Rolex 24

2018 Rolex 24 GTD Preview Part 2

Here is the second part of my preview looking at the 21-car GTD class at this years Rolex 24, the opening round of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech Championship. With eight different car makers competing for the class win, with last years winners Alegra Motorsport not returning the race is anyone’s to win. Here’s the second half of the high quality entry list. For a look at my previous prototype and GT class previews, click these links. 2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 1 2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 2  2018 Rolex 24 GTLM Preview  2018 Rolex 24 GTD Preview Part 1

#63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3: Alessandro Balzan/Cooper MacNeil/Jeff Segal/Gunnar Jeanette 

Reigning double champions Scuderia Corsa return this year, but with some changes to their line-up. The team have secured championship title sponsors WeatherTech support for this season, and this has precipitated a change to their driving crew.

Alessandro Balzan is retained, but now will be joined by Cooper MacNeil for the full season. Both are very quick and experienced racers at this level, but they may find it tough to replicate their recent championship success with the class improving year on year. Joining them for the Rolex 24 is Jeff Segal and Gunnar Jeanette. Both are quick drivers and with this teams experience and speed they have a very strong line-up for the race.

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#64 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3: Townsend Bell/Sam Bird/Frankie Montecalvo/Bill Sweedler 

The Scuderia Corsa team expanded to include a second entry for the Rolex 24 this year, with another strong line-up. The team signed 2014 Rolex 24 class winners Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, and have bolstered the driving talent with Frankie Montecalvo and Sam Bird.

Bell and Montecalvo are quick GT racers who will prove consistent pace across their stints. Sweedler is the am in this crew but is experienced enough to stay out of trouble. The star turn in this entry is Ferrari factory GT driver Bird, who came close to class victory last year on his debut before a late race engine blow-up.

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#69 HART Acura NSX GT3: Ryan Eversley/John Falb/Chad Gilsinger/Sean Rayhall

After providing factory support to the Michael Shank Racing Acura programme last year, the Honda American Racing Team branch out on their own for a partial season this year.  The team hopes to compete in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds, and with an Acura that showed promise last year they may shock people with a top five result in the class.

The team have signed Pirelli World Challenge Acura driver Ryan Eversley, along with recent LMP3 ELMS champion Sean Rayhall. Both are quick drivers who will be quickest of the four drivers for this car. John Falb is a very competent amateur racer who partnered Rayhall in Europe last year, and has plenty of IMSA experience. Completing the line-up is Chad Gilsinger, who works for Honda and has been a long time driver for this Honda internal race team.

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#71 P1 Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3: Robby Foley/Kenton Koch/JC Perez/Loris Spinelli 

P1 Motorsport make the step up to IMSA from the feeder Lamborghini Super Trofeo and IMSA Prototype Challenge series, taking on an Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.

Kenton Koch raced for the team last year in IMSA PC and is a fast young driver who is a great signing for this team. Loris Spinelli has proved one of the fastest Lamborghini Super Trofeo drivers in the world and now steps up to IMSA, with team owner JC Perez and Robby Foley completing the driving crew.

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#73 Park Place Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R: Jorg Bergmeister/Patrick Lindsey/Tim Pappas/Norbert Seidler

Long term IMSA entrants Park Place Motorsport have scaled back to a North American Endurance Cup only entry this year, but retain the same driving talent from previous years.

Porsche factory racer Jorg Bergmeister heads the line-up, with GT racing ace Norbert Seidler joining the team. Both are very quick GT racers and will likely be the stand-out drivers in this car. Patrick Lindsey and Tim Pappas are both very good amateur driver and this is crucial to have in a pro-am class such as GTD.

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#75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes AMG GT3: Maro Engel/Kenny Habul/Thomas Jager/Mikhael Grenier

SunEnergy1 racing made their debut in the IMSA series last year, and for this years have teamed up with Riley Motorsport to help assist them during the season. The team came about thanks to Australian businessman and amateur racer Kenny Habul, a driving who has developed into a quick am driver.

He is joined for the Rolex 24 by two Mercedes factory GT drivers in Maro Engel and Thomas Jager. Both are seriously quick in the AMG GT3 and will anchor any chances this car has of a class podium. Completing the line-up is young French-Canadian Mikhael Grenier, who is the reigning European Lamborghini Super Trofeo champion and looking to impress on his IMSA debut.

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#82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3: Santiago Creel/Martin Fuentes/Ricardo Perez de Lara/Miguel Molina/Matt Griffin

Leading Ferrari GT team Risi make their debut in the GTD class for the Rolex 24 this year, running a customer programme for a trio of Mexican racing drivers, who are hoping that with a leading team behind them they can achieve a good class result in the race.

