of victory come Saturday evening.

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#50 Highway to Help Fifty Plus Racing Riley-BMW DP: Jim Pace/David Hinton/Byron DeFoor/Dorsey Schroeder

The popular fifty plus racing team return after good showing at the opening Rolex 24. The team are never challenging for race victories, but that isn’t the main objective for this team. Their primary initive is to raise money for the Highway to Help charity, and once again they were able to raise awareness and money.

The drivers will all be looking forward to running on the iconic Sebring circuit,as they focus more on enjoying themselves and raising money rather than focusing on going for an all out victory. If the attrition rate is high they have a chance of a good result, although they struggle to match the ultimate pace up front with the age of their Riley DP and their driver line up.

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#55 SpeedSource Mazda Motorsport Lola-Mazda: Jonathan Bomarito/Spencer Pigot/Tristan Nunez

The SpeedSource Mazda factory team struggled mightily in Daytona with engine reliability issues, attributed to their switch from Skyactiv diesel to a petrol engine. Both their two cars were retirements by the the halfway point.

After this disappointing display the team will be hoping they can really test themselves at Sebring, a renowned car breaker of a circuit. The team and driver line up showed glimpses of potential when they ran at Daytona, and if they can stay reliable this entry has the real potential for a shock result. Once the reliability issues have been sorted, this team and their drivers have the top level quality to a win a prestigious race such as the Sebring 12 Hours.

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#60 Tire Kingdom/CURB Agajanian Michael Shank Racing Ligier JSP2-Honda: John Pew/Ozz Negri Jr/Olivier Pla

For Mike Shank, the Rolex 24 was a huge disappointment as they looked to be a serious challenger for victory when the engine failed on Saturday night. This time around at Sebring they will be hoping they can retain their pace from Daytona, and iron out the reliability issue with the new 3.5 litre Honda HPD engine.

The Ligier-Honda combination will likely remain to be the fastest combination at Sebring, therefore Mike Shank racing will be looking to even up the honours after the ESM team won out at Daytona. Retaining Olivier Pla for Sebring is a huge step by the team and they have secured one of the fastest Ligier drivers on the planet to help their regular drivers John Pew and Ozz Negri Jr. This team will likely join the ESM team as being co-favourites before the start of the race.

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#70 SpeedSource Mazda Motorsport Lola-Mazda: Tom Long/Ben Devlin/Joel Miller/Keiko Ihara

Much like with the #55 car, the #70 Lola-Mazda struggled mightily with reliability issues in Daytona. With six week to further test and develop the car the team will head into this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours feeling more confident about the overall reliability of their package.

This driver line up is high on experience and has a solid base with the majority of the drivers having a lot of experience with this Lola-Mazda. Completing the line up is the Japanese lady racer Keiko Ihara, who will bring some good sportscar experience to the SpeedSource team. She may need some time to adjust to both Sebring and the Lola-Mazda prototype, and this will ultimately be what decides if this entry can match it’s sister #55 car in terms of pace come race day.

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#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 05-Nissan:Henrik Hedman/Nicolas Minassian/Nicolas Lapierre

DragonSpeed make their debut in the WeatherTech series this weekend after missing the opening Rolex 24. The team has previous experience from racing in European GT categories such as the Blancpain Endurance Series.

The team run by former racer Elton Julian have built a formidable line up with the very quick Frenchmen Nicolas Minassian and Nicolas Lapierre joining Henrik Hedman. The also have the only Oreca-Nissan package in the class, one which has proved very competitive both in the World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans Series.

Although the team have tested at the circuit in the build up to the race, a lot is unknown surrounding this car as they have not run competitively in the series yet and it’s not known how the Oreca-Nissan package will compare with the benchmark Ligier-Honda teams.

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#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP: Marc Goossens/Ryan Hunter-Reay/Ryan Dalziel

The VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona racing team were another of the front running Daytona Prototype teams at the Rolex 24, finishing third and on the same lap as the winning ESM Ligier. They had a trouble free run at Daytona, they just lacked the last little edge in pace compared to the winning car.

The team will be hoping they can at least get close to the leading Ligier entries this weekend, but if they can retain their reliability from the Rolex 24 they will be in with a chance of victory as they have enough quality with this driver line up and will have years of experience of how to perfectly set up their Corvette DP to absorb the bumps of Sebring. If any DP can topple the seeming Ligier dominance, this is one of the most likely teams to achieve this.

