Motorsport

Tristan Vautier Interview

The Rolex 24 kicks the IMSA WeatherTech season off this weekend in style, with a 24 hour sprint race around the Daytona International Speedway. In the build up to the race I spoke with Frenchman Tristan Vautier. Vautier has built his career in America, first excelling on the Mazda Road to Indy program.

He worked his way up to Indycar, but only managed one season at the top level in 2013. Since then his focus has switched to sportscar racing. He has been racing in IMSA since 2014, along with a burgeoning international GT career with Mercedes-Benz. Vautier drove for JDC-Miller Motorsport last year, with two fifths their best results in a tough  season for the team.

The team has expanded to two cars for this year, and their Cadillac package is always competitive, especially at Daytona. After testing both cars at the Roar, Vautier was a late confirmation for the #85 crew alongside Matheus Leist, Juan Piedrahita and Chris Miller. With the race only a matter of days away, let’s see how Vautier views the teams chances.

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Vautier celebrating winning the Intercontinental GT Challenge in 2018. His role with Mercedes-Benz is expanding. Photo: Mercedes-Benz.

How happy are you to be back with JDC-Miller for the Rolex 24?

I’m super happy to be re-united with the team. Our relationship started in 2011 when we won the Star Mazda Championship together, which was a launching pad for me in my open wheel career. So it’s always special to run with them.

How much of a coup was it for the team to be running the #5 Mustang Sampling car?

The team proved last year that we could do a good job with the Cadillac considering it was our first season with the car. So I think it’s logical that it attracted some interest.

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Cadillac at Daytona?

It’s hard to say, the whole field was very tight at the Roar. Mazda and Acura seemed to have an edge on straight line speed, which obviously plays a big part in the lap time around Daytona,  but the Cadillac was strong in the infield. 

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Vautier was a late confirmation at JDC-Miller, but returns to the team he drove for last season. Photo: Michael Levitt/Jake Galstad via IMSA.

How was the Roar test for the #85 team?

The Roar was very good for the whole team. We unloaded strong and started at a much better place than last year. Action Express seemed to still have a slight edge on us but we were close.All 4 of us were happy with the car balance and we were all relatively strong pace-wise, so we are setting higher goals for ourselves this year for sure.

Who are your main rivals at the Rolex 24 this year?

The field is so competitive, there isn’t a single car that you can’t discount. We’ll just focus on ourselves and try to execute a good race, and see where that puts us.

Are you likely to do more endurance rounds with JDC-Miller this year?

 

That’s our common goal but nothing is sure at the moment. The only thing I can control right now is my performance at Daytona. After that, we’ll see.

Are you likely to be back in GT3 racing this year and what series are you likely to focus on?
I should be back in GT3 in Europe, I’m just not sure yet what my program will be exactly.
I would like to thank Tristan for taking the time to answer these questions and wish him the best of luck for this weekend. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you have any comments on this piece.

 

2020 Rolex 24 GTD Preview Part One

Part four of my Rolex 24 preview looks at the GTD class, open to GT3 machinery. If you would like to view my other class previews, you can find DPI here, LMP2 here and GTLM here. The GTD class is by far the biggest in the race, with 18 entries from nine different makes.

The class focuses on pro/am racing, similarly to LMP2, with the focus being on pairing amateur drivers with professionals. With 18 entries and nine different cars, the class will provide intense racing the entire 24 hours. Let’s preview the first half of this GTD class.

#9 Pfaff Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R: Lars Kern/Dennis Olsen/Patrick Pilet/Zach Robichon

Pfaff Motorsport return to IMSA, aiming to improve upon a very good 2019 season. Two wins at Lime Rock and Road America propelled the team to third in the GTD standings. Porsche’s renewed focus on GT racing has massively improved their 911 GT3 car across the world.

Canadian Zach Robichon impressed last year and so returns for the full season, partnered with Dennis Olsen. Porsche factory drivers Lars Kern and Patrick Pilet complete the line-up for Daytona.

Qualifying at the Roar didn’t go to plan, with Robichon placing the Porsche 14th. The team ran consistently during the test without any issues. The pace wasn’t there, except when Pilet was in the car, but don’t discount them. The Porsche is a proven package and their driver line up deserves respect.

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#11 GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo: Albert Costa/Richard Heistand/Franck Perera/Steijn Schothorst

De facto Lamborghini factory team GRT Grasser Racing have made the switch to IMSA  this year, after impressive cameo appearances in recent seasons. The team are twice defending Rolex 24 champions, along with a Sebring 12 Hours class win last year. Despite only running the Michelin Endurance Cup rounds, the team are a formidable opponent.

Lamborghini factory aces Albert Costa and Franck Perera lead the team, joining very quick silver rated driver Steijn Schothorst. Richard Heistand moves across from Lexus to complete the quartet.