Drivers Santiago Creel and Martin Fuentes are leading one-make Porsche and Ferrari racers and are ably supported by am driver Ricardo Perez de Lara. All three have plenty of GT racing experience and will likely run consistently throughout the race. The leading driver in this will be Ferrari factory racer Miguel Molina, who bolsters the team significantly and will drag this car into class leading contention. Irishman Matt Griffin was a very good late addition to this entry, and provides a wealth of experience and pace to what could be a surprise contender for a good result in class.

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#86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3: A.J. Allmendinger/Trent Hindman/Katherine Legge/Alvaro Parente

Michael Shank Racing are forced to adjust to running a customer programme this year after enjoying factory Honda support last year. This has forced the team to scale back to one-full season entry, with this #86 entry currently scheduled to only contest the Endurance Cup rounds, although the team are hoping to add further rounds to their schedule.

The team have secured a very strong line-up for the race, with both A.J. Allmendinger and Katherine Legge returning to the team this year. Legge secured two wins for the car last year and Allmendinger has been a regular endurance driver over a number of years. Alvaro Parente is a seriously quick GT racer and McLaren factory driver, along with Trent Hindman who is a young GT driver showing a lot of potential. Watch out for this entry as a outside contender for class victory.

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#93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3: Lawson Aschenbach/Mario Farnbacher/Come Ledogar/Justin Marks

This second MSR entry is the teams full-season IMSA programme, with the team looking to build on a strong debut season for the Acura GTD programme. The team have signed former Stevenson Motorsport driver Lawson Aschenbach and Justin Marks for the full-season, with Mario Farnbacher and Come Ledogar joining them for the endurance rounds.

Aschenbach is a quick GT racer with over a decade’s worth of experience at this level. Marks moves across from Nascar but has some sportscar experience so will surprise many in the race. Farnbacher joins brother Dominik in the race and has proven his speed in various GT machinery across the world. Ledogar is another McLaren factory GT driver who will excel at this level despite a lack of experience with this car. Both MSR entries are contenders for victory but they will have to stay out of trouble.

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#96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3: Don Yount/Mark Kwamme/Jens Klingmann/Martin Tomczyk/Cameron Lawrence

Long time BMW entrants Turner Motorsport return for another crack at the Rolex 24, although the team currently do not have firm plans for a full season entry. The team used the pre-race Roar to test potential drivers for the race.

Former LMPC runners Don Yount and Mark Kwamme got behind the wheel, and will provide some experience for the team over the race along with late addition Cameron Lawrence. BMW factory drivers Jens Klingmann and Martin Tomczyk will be the pace setters in this entry although any hopes of a podium finish may prove doubtful with two amateur drivers. A clean run and faultless driving from all five may yield a top six finish for the team which would be a great result for the privateer team.

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That wraps up both part two of my GTD preview and my series of previews for the upcoming Rolex 24. I want to say a massive thank you to anyone who has read this page I hope you have liked it and if you have please feel free to comment, like or follow my blog. I also need to say a massive thank you to Motorsport.com for their incredible photos which grace these previews. For all the latest motorsport news check out their website Motorsport.com . Stay tuned for more sports blogs coming soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Rolex 24 GTD Preview Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

2018 Rolex 24 GTLM Preview

The GTLM class is arguably the most competitive of all classes in the IMSA WeatherTech championship, and 2018 should again see no quarter given as nine cars from five factory supported manufactures will do battle. Last year saw Ford claim the spoils, with seven cars finishing on the lead lap showing how competitive this class is. This year see’s renewed input from BMW and Porsche, with choosing a winner for this class virtually impossible. If you have missed my first two prototype class previews, you can find them here. Part 1  Part 2

Let’s look at the class field, which may lack in numbers but certainly not in overall quality.

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

The defending GTLM class champions return with an unchanged line-up this year, unsurprisingly. The Pratt & Miller run Corvette racing programme are one of the slickest operations in the IMSA paddock, and have been a competitive factory GT outfit since the turn of the millennium.

Three wins last year, including the Sebring 12 Hours, secured the GTLM title for this #3 crew, something they will look to repeat this year. Both Garcia and Magnussen are vastly experienced in the C7.R and and have the pace to challenge at the front in the class. Audi DTM racer Mike Rockenfeller returns once again after joining the team last year, and provides added pace to an already strong line-up.  Fifth in the pre-race test for Antonio Garcia does not indicate strong pace, but Corvette racing should recover come race week.

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

2017 was a down year for this always successful #4 crew. Full season drivers Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner only secured one class win, but should bounce back in 2018. Their previous success has meant GM has retained the duo for this year, with Swiss Audi factory driver Marcel Fassler returning once again to bolster the endurance line-up.

Gavin looked impressive in the pre-race Roar test, securing the second fastest time, 0.3s quicker than their team mates. Both the Corvette Racing entries are formidable opponents for their rivals, and their consistently strong results year after year show this team is one of the best in business.