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That wraps up my Prototype class preview of this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours, next up will be a look at the Prototype Challenge class. I would also like to say a huge thanks to IMSA.com and Motorsport.com for their invaluable help with the information and photographs that grace this article. I hope you enjoyed reading this preview and any comments would be greatly appreciated. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95

 

 

 

2016 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is always the traditional starting point for the international motorsport season. The grueling 24 hour sprint has been noted to be a bigger challenge than the Le Mans 24 hours, and is this year is the curtain raiser for the renamed WeatherTech Sportscar Championship. This year also is the first of the newly GT3 spec GTD class, along with the high profile debut for the Ford GT programme in the GTLM class.

All four classes are very hotly contested, and based on the times from the recent pre-race Roar before the 24 test, this race to set to be a thrilling encounter across all classes for the entirety of the 24 hours. The opening race preview looks at the contenders in the top Prototype class.

#0 DeltaWing Racing DeltaWing DWC13 Elan: Sean Rayhall/Katherine Legge/Andreas Wirth/Andy Meyrick

After being the subject of much speculation this winter, the unique DeltaWing returns for another full season in the Prototype class. After a up and down year in 2015 the team returns with Sean Rayhall now replacing Andy Meyrick as the full season partner for the returning Katherine Legge.

For the longer North American Endurance Cup events Meyrick returns, with the line up completed for Daytona by the German Andreas Wirth. With both Legge and Meyrick they will bring consistently quick times and experience with this unique car.

Wirth is an established name and has shown his pace in his domestic ADAC GT Masters series. The only question mark surrounding him will be the length of time it will take him to adapt to both Prototypes and the DeltaWing.

Sean Rayhall has shown his pace both in this series and Indy Lights in the past few years, and is now being rewarded with a full time step up to the Prototype class. He will likely be the teams young charger in the race, and despite the late announcement of this programme he will likely be up to speed with the car by the time of the race.

Reliability has always been a crucial factor in endurance racing, and this entry will be looking to improve on their retirement last year after only 90 minutes thanks to transmission problems. The car showed impressive pace in the recent Roar before the 24, and if they can finally match reliability with the car’s pace this car could be in the hunt for a podium come the final hours of the race.

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#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier JS P2-Honda: Scott Sharp/Ed Brown/Johannes Van Overbeek/Pipo Derani

The Extreme Speed Motorsport team are using these early season WeatherTech Sportscar Championship as a precursor for their 2016 World Endurance Championship campaign. They return to the Rolex 24 with a tweaked driver line up this year. Team sponsor Tequila Patron CEO Ed Brown is the team’s amateur driver, and long term team mates Scott Sharp and Johannes Van Overbeek returning. Both are very experienced and quick prototype racers, and are well bedded into the team helping amateur driver Ed Brown.  For this season the team have been joined by the very quick young Brazilian Pipo Derani.

He made the transition to sportscars last year, and has joined the ESM team after they switched to Ligier chassis for this year. In his debut at Daytona Derani posted the fastest time in the pre-race roar before the 24 test. His 1m39.249 time is a big statement of intent from him and the ESM team that they are looking to win this Rolex 24 race.

The Ligier JS P2 has fast become one of the premier LMP2 chassis, and as such with a hugely competitive field such as the Prototype the deciding factor will be down to unreliability and the ability to stay out of any drama’s and accidents over the first 20 hours. From there any subtle differences in car set up could be the deciding factor between victory and a place outside the top three.

Whilst the ESM team will be primarily focusing on the WEC this year, the freedom of not racing for a championship can allow them to take some chances in this race that some of the other championship contenders may not wish to do. This is a strong team  with a high quality driver line up. Whilst predicting the favorites is an impossible task across all four classes, this entry is one of many who can challenge for victory come the end of the 24 hour sprint that this race undoubtedly will be.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque/Scott Pruett

The Action Express team return in 2016 with a largely similar line up that has yielded two championship years in 2014 and 2015. The team have established themselves as the team to beat in American sportscar racing, and have only grown stronger this year.

The full season line up of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi remains, and for this Rolex 24 they have signed two very quick drivers. Audi Sport driver Filipe Albuquerque joins the team and is a good addition, as any Audi sport prototype driver will be both very quick and consistent throughout the race. The headline signing for this team was American sportscar racing legend Scott Pruett.

The very experienced Pruett is a legend of this race and jointly holds the record for most victories with five. At age 55 he is still a very fast and experienced racer, and his decades of knowledge of this race will be invaluable to the Action Express team. The team has a habit of always being in the running for victory late on, and will hope they this year they can avenge their defeat by  the tiny margin of 1.3 seconds and repeat their 2014 victory.