The car ran quickly at the Roar in the hands of Costa and Perera, with Heistand going ninth in the qualifying session. The team have a proven pedigree in Europe, and recent years have shown that the Lamborghini is ideally suited to Daytona.

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#12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3: Townsend Bell/Shane van Gisbergen/Frankie Montecalvo/Aaron Telitz

AIM Vasser Sullivan return for a second year running the Lexus GT3  program, after a promising debut season. The team came a close second at the Rolex 24 last year with this #12 car.

Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo return, with Indy Lights star Aaron Telitz also back as the third driver. Completing the team is Australian V8 Supercars star Shane van Gisbergen. His signing is a real coup for the team, as he embarks on his fifth Rolex 24.

Montecalvo topped the Roar qualifying session, a boost for the team heading into the race. He was consistently quick in the car, with a faultless three days another promising sign. They have all the ingredients to go one better than their second last year.

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#14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3: Kyle Busch/Parker Chase/Michael de Quesada/Jack Hawksworth

The #14 car has created headlines this year, thanks to signing Nascar superstar Kyle Busch for his Rolex 24 debut. The team showed enormous promise last year, with third in the Sprint Cup and two wins in a stellar debut year.

Jack Hawksworth returns, this time partnered with Parker Chase. 2017 Rolex 24 GTD winner Michael de Quesada joins for the Endurance rounds, along with Busch.

Hawksworth did a masterful job to top the opening Roar test session by three tenths of a second, a big gap in this class. From here the test was used to get the others up to speed. De Quesada and Busch had never driven the car before. The team has a great line-up, they just need more time in the car

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#16 Wright Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R: Klaus Bachler/Ryan Hardwick/Anthony Imperato/Patrick Long    

Wright Motorsport steps across into IMSA from the Blancpain GT World Challenge America. The team do have prior experience of the Rolex 24.

Porsche factory driver Patrick Long joins Ryan Hardwick for the season, with Anthony Imperato joined by fellow Porsche factory ace Klaus Bachler for this race. Imperato was with the team in Blancpain last year, with Hardwick moving across from Paul Miller Racing.

Long put the car in the top five for the Saturday night session at the Roar, however Imperato struggled in the qualifying session. 17th and 1.2 seconds back is tough, but the test is about gaining experience and the team ran smoothly throughout.

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#19 GRT GEAR Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo: Tatiana Calderon/Rahel Frey/Katherine Legge/Christina Nielsen

The second GRT entry falls under the GEAR Racing banner. GEAR are promoting women in motorsport, starting in IMSA. The initiative aims to expand into other forms of motorsport, and has already garnered plenty of publicity.

Katherine Legge moves across after three successful years with Michael Shank, and is joined by former double class champion Christina Nielsen. Completing the all female line-up is experienced GT racer Rahel Frey and F2 convert Tatiana Calderon.

The car completed over 160 laps across the three day Roar test, as all four driver get used to a new car. The Lamborghini package is competitive at Daytona, so gaining as much experience as possible before the race will be key.

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#23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3: Roman de Angelis/Ian James/Alex Riberas/Nicki Thiim 

The popular Heart of Racing team return to IMSA after a three year absence. The team raises money for Seattle Children’s hospital and has raised over $6 Million since 1997. Their Aston Martin Vantage GT3 car is making it’s IMSA debut, the first Aston Martin customer IMSA program in several years.

Alex Riberas returns to the team, joining reigning Porsche GT3 Cup American and Canada champion Roman de Angelis. Team manager Ian James joins for the endurance rounds, with factory driver Nicki Thiim along for Daytona.

The team never troubled the top of the times during the seven test sessions, but they did run consistent lap times without issues. Thiim is the only one with experience of this car, so the team has a lot to learn in a short space of time. Simply finishing the Rolex 24 would be a great result.

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#44 GRT Magnus Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo: Andy Lally/Marco Mapelli/John Potter/Spencer Pumpelly 

The third GRT Grasser run entry is this #44 car, which takes on Magnus Racing branding after the popular team disbanded last year. The team were mainstays of IMSA, but return with new support.

Magnus team owner John Potter returns, along with long time co-driver Andy Lally. Spencer Pumpelly joins for the endurance races, with factory driver Marco Mapelli recruited for Daytona.

The #44 team were consistently at the top during the Roar. Amateur driver Potter struggled in the qualifying session, but the car was very quick in the other drivers hands. The team were tenth last year, but as former two-time winners of the Rolex 24 this entry cannot be discounted.

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#47 Precision Performance Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo: Brandon Gdovic/Johnathan Hoggard/Mark Kvamme/Eric Lux

PPM Motorsport return for another year of IMSA competition with their #47 Lamborghini Huracan GT3. The team only ran the Michelin Endurance Cup rounds last year, their second in IMSA after moving across from Nascar.