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#24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: Jesse Krohn/John Edwards/Nicky Catsburg/Augusto Farfus

BMW have a much increased involvement in GTE class racing with a new M8 GTE car for this year. They have expanded into the WEC for this year, alongside their long running IMSA GT factory programme. The team have encountered some expected new car troubles, but the team will not be using that as an excuse during the race.

John Edwards has been a long-term BMW factory IMSA driver, and for the full season is joined by Jesse Krohn, who has impressed in the GTD class in recent years. Joining them for Daytona are WEC racers Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus. All four are very quick drivers, the only question mark for this team in a highly competitive class is their new M8 car.

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#25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: Alex Sims/Conor de Phillippi/Bill Auberlen/Philipp Eng

The second of the factory BMW entries has another all-star cast of factory drivers, with Alex Sims joined by new signing Conor de Phillippi for the full season. Sims was very quick in the old M6 last year and Phillippi was a standout in the GTD class in an Audi R8.

Long term factory pilot Bill Auberlen has stepped back into an endurance-only role this season, and Philipp Eng has proved very quick with various customer teams in the GT3 spec M6. As with their other entry their result will depend on the new M8 GTE and its reliability. Ford hit the ground running with their GT several years ago, so anything will be possible for the German marque.

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#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE: James Calado/Toni Vilander/Alessandro Pier Guidi/Davide Rigon

This family run factory supported team return for a partial campaign this year, after an abrupt end to their 2017 season after the Le Mans 24 Hours. They return to Daytona after finishing a close third in the Rolex 24 last year.

On the driving front the team have 2017 WEC GTE Pro champions James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, with fellow factory drivers Toni Vilander and Davide Rigon  completing the line-up. Rigon was a late addition and missed the pre-race test, but he has enough experience of the GTE spec Ferrari.   This is a seriously strong line-up of Ferrari GT talent, although they did appear to struggle for ultimate pace at the test. The fact this is a one-car team may hinder them against their well stocked factory opponents, but this team will be pushing them all the way in the race.

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

The factory Ford GT programme enters its third year, but already has claimed some major honours. This #66 car claimed GTE Pro victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours in its debut year, and claimed the GTLM Rolex 24 class victory last year.

The team retain an unchanged line-up, of full season drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Muller, with Indycar racer Sebastien Bourdais joining them for the endurance rounds. All three are very quick in this Ford GT, and with Bourdais having firmly put his severe Indy 500 practice accident behind him, the team will be hoping their good form can extend into a third year. A fastest time at the Roar test is a good omen for this #66 team.

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

This #67 crew have been forced to watch on as their teams other entry has claimed major successes across the world for the past two years. They seem to have attracted the majority of the teams bad luck in that time, because in a straight fight they are evenly matched with their intra-team rivals.

Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook are a very talented pairing, with multiple Indycar champion Scott Dixon a very strong third addition to the team. Ryan Briscoe set the third fastest time at the test, and with the top six cars separated by only a second this class battle will be on for the entire 24 hours.

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#911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Frederic Makowiecki/Patrick Pilet/Nick Tandy

This CORE Autosport led factory Porsche GT outfit enter the second year of their new mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR car. With their withdrawal from the LMP1 class Porsche have put renewed investment into their GT racing across the world, something that is shown with their IMSA programme.

Patrick Pilet returns, but has a new team mate this year with LMP1 racer Nick Tandy moving across to replace Dirk Werner, who likely moves across to the WEC. Joining them for the long distance rounds is WEC GT racer Frederic Makowiecki. Last year this team were the closest challengers to the winning #66 Ford entry this year, and with a renewed emphasis on GT racing can they go one step further this time around.

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#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Earl Bamber/Laurens Vanthoor/Gianmaria Bruni 

The #912 car in the hands of Earl Bamber was the fastest of the two Porsche’s at the pre-race test, showing they are definite contenders for victory. The #912 crew struggled last year, with only two class podiums and no wins across the year.

The team retain the very quick Belgian Laurens Vanthoor for his second season with the team, with former LMP1 factory driver Earl Bamber coming across to IMSA as his new full season team mate. Italian Gianmaria Bruni rejoins the team for Daytona after a truncated 2017 season.

That wraps up my preview looking at the fiercely competitive GTLM class. It’s not an exaggeration to say that any one of the nine entries could win this class, and expect the class lead battle to go on for the entirety of the race.

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I want to say a massive thank you for anyone who has read this article and I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, feel free to comment, like or share. I have to say a final massive thank you to Motorsport.com for their high quality photos which grace this page. For all the latest motorsport news please visit their website.  You can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Coming up next is a two-part preview of the GTD class. Stay tuned!

2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Rolex 24 GTLM Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

2017 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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