This team has all the tools and capability to win this race, only misfortune or unreliability will see them out of contention in the final hours.

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#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP: Ricky Taylor/Jordan Taylor/Max Angelelli

The Wayne Taylor racing team return for yet another crack at the Rolex 24, after near misses in the last few years. The team is unchanged last year with South African team boss Taylor retaining the dynamic partnership of his long time team mate “Max the Ax” Angelelli and his two sons Ricky and Jordan Taylor.

This partnership has been unlucky multiple times and arguably should have a Rolex 24 victory of their CV if luck had gone their way. The team is one of the most competitive in the new WeatherTech Sportscar series, and much like Action Express can be counted on to be at the front in the final hours barring any misfortune.

The Corvette Daytona Prototype is a proven package that is both reliable and fast, and with former winner Wayne Taylor running the team they have every chance of securing a very popular and long overdue victory in this Rolex 24 event at Daytona.

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#31 Whelen Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Eric Curran/Dane Cameron/Simon Pagenaud/Jonny Adam

The second Action Express entry is yet another contender for victory, with a very good driver line up and one of the best teams in the class. Full season drivers Eric Curran and Dane Cameron return after a breakthrough 2015 season. The duo combined for two wins and finished the year in third, only five points behind their team mates in the championship battle.

Whilst this entry hasn’t had the attention it’s sister entry has, the #31 crew appear to be stepping out of the shadow of the #5 entry and will want another championship run this year. The best way to do this is to start the season well and the team have secured a very good lineup to help with this.

Alongside  quick amateur Curran and Cameron are Penske Indycar racer Simon Pagenaud and the Sunoco Whelen Challenge victor Jonny Adam. Pagenaud is a very quick sportscar driver and will provide both blistering pace and experience for this car, whilst Adam is a very quick British GT driver who will look to show his talents in the step up to prototype machinery.

With the Action Express crew running the car this car has every chance of victory come Sunday afternoon, although it will face very tough competition if this car wants to secure victory, the perfect car set up will be one of the key’s to victory. Do not overlook this car as it’s a contender.

#37 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan: Maurizio Mediani/Nicolas Minassian/Mikhail Aleshin/Kirill Ladygin

The Russian SMP Racing team make their debut at the Rolex 24 this year, with their newly designed BRO1 car now looking to be a fully reliable and quick car after it’s introduction halfway through last season.

The team are novices at Daytona and will therefore have a lot to learn during the race week, although with the LMP2 entries having an apparent slight edge on the Daytona Prototypes based on the pre-race roar before the 24, this team could be an outside shout for a podium if it can have a relatively clean run in the race.

On the driving front the team has a very good line up consisting of their usual WEC roster. Ferrari backed driver Maurizio Mediani is a quick driver, with Nicolas Minassian and Mikhail Aleshin they have two very quick racers who will likely post the fastest times for this car. Completing the line up is the Russian amateur Kirill Ladygin, although he surprised everyone by posting the car’s fastest time in the pre-race test.

This entry has plenty of potential to spring a surprise in the race, although the lack of experience from both the team and driver line up in this race will surely count against them as the race progresses. If the team can have a good run a podium is on the cards, but it will all depend on staying out of trouble and how their amateur rated drivers does.

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#50 Highway to Help Riley-BMW DP: Jim Pace/Bryon DeFoor,David Hinton/Dorsey Schroeder/Thomas Gruber

The #50 entry returns for an expanded 2016 calendar comprising the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events. This is typically a Daytona only entry, with the charitable cause benefiting is typically the primary goal for this team.

This year they have the highly professional Starworks Motorsport providing technical assistance to the team, although with a car that is now several years old and a largely amateur driver line up a good result for this team will be very tough to achieve.

For this team however, attaining a good result is simply an added bonus and instead will simply enjoy driving in the race. The line up will be led once again by Fox Sports TV commentator and long term racer Dorsey Schroeder. Racing is now a hobby for the experienced American, although expect him to still be driving quickly and leading this entry in the race.

Of the rest Jim Pace is one to look out for, as the experienced racer is a former winner of this race back in 1996 and can still turn fast times at this track despite his age. Bryan DeFoor, David Hinton and Thomas Gruber will be a solid pair of hands for this car, although don’t expect them to be setting the pace of the leaders in their stints. For this team finishing the race will be an achievement, with a top ten in class an added bonus for this team.