The owners son Brandon Gdovic returns, with Eric Lux joining after partial seasons in the LMP2 class. Johnathan Hoggard and Mark Kvamme were late additions from the aborted Rick Ware Racing LMP2 entry. Hoggard is the Sunoco Challenge winner, and as a British F3 race winner should be quick despite a lack of experience.

Gdovic impressed at the Roar, qualifying fourth, less than two tenths from top spot. Lux didn’t complete any laps, losing valuable driving time as he adjusts to GTD. Based off testing times, this #47 car could surprise a lot in the paddock.

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

Paul Miller Racing return for a fifth season with their Lamborghini Huracan. The team won at Laguna Seca last year. Problems last year limited them to 15th at the Rolex 24, a result they can improve upon.

Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow return, aiming to repeat their 2018 IMSA GTD title. Corey Lewis is back for the endurance rounds, with factory pilot Andrea Caldarelli also back for Daytona.

Caldarelli and Sellers had the car running competitive laps at the test, although Snow will be disappointed with 13th in qualifying. This team are looking to bounce back and repeat their 2018 form.

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That wraps up the first half of my GTD class preview for the Rolex 24, stay tuned for part two coming very soon. Who do you think anyone deserves the tag of favourite for the race? Let me know either by commenting below or finding me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Thank you for reading! Finally, a big thank you must go to Motorsport.com for the high quality images in this post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020 Rolex 24 GTLM Preview

Part three of my review looks at the super competitive GTLM class. If you would like to read part two of my preview looking at the LMP2 class, you can find it here. You can also find part one, looking at the DPI class here.

The class is much changed for 2020, with the biggest news being Ford’s withdrawal after four successful years with their Ford GT. Their loss brings the class down to seven entries, however don’t be mistaken into thinking the class is struggling. Four different makes, all with factory line-up’s will be competing for the coveted Rolex watch. This class is arguably the most competitive in the series, and will be fought tooth and nail for 24 hours.

#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R: Nicky Catsburg/Antonio Garcia/Jordan Taylor

Corvette Racing returns for it’s 21st year of IMSA competition, but it’s all change this year. The team are debuting their new Corvette C8.R, the first mid-engined Corvette. Gone is the distinctive thunderous noise, a by-product of needing to remain competitive.

There’s a new face on the driving front too, with former DPI star Jordan Taylor moving from dad Wayne Taylor’s team to join Corvette Racing. Spaniard Antonio Garcia returns for his seventh full year with the team, with former BMW factory driver Nicky Catsburg as the third driver.

The team understandably focused on reliability at the Roar, with the car running faultlessly across the three days. This #3 entry completed over 160 laps, as they learn about this new mid-engined Corvette. Garcia was last in the qualifying session, but was only 0.4s off the ultimate pace. This emphasises just how competitive this class is.

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#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R: Marcel Fassler/Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner

The #4 crew are looking to bounce back after a tough 2019 season. Eighth in the standings and no wins is something the team isn’t used to. The new C8.R is a bold step for the team, but something they felt they needed to do.

The team retain Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner for their ninth season as a duo. Marcel Fassler is the third driver, and has with plenty of experience with Corvette Racing. The Roar went perfectly for the #4 crew, completing 180 laps across the three days and Milner put the car third in the qualifying session, only one tenth off the pace.

Debuting a new car in a 24 hour race doesn’t usually go well, but Corvette Racing have done everything they can to make this car reliable straight out the box.

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#24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: John Edwards/Augusto Farfus/Jesse Krohn/Chaz Mostert

BMW put an end to their WEC program, but they remain committed to IMSA. It’s a case of much the same with BMW, retaining the same car, team and full season drivers for this #24 entry. This team will want a chance to repeat their teammates Rolex 24 win last year.

American John Edwards and Finnish racer Jesse Krohn return, aiming to improve upon seventh in the standings last year. BMW factory racer Augusto Farfus joins, along with Australian V8 Supercars star Chaz Mostert.

Krohn put the car fourth in the qualifying session at the Roar, but only a tenth and a half off the ultimate pace. They completed 165 laps over the three days, although never troubled the top of the times.

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#25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: Connor De Phillippi/Philipp Eng/Colton Herta/Bruno Spengler

The #25 crew enter as defending champions, being in the right place at the time when torrential rain prematurely stopped the race. The team are entering their third year with this M8 GTE, and have shown the car is built to last 24 hours.

Connor De Phillippi returns for the season, with Canadian Bruno Spengler replacing the departed Tom Blomqvist. Spengler has waved goodbye to the German DTM series, and now takes up a sportscar role full time. Joining them at Daytona is Philipp Eng and Colton Herta. Eng is a superstar for BMW in GT3 racing, with Herta one of the rising stars of Indycar.

