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.