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#55 SpeedSource Mazda-AER Prototype: Jonathan Bomarito/Tristan Nunez/Spencer Pigot

The SpeedSource factory supported Mazda team return in 2016 with a petrol powered AER entries, after suffering with constant reliability issues with their previous Skyactiv diesel technology.

The team appear to be back in contention based on their times at the pre-race roar before the 24, although testing times are hard to gauge as the real representative times won’t be set until qualifying.

The team is experienced now in the series, and has a very good young driver line up in this #55 entry. Jonathan Bomarito provides years of sportscar experience a long with quick times in a car he is very comfortable with. His full season partner will be the young Tristan Nunez and he is a very quick up and coming sportscar driver. Whilst completing the line up the team completed a coup by signing Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot. He appeared to have adjusted well to sportscars and was setting quick times in the pre-race test, so his stints in the race will be well worth watching.

This team is somewhat of an unknown quantity going into the race thanks to it’s new petrol engine, therefore making a prediction on it’s form is very tough. If this team can remain trouble free with the new engine they will likely be in the hunt for a podium, although it’s not yet known if they have the last few tenths that will required to secure a podium placing in this race.

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#60 CURB Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2-Honda HPD: John Pew/Ozz Negri Jr/AJ Allmendinger/Olivier Pla

Michael Shank returns with his Ligier JS P2 for another crack at the race they won in 2012. The team were the first Daytona Prototype team to switch to the LMP2 spec Ligier, and with a year of running under their belts should come into this year’s race with a much better chance of victory.

The team have been working on the lack of torque and drive ability that they suffered with last year. This will be crucial especially for the experienced amateur rated driver John Pew, and could he could be the difference between victory and a podium place come the final hours of the race.

Full season partner Ozz Negri Jr returns once again as does Nascar race AJ Allmendinger, and this year are joined by on-loan factory Ford driver Olivier Pla. The very quick Frenchman spent last year with the Nissan LMP1 programme, and has extensive experience with the Ligier JS P2 prototype.

With a high quality driver line up like this and a quick car underneath them, only misfortune will likely stop this team fighting for victory. This entry is right up there with any other in the class for victory and don’t be surprised to see this car driving into victory lane immediately after the race.

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#70 SpeedSource Mazda-AER Prototype: Joel Miller/Tom Long/Ben Devlin

The second SpeedSource Mazda entry is this #70 car, which was also looking very quick in the pre-race test. The team’s issues appear to have been solved thanks to the new petrol powered AER 2.0 litre engine.

The SpeedSource team has plenty of experience and factory Mazda assistance so therefore will be strong with pit stops and strategy in the race. On the driving front the team has a good, solid line up that will be able to get them to the finish in a good position.

Ben Devlin will likely take on the role of the experienced driver thanks to almost 15 years of prototype experience across Europe and America. Tom Long has been associated with Mazda for most of his career and also brings plenty of experience to this entry. Completing the trio is Joel Miller, who has adapted well in the past few years since switching from single seaters to sportscar racing.

There will be almost nothing this team and driver line up will not have seen before with this race, and this experience could prove crucial in a race that will be likely decided by the smallest of margins. If the new AER engines can remain reliable this team has the chance of a overall podium, which would be a huge result for the SpeedSource team.

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#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP: Ryan Dalziel/Marc Goossens/Ryan Hunter-Reay 

The Spirit of Daytona squad came within a whisker of winning last years championship after leading it for most of the season, yet has decided to change their driver line up for 2016. Gone are the previous long term pairing of Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante, with Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens replacing them.

Both Dalziel and Goossens are very quick and experienced sportscar racers, with Dalziel winning the race in 2010 whereas Goossens brings over twenty years of racing experience. The new full season line up is joined for Daytona by former Indycar and Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter Reay. He will bring pace along with years of experience from competing in this race.

With a team that was arguably the best in the class last year, along with a driver line up containing this much experience and pace this entry is one of half dozen that are serious contenders for overall victory. For the local Spirit of Daytona team this would be a huge achievement and no one could begrudge this entry victory.

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#01 Claritin Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford DP: Alex Wurz/Andy Priaulx/Brendon Hartley/Lance Stroll

The fabled Chip Ganassi Racing team return for another season in the prototype class, despite also taking on the race debut for the works Ford GTLM programme this year also.The team once again brings two Riley-Ford’s to Daytona and will be looking to repeat their win from last year.

In recent years the Chip Ganassi team have dominated this race, winning three of the last six. This year the #01 has an all star driver line up of long term F1 and sportscar driver Alex Wurz, touring car and GT fast man Andy Priaulx, current WEC champion Brendon Hartley and up and coming F3 racer Lance Stroll.