In Eng’s hands the car was sixth in qualifying, only 0.3s off the top of the times. The team showed early pace, topping both sessions two and three on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning respectively. Based off the Roar, this is the BMW showing itself to have the better chance of a repeat Rolex 24 win.

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#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE Evo: James Calado/Alessandro Pier Guidi/Davide Rigon/Daniel Serra 

Renowned Ferrari team Risi Competitzione return for another chance of a Rolex watch. The single car team are the only non-factory team in GTLM, however they still have plenty of Ferrari support. This is the IMSA debut for the new Evo spec 488 GTE, with the previous spec winning last time out at Petit Le Mans last October.

The team have a full Ferrari factory line-up, consisting of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon and Daniel Serra. Calado, Pier Guidi and Serra all won at Petit Le Mans, meanwhile Rigon joined the team for their run to second here last year.

The team only competed in two races last year, however they scored a second and a win in those outings. Calado also set the fastest time in qualifying, and the team were able to complete 165 laps in the three days. Their pace and consistency across the Roar shows this team is a serious contender for GTLM victory at a Daytona circuit that suits the Ferrari.

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#911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19: Matt Campbell/Frederic Makowiecki/Nick Tandy

CORE Autosport return to run the Porsche factory GT IMSA program this year, after a year of unrivaled success. The team finished 1-2 in the points, with six wins from the possible eleven rounds. Sadly for the #911 crew it was their team mates that won the title, but a Sebring 12 Hours class win is a very good consolation.

Nick Tandy returns for the season, and is joined by Frenchman Frederic Makowiecki. Makowiecki was previously the third driver for the endurance rounds but steps up after ditching his Super GT commitments with Nissan in Japan. Newly elevated factory ace Matt Campbell completes the trio.

This is the IMSA debut for the new spec Porsche 911 RSR, which has already won two of four races in the WEC. Tandy put the car second in qualifying, agonizingly only one thousandth of a second from Calado. The car ran faultlessly at the Roar, managing 171 laps along with consistently quick times.

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#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19: Earl Bamber/Mathieu Jaminet/Laurens Vanthoor

The #912 crew came out on top in 2019, and will be aiming to repeat this year. The best way to start a GTLM title defense will be with a Rolex 24 win. The new spec Porsche 911 RSR has looked quick both at the Roar and in the WEC, so all the signs point towards another good year for Porsche.

Close friends Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor return, with Mathieu Jaminet stepping up from GT3 racing into the third driver role. All three are prodigiously quick GT drivers who can set consistently quick lap times for multiple stints at a time.

The Roar went well for the team. They were consistently quick over the three days, most notably topping the night time session on Saturday. The car ran faultlessly through the test, which is a great sign for a new spec car. The only blemish for the team was their poor display in qualifying, with Vanthoor putting the car fifth. This session only decided pit box allocation for the race, but in a class as closely fought as GTLM, the small margins can decide the race.

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That wraps up my preview for the GTLM class with the Rolex 24 almost upon us. This class always provides scintillating battles for 24 hours, and this year will be no different. Expect this class to go right to the chequered flag. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism if you have any thoughts on this piece, and thank you for reading! A massive thanks must go to Motorsport.com for the great photos in this post.

 

 

 

 

 

2020 Rolex 24 LMP2 Preview

This is part two of my preview for the upcoming Rolex 24, if you would like to visit part one previewing the DPI class you can find it here. Part two is looking at the LMP2 class, which is enjoying a resurgence in 2020.

After a down year where the class came close to folding because of lack of entries, tweaks from IMSA have helped massively. The class has five entries for the Rolex 24, with the majority sticking around for the full IMSA season.The late withdrawal of Rick Ware Racing and a second PR1 entry dampened the feel good, yet the class has still improved massively this year. Just like with the DPI class, any of the five cars can win their class.

#8 Tower Motorsport by Starworks Oreca 07: Ryan Dalziel/John Farano/David Heinemeier Hansson/Nicolas Lapierre

Starworks Motorsport return to the prototype ranks after a difficult 2019 season in GTD. The team enjoyed their most successful period fighting for wins in Grand-Am, and their return is welcome news. The team have gone with the dominant Oreca package, and should enter the race as class favourites.

Ryan Dalziel and John Farano are the full season drivers, and are joined by David Heinemeier Hansson and Nico Lapierre for this event . This is a seriously strong line-up. Lapierre and Dalziel are very quick and experienced, with Farano and Heinemeier Hansson some of the best Am drivers.

Farano was fourth in the Roar qualifying session, but in every other session the car was in the top three. Along with completing over 175 laps to gain experience with the car, the test showed this team is a serious contender.

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#18 Era Motorsport Oreca 07: Ryan Lewis/Dwight Merriman/Nicolas Minassian/Kyle Tilley

Another brand new team to IMSA this year is Era Motorsports. The team has emerged from historic motorsport, with team principal Kyle Tilley working overtime to get this program off the ground. The team are doing the full season, with Tilley and Dwight Merriman driving.

Tilley and Merriman both have good motorsport experience, however are unproven at this level. Ryan Lewis brings experience along with good pace, although Nicolas Minassian is the star amongst the team. The Frenchman has a wealth of prototype experience and is a very quick peddler.

Completing over 150 laps at the Roar was great for a team lacing IMSA experience. Merriman struggled in the qualifying session, setting the slowest time of those that completed a lap. Finishing the race would be a good result any new team, anything else would be a bonus.

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#38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca 07: Cameron Cassels/Kyle Masson/Robert Masson/Don Yount

Performance Tech are one of two returning entries from last year, and remain largely unchanged for 2020. The team have performed at this level for several years now, always punching above their weight.

Cameron Cassels and Kyle Masson return as full season drivers, and are joined by Am’s Robert Masson and Don Yount. Kyle will be the quick driver in this team, with his father taking time out of his day job as a leading spinal surgeon to join him for Daytona. The drivers may struggle to match more illustrious names in this class, but have always performed reliably and consistently.

Third in qualifying at the Roar was impressive. This was the highlight of their Roar. The team at least completed some solid laps, with experience being their biggest strength.

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#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Oreca 07: Gabriel Aubry/Nick Boulle/Ben Keating/Simon Trummer

PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport return in 2020 as defending LMP2 champions, albeit against very limited competition. The team have been mainstays of IMSA racing for several seasons now, and return with a largely different driving crew.

Gabriel Aubry is the only returnee from last year, a shrewd move as he is one of the most promising LMP2 talents in the WEC. Simon Trummer joins the team from JDC-Miller, with Am’s Nick Boulle and Ben Keating completing the line-up. Keating will garner headlines as he is pulling double duty between this entry and the Riley Motorsport entry in GTD.

The Roar was great for the team, with Ben Keating setting the quickest time in the qualifying session, along with completing almost 200 laps across three days. The car was particularly quick in the hands of Aubry and Trummer. This team has a very good chance of victory, with a balanced line-up and a very quick car.

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#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07: Colin Braun/Ben Hanley/Henrik Hedman/Harrison Newey

DragonSpeed return to Daytona as defending Rolex 24 champions, although it wasn’t this car that won. The team have expanded to do the full season, and want to start it off with another Rolex victory. The team has quickly emerged as a force in LMP2 in Europe, and now want success in America.

Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman are doing the year, and are joined by Colin Braun and Harrison Newey in Florida. This team has a very balanced line-up. Newey is a quick young driver making his IMSA debut, with Braun and Hanley both providing speed and experience. Hedman is a solid Am driver.

The team showed tremendous pace throughout the three day test, topping four of the seven sessions. Hedman went second quickest in the qualifying session, showing he can compete with the other bronze rated drivers in the class. The team has the pace to win this class, it just comes down to strategy and reliability.

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That wraps up part two of my Rolex 24 previews, with the LMP2 class set to provide plenty of action across the 24 hours. Who do you think will win the class? Let me know by either commenting below or finding me on Twitter @JWjournalism. A special thanks must also go to Motorsport.com and IMSA.com for the high quality images in this post.

 

 

 

2020 Rolex 24 DPI Preview

The new decade brings the same ultra competitive IMSA WeatherTech series. The centre-piece Rolex 24 will be the first major sportscar race of the decade, and always attracts the best teams and drivers from around the globe. To win the famous Rolex watch can launch careers, and this year is set to yet another 24 hour sprint race.

The DPI class returns with eight entries, down slightly from eleven last year. Despite the drop in numbers, the outstanding quality remains. Wayne Taylor Racing return to defend their crown with a much changed line-up, with Acura duo Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya also back after claiming the title last year. Let’s take a look at the eight DPI entries.

#5 JDC-Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPI-V.R: Joao Barbosa/Sebastien Bourdais/Loic Duval

JDC Miller have partnered with Mustang Sampling for their strongest IMSA line-up to date. Mustang Sampling took multiple titles and Rolex 24 wins during their almost decade long stint with Action Express.

Barbosa jumps across from Action Express, joining Indycar refugee Sebastien Bourdais. Bourdais was cruelly dropped from his Indycar drive, and will no doubt show that decision to be a mistake in IMSA. Le Mans 24 Hours winner Loic Duval warms up for his Audi DTM commitments with a Rolex 24 drive.