This line up is likely the best in the class in my opinion, with Wurz and Priaulx providing years of experience along with plenty of pace to boot. It’s likely Hartley and Stroll will be the all out attack racers of this entry, although for Stroll he is still adjusting to the Riley Daytona Prototype. He suffered an accident in the pre-race test which hampered them, although his experience will only improve during race week.

With such an all star team and line up, only mechanical misfortune or a mistake from one of the drivers will likely stop this team. Amongst a potential half dozen serious contenders a lot of people would likely bet on this car if they were forced to. It will be interesting seeing how this car gets on throughout the race, don’t expect it to be far from the top of the timing screens all race.

#02 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford DP: Scott Dixon/Tony Kanaan/Kyle Larson/Jamie McMurray

The second Chip Ganassi racing entry comes into the race as defending champions from last year. Whilst the #01 has taken a lot of the pre-race press attention, do not ever discount this #02 entry as they are more than capable of repeating their victory from last year.

Team boss Chip Ganassi has smartly retained his mixed roster of Indycar and Nascar racers this year, after their big success last year. Indycar duo Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are both very quick along with experience. It was the uncanny fuel saving ability of Dixon last year that played a part in their close fought victory, with Nascar racers Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray swapping their stock cars for another crack at the Rolex 24.

The #02 slightly edged the #01 in the pre-race test, although choosing between the two will be very difficult to do until the early hours of the race have passed. Both entries have an equal chance of victory, and if any team will win this race it’s hard to look past the Chip Ganassi outfit. This entry in particular has a winning pedigree, one that it will want to continue this year.

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That concludes my preview of the prototype class for this year’s eagerly anticipated Rolex 24 hours at Daytona. As I’ve mentioned above there are half a dozen very serious contenders for victory, with a further half dozen likely to be in the hunt for victory if any of these teams slip up or suffer from misfortune in the race. Predicting a winner before the race is impossible, it will be thrilling to watch the race unfold and see who is in the right position to claim victory.

Coming up in the next few days will be my preview of the prototype challenge class, so stay tuned for that. I have to give huge credit to Motorsport.com for their incredibly high quality photos used in this preview and I encourage everyone to visit their website at Motorsport.com for all the latest news and high quality pictures from around the motorsport world. Finally I wanted to say thank you for making it this far and reading the article, I would greatly appreciate any feedback both positive or negative I want to hear your thoughts on this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Le Mans once again a classic

After catching up on the much needed sleep that was missed during the race, it’s now time to reflect on another magnificent Le Mans 24 Hours, which frenetic action on track and feel good stories throughout the paddock. With initial talk of a titanic battle between the four manufactures Toyota,Audi,Porsche and debutants Nissan, it quickly became clear during the race week that the race for victory would be an all German affair between Audi and Porsche.

Porsche stole the first march by claiming a track record pole, with a scintillating 3m16.887 time, a full three seconds quicker than the fastest Audi could produce. With the reliability and success record of Audi however, they still went into the race as slight favourites. From the moment the lights went out it was a frantic battle between the might of Porsche and Audi, with Audi seemingly taking a slight early advantage in the hotter mid-afternoon conditions. After the first few hours things seemed to change for Audi, with niggly issues which the team was previously avoid began affecting them. Firstly the team’s lead No 7 entry suffered a puncture, before the sister No 8 entry was involved with a collision with some GTE traffic, dropping the car to 8th overall after a few minutes in the pits for repairs. No 8 Audi returning to the pits after it’s crash in the early hours of the race. Thanks to Motorsport.com for this high quality photo. Porsche kept running at the front with metronomic pace from their No 17 and No 19 entries, with their No 18 entry affected by two off’s at Mulsanne corner, putting them laps down from the opening six hours.

Going into the nightfall hours no body was any closer to predicting an eventual winner, such was the unpredictability of the leading fight. The No 17 Porsche was content at the front, until in the very early hours of night time Mark Webber was hit with a 1 minute stop/go penalty after Brendan Hartley overtook under yellow flags, promoting a see-saw battle between the No 7 and No 19 Porsche to the front, as both swapped the lead due to their differing pit schedules.

During the cool of night Porsche came into their own, as they regularly lapped several seconds per lap quicker than Audi could manage. This battle continued all night and into the early hours of daylight running on Sunday morning. It was clear that Porsche had an advantage of roughly 1 minute 30 seconds over the leading No 7 Audi, although as temperatures would rise as the day wore on, Audi were likely to strike back at Porsche.