The team were consistent at the Roar test,completing over 150 laps during the three day test. The team never troubled the top of the times, and were a lowly seventh in the DPI pit box qualifying session. At this level the team will need both speed and reliability to trouble the podium.

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#6 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05: Dane Cameron/Juan Pablo Montoya/Simon Pagenaud 

Acura realised their potential last year, winning the title with this #6 crew in their second year in IMSA. Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya were faultless all year, and thoroughly deserving champions with three wins. They return aiming to start their title defense strong with a Rolex 24 win.

Last year the Acura struggled with the unique demands of Daytona, struggling for top speed on the banking sections, yet the pre-race BOP adjustments weren’t kind to Acura. Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud completes a very strong driver line-up. Despite lacking top speed you can never discount Team Penske.

Juan Pablo Montoya noted that Acura struggled for outright pace at the Roar, however they did show promise with their Sunday running. Third in the qualifying session shows the team has improved compared to last year.

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#7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05: Helio Castroneves/Ricky Taylor/Alex Rossi

The #7 crew were overshadowed last year by their title winning team mates, something they will no doubt want to rectify. It’s the third year of this Acura Team Penske program, and they have yet to win the Rolex 24.

Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor are joined by former Indy 500 champion Alex Rossi. He has experience of the Acura from last year, and this is yet another formidable line-up in this class.

They showed good one lap pace on Sunday at the Roar, topping a Sunday session and pipped their team mates for second in the qualifying session. To pick one Acura over the other is impossible, both are very strong contenders.

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#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPI-V.R: Ryan Briscoe/Scott Dixon/Kamui Kobayashi/Renger van der Zande 

The 2019 Rolex 24 victors return, but are much changed. Gone is son of team owner Wayne Taylor Jordan Taylor, and superstar Fernando Alonso is also missing. In their place are two refugees from the Ford GT GTLM program, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon.

Dixon is a legend of Indycar racing, and the five-time champion also has a rich history at the Rolex 24. Ryan Briscoe replaces Taylor as the team mate to Van der Zande. Toyota WEC racer Kamui Kobayashi returns after a successful cameo last year.

The Sunday running encapsulated their test. They finished bottom of the qualifying session to decide pit boxes, but then topped the final Sunday afternoon session. The team has a wealth of experience, so counting them out would be stupid. The team need Dixon and Briscoe to get up to speed with the Cadillac quickly.

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#31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Cadillac DPI-V.R: Pipo Derani/Felipe Nasr/Filipe Albuquerque/Mike Conway

Action Express have scaled back from two to one car this year, but what a team they have assembled. The team is well proven and hugely successful in IMSA, something they hope to carry over from 2019. Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr are arguably the strongest driver line-up, and are joined by Toyota WEC ace Mike Conway, along with former Audi WEC racer and Rolex 24 winner Filipe Albuquerque.

The team just missed out on the IMSA title last year, and have finished no lower than second in the past three Rolex 24’s. The team were the strongest Cadillac runner at the Roar, so fourth in the qualifying session will be a slight disappointment. Cadillac has dominated the Rolex 24 in recent years, so to be the quickest Cadillac runner is a very good sign.

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#55 Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P: Jonathan Bomarito/Ryan Hunter-Reay/Harry Tincknell

Mazda finally delivered in 2019 after showing frequent flashes previously. Winning three races was a massive step for the Mazda Team Joest crew, but now they want victory in the marquee race.

Jonathan Bomarito and Harry Tincknell return, with Indycar star Ryan Hunter-Reay joining for Daytona. The Mazda showed incredible one lap pace at the test, with this entry in the top two for the first five sessions across Friday and Saturday. Fifth in the qualifying session was disappointing, but the car showed enough to suggest they have the pace to win. Now they need the reliability over 24 hours.

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#77 Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P: Oliver Jarvis/Tristan Nunez/Olivier Pla

This #77 stole the headlines from the pre-race test, setting an unofficial lap record during the Roar qualifying session. Frenchman Olivier Pla bettered team mate Oliver Jarvis lap record from qualifying last year by 0.074s.

Jarvis and Tristan Nunez are the full season drivers, with Pla joining for the Rolex. All three are seriously quick and experienced with the Mazda, and make a formidable combination.

Completing over 165 laps across all three days, allied with their extreme pace they showed will make them pre-race favourites based on the testing form. Reliability will be the key for Mazda, as they have failed to score a top six finish at the Rolex 24 in the past five years.

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#85 JDC-Miller Motorsport Cadillac DPI-V.R: Matheus Leist/Chris Miller/Juan Piedrahita/Tristan Vautier

This #85 entry is rebounding from a difficult 2019 season. The team struggled despite a good Cadillac DPI package, with their best result of fifth coming in the Rolex 24. The other side of the garage has stolen the headlines with the recruitment of Mustang Sampling, but this entry is full of potential also.

Tristan Vautier and Juan Piedrahita are the full season drivers, and are joined by Indycar prospect Matheus Leist and Chris Miller for Daytona. Vautier is the standout here, with Leist and Piedrahita providing youth and plenty of pace.

The team had a very solid Roar, with sixth in the qualifying session. The team has shown potential and reliability, but they appear to lack a few tenths from the ultimate contenders. A podium would be a great result for the #85 crew.

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That wraps up this preview for the Rolex 24 and the DPI class. Despite only eight entries every one of them has a chance of a podium. With three makes competing for the famed Rolex watch, let the sprint race commence.

Who will come out on top? Cadillac has dominated in previous years, but can Mazda or Acura dethrone them? Let me know in the comment section below or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Also a big credit must go to Motorsport.com for the high quality images in this post.

 

 

 

 

What Next for the Red Bull Junior Program?

The first weeks of August are typically a quiet one within Formula One. This is the referred to as the “summer break”, a three week break between the Hungarian and Belgian Grand Prix’s. That tranquility was shattered last Monday when it was announced Red Bull racing driver Pierre Gasly was being demoted to the junior Scuderia Toro Rosso team, with Alex Albon going the other way.

The news caught the paddock by surprise, despite what has been a disappointing 2019 season for Gasly. Only just over a week ago at the Hungarian Grand Prix Red Bull team principal Christian Horner publicly said he was not in danger of losing his seat. Clearly since then there has been extensive talks within Red Bull which has led to this change, but what does it mean for the famed Red Bull junior program?

On the surface it doesn’t look good for them. The program has since 2001 helped young drivers and graduates of the scheme has included four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, seven time GP winner Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr along with countless other drivers who have forged careers outside F1. This year has not been kind to the development program as they now two of their four F1 seats occupied by drivers they previously dropped.

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Pierre Gasly in his now final race for Red Bull this year at the Hungarian GP. It will be interesting to see how he handles the demotion to Toro Rosso. Photo: Motorsport.com.

Both Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat and newly promoted Albon found themselves coming in from the cold as Red Bull lacked suitable junior candidates to fill these seats. This sends a mixed PR message to their current junior drivers. At the end of June they announced they had dropped Dan Ticktum from the program after a poor start to his 2019 season in the highly competitive Super Formula series in Japan. This was only eight months after he had won the prestigious Macau Grand Prix, and was close to joining Toro Rosso for the 2019 season.

With one of their brightest talents no longer involved with the program, the viable alternatives are a little further away. They have now supported Mexican Patricio O’Ward, however it is very difficult to judge his results in his results in FIA F2 and Super Formula debuts. Lucas Auer is also racing in Japan, currently he is 9th in the Super Formula series after four of seven rounds.

The current issue for Red Bull is that they currently do not have any young drivers who would qualify for a F1 super-license. This is only awarded based on points earned for success in junior categories, with 40 the minimum required. The closest to earning one so far in the Red Bull ranks is Estonian Juri Vips, who would gain 25 points for his current second place in the FIA European F3 series.  This would mean he would need a top five finish in FIA F2 or a top three in Super Formula to gain enough points.

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Estonian Juri Vips is battling for the FIA European F3 title, and at this moment looks the most likely Red Bull junior driver to progress to F1. Photo: Motorsport.com.

At the present moment Vips is the teams best bet for a future F1 role. Vips is in contention for the title and a likely promotion into either F2 or Super Formula. The issue is that the talent pool at Red Bull has run dry in recent years, leaving the team short on young drivers which is leading them to look elsewhere at the likes of Kvyat and Albon. This problem won’t be rectified for several years as the likes of Vips, Liam Lawson and Yuki Tsunoda potentially progress from European F3.

Of the nine Red Bull young drivers Vips appears the most likely to step up to F1, although this could be two-three years away yet. This is a problem for a team that is notoriously ruthless with their drivers, as shown with their mid-season demotion of Gasly. So much can change in that time as drivers may struggle to step up or the team might want to go in a different direction with drivers.

The future is almost impossible to predict in a sport that is so focused on the here and now. What will the team do at the end of the year? Will they retain Kyvat, Gasly or Albon? The team have one of the brightest young talents in Max Verstappen, but they need another young talent to fill the other space at Red Bull. At this early stage it’s hard to tell if the likes of Vips or any of their other young drivers can fill that seat in the future.

If you have any comments on this piece let me know down below in the comment section or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Finally, a massive thank you for reading this piece I massively appreciate it!

 

 

2019 Rolex 24 LMP2 Preview

The big change at the top of the IMSA WeatherTech series is the split of the DPI and LMP2 machinery for 2019. This has had a massive effect on the health of the LMP2 entries, with many teams opting to move into the DPI class as they look to continue fighting for race victories.