The leading battle was effectively over the moment the No 7 Audi was forced into the pits on Sunday morning, for repairs that would put the car two laps down on the leading No 19 Porsche. From here the lone Audi left in the hunt was their additional third No 9 entry, although once both this car and the No 8 car also needed repairs in the early hours of Sunday morning, victory was virtually assured for Porsche. The leading No 19 Porsche which ran faultlessly throughout the race. Thanks once again to Motorsport.com for this high quality photo.With only mechanical or driver incidents between Porsche and a 17th victory at Le Mans, both the No 19 and No 17 entry were able to take their foot off the gas slightly, despite a desperate charge by Audi superstar Andre Lotterer in the No 7 Audi, including setting the fastest race lap in his mid-morning charge.

The final few hours were all about brining their cars home to victory, and after 24 hours of racing the No 19 Porsche 919 Hybrid was greeted with the chequered flag. A fairy tale had been created, with a highly coveted victory on their debut for both Earl Bamber and F1 star Nico Hulkenberg, alongside the Brit Nick Tandy. No one could begrudge victory for the trio and Porsche, with a 1-2 showing it had truly returned to Le Mans after 18 months back in the LMP1 category. Whilst the second place crew of Brendan Hartley, Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard may be slightly disappointed with second, they can take a lot of heart from their performance all race. A photo that perfectly encapsulates what it means to win Le Mans for Porsche drivers Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg. Thanks to Motorsport.com for this high quality photo.

In the LMP2 class it was a nice class win for the Asian based KCMG team, who took their new Oreca 05 to victory in the hands of a very impressive Richard Bradley and Matt Howson, who were partnered by on-loan former Toyota factory driver Nicolas Lapierre. They fought off the charging Jota sport team, winners last year, and the G-Drive Ligier led by Brit Sam Bird.

For Corvette racing it was a week of both ecstasy and despair, as the team first lost one of it’s two factory Chevrolet Corvette C7.R cars to a qualifying accident in the Porsche curves on Thursday. From this the team rallied behind their No 64 Corvette, which was brilliantly driven to a very hard fought GTE Pro victory in the hands of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor. The victorious No 64 Corvette racing C7.R takes the flag after 24 hours fought hours for their GTE Pro victory. Thanks to Motorsport.com for this high quality photo.

In the GTE Am class there was despair for the dominant No 98 Aston Martin racing team, as their Vantage GTE was only just over an hour from a dominant class victory. Sadly for the team their car was shunted by the team’s amateur driver Paul Dalla Lana at the final Ford chicanes, although a mechanical fault looked to have caused the crash. This was of little consolation to the team however, as they were forced to watch the SMP racing No 72 Ferrari F458 Italia, driven admirably by works Ferrari GT driver Andrea Bertolini, supported by Russian drivers Viktor Shaitar and Aleksey Basov.

To even finish at Le Mans is an achievement, therefore everyone deserves applause for their efforts this week, along with a huge round of applause for all the marshals who helped keep the race on track for all 24 hours. Whilst the race was a disappointment for the likes of Nissan and Toyota, they will all be back next year hungry for a better result.

This great race once again showed the very best of the World Endurance Championship, and sportscar racing in general. If you want a glimpse at what Le Mans means to everyone involved, look at the joyous reaction of successful actor and GT racer Patrick Dempsey as his No 77 Porsche 911 RSR finished 2nd in the GTE Am class yesterday.

For me, sportscar racing and the WEC are the most competitive and best form of top line motorsport in the world, with more overtaking between the leaders in the opening hour than an entire half season of F1. As F1 seemingly looks to destroy itself at the moment with cars that don’t appeal to fans, constant on-fighting on all key issues between the teams, and a lack of genuine overtaking which have left plenty wondering whether it’s even worth watching anymore.

I very much look forward to watching the rest of the WEC season, and with many manufactures seriously considering joining Ford in announcing a sportscar programme in the next few years, the series looks to have earned it’s status as the most attractive series in the world right now for manufactures, thanks to the WEC open rule book based on fuel limits, with plenty of technical scope for different engines and hybrid power systems. Roll on the rest of the WEC season and especially Le Mans next year.  A final thanks has to go to Motorsport.com for their amazing high quality photos which can only be found on their site http://www.Motorsport.com A glimpse into the future with a photo of the newly announced Ford GT race programme which will see them return to Le Mans next year in the GTE Pro class. Thanks to Motorsport.com for this high quality photo.