For the Rolex 24 there are only four entries, and only two of these are for the full IMSA season. This is been an issue for the series all winter, with the health of the class beyond this season looking very shaky right now. Despite the long-term reservations of this class, the small entry more thank makes up for in quality what it lacks in quantity. Let’s assess each of the four contenders for class victory and a priceless Rolex watch.

#18 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson: Ryan Cullen/Roberto Gonzalez/Pastor Maldonado/Sebastien Saavedra

DragonSpeed has risen quickly to become one of the most competitive LMP2 teams in both the European Le Mans Series and the World Endurance Championship. The team have now turned their attention to the Rolex 24, and have brought plenty of talent with them.

This #18 entry is piloted by the WEC driver pairing of Roberto Gonzalez and Pastor Maldonado. They currently sit 4th in the WEC points and have quickly formed a strong duo. They are joined by Sebastien Saavedra, former Indycar racer who transitioned to the IMSA series last season. Completing the driving crew is another sportscar convert from single-seaters, Ryan Cullen.

All four drivers have sportscar experience and whilst Maldonado is the star name because of his F1 career, all four are very quick and can win this class for the team. The crew struggled slightly in the pre-race qualifying session, however it’s impossible to judge ultimate pace from one session as we don’t know the programmes’s teams were running at the test.

 

#38 Performance Tech Oreca 07-Gibson: Cameron Cassels/Kyle Masson/Robin Masson/Kris Wright 

Performance Tech were one of many teams that graduated from the LMPC class up to the main Prototype class last season. The team flashed potential, most notable with their 4th place qualifying result for the Rolex 24 last year, but the team did struggle to translate this into consistent results across the year.

The team have retained a driver line-up largely familiar with the team, beginning with Kyle Masson. He raced with the team in the series last year and is quick racer. Cameron Cassels steps up to the series after good results in the LMP3 support series last year. Kris Wright is another promising driver who won the LMP3 class last season and has now been rewarded with a promotion for the Rolex 24.

The team were the slowest of the LMP2 entries at the pre-race Roar, however over a 24 hour race one lap pace is not a key to victory. The team have a years worth of experience with this Oreca and the series, and can go for the win. They’re drivers are not as flashy as other line-up’s in this class, but they are consistent and underrated for sure.

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#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Oreca 07-Gibson: Gabriel Aubry/Enzo Guibbert/Mark Kvamme/Matt McMurry

2018 was a difficult year for the PR1/Mathiasen team, and one they will hope to rebound from this year. The team partnered with Indycar team AFS Racing, and switched from a Ligier to Oreca chassis halfway through the season. The team now have some experience with the dominant Oreca chassis and will go into the Rolex 24 with renewed confidence.

The driving crew is a mix of young talent and experience, led by Gabriel Aubry and Matt McMurry. Aubry is currently proving his talents in the WEC and looks a highly promising prospect for the future. Matt McMurry, despite only being 22, has a wealth of sportscar experience and is a proven talent at this level. Enzo Guibbert is another talented young racer who has shown good performances in Europe. Experienced Am Mark Kvamme completes the crew. He won’t be as fast as his young teammates but he does have a wealth of experience at this level.

The team showed their one lap pace is good, setting the fastest time at the Roar qualifying session. They were almost half a second clear of their rivals, although for the race consistent pace and a clean run are much more important than one lap pace. The team has a good chance of winning this class, and based off the Roar they would be favourites to claim the class pole also.

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#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson: Ben Hanley/Henrik Hedman/Nico Lapierre/James Allen 

The second DragonSpeed entry is this #81 car, the teams usual ELMS entry. The team have flashed potential in the ELMS, but have not quite found the ultimate pace to challenge consistently for the title. It’s clear however that the team have more than enough pace to be able to challenge for this Rolex 24 victory.

The team have brought over their usual ELMS driving talent, of Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and Nico Lapierre. Lapierre is a former Toyota factory driver and is a very quick driver at this level. Ben Hanley is a fellow single-seater convert who has found a place to show his considerable talents after a few years out of car racing. Henrik Hedman is the Am in this entry, but he has shown solid pace and has years of experience with the team. Completing the team is James Allen, a young Australian with bags of potential and has already shown tremendous potential at this level.

The #81 crew got the best of their teammates in the pre-race Roar, finishing almost a second better than them in qualifying. The team can take promise from this good showing, and will fancy their chances against the two American based teams in the race. Either one of these DragonSpeed entries will likely be favourites for the race, barring any accidents or mechanical issues during the 24 hours.

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Who do you guys think will win the LMP2 class at this years Rolex 24? Let me know in the comments section below. A massive thank you must go to Motorsport.com and LAT Images for those featured in this page. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism and thank you for reading!