CORE Autosport

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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-3-corvette-racing-chevrolet-corvette-c7-r-antonio-garcia

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-4-corvette-racing-chevrolet-corvette-c7-r-oliver-gavin-t

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-24-bmw-team-rll-bmw-m8-gtlm-john-edwards-jesse-krohn-nic

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-25-bmw-team-rll-bmw-m8-gtlm-bill-auberlen-alexander-sims

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-62-risi-competizione-ferrari-488-gte-alessandro-pier-gui

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-66-chip-ganassi-racing-ford-gt-gtlm-dirk-muller-joey-han

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-67-chip-ganassi-racing-ford-gt-gtlm-ryan-briscoe-richard

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-911-porsche-team-north-america-porsche-911-rsr-patrick-p

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-912-porsche-team-north-america-porsche-911-rsr-gtlm-gian

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!

Advertisements

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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-37-jackie-chan-dc-racing-jota-oreca-lmp2-p-lance-stroll

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-38-performance-tech-motorsports-oreca-lmp2-james-french

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-52-afs-pr1-mathiasen-motorsports-ligier-lmp2-sebastian-s

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-54-core-autosport-oreca-lmp2-p-jon-bennett-colin-braun-r

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-55-mazda-team-joest-mazda-dpi-p-jonathan-bomarito-spence

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-77-mazda-team-joest-mazda-dpi-oliver-jarvis-tristan-nune

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-78-jackie-chan-dc-racing-jota-oreca-lmp2-ho-pin-tung-ale

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-85-jdc-miller-motorsports-oreca-07-simon-trummer-robert

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-90-spirit-of-daytona-racing-cadillac-dpi-tristan-vautier

#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.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2018-99-jdc-miller-motorsports-oreca-07-stephen-simpson-mikha

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.

2016 Sebring 12 Hours Prototype Challenge Preview

After looking at the main Prototype class yesterday Here , now it’s time to turn our attentions to the Prototype Challenge class. The opening Rolex 24 produced a surprise winner in the #85 JDC/Miller entry, after problems with the favourite #54 and #52 entries. This time around, will the normal order be restored or will Sebring spring another surprise winner?

#8 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Alex Popow/David Heinemeier Hansson/Renger Van Der Zande

The two Starworks entries suffered with costly accidents at the Rolex 24, although the progress this #8 car made in the second half of the race showed that if they had not got involved in various scrapes they would of been a strong contender for victory.

This time out at Sebring the team will be looking to translate their pace and skill as a team into a podium placing.  They have one of the best driver line up’s in this class and the Starworks team are stalwarts at this top level of US Sportscar racing. This entry has to go into the race as one of the favourites for class victory.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-8-starworks-motorsports-oreca-flm09-jack-hawskworth-chri

#20 BAR1 Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Johnny Mowlem/Marc Drumwright/Tomy Drissi/Don Yount

The #20 BAR1 entry was another PC tale of disappointment, as the class pole sitters hoped for victory in the centre piece race, but had to be content with a distant third. Whilst this would have initially seemed frustrating, it was still a decent points haul for this team as their rivals struggled.

The team will be hoping to achieve another podium placing this weekend in the sunshine state, and they have a solid experienced line up of drivers who can get the job done for this BAR1 team. Another points haul for their championship would be a good result, and they will be slight outsiders for a class victory.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-20-bar1-motorsports-oreca-flm09-johnny-mowlem-brian-adle

#38 Performance Tech Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: James French/Josh Norman/Kyle Marcelli

The #38 team were yet another PC team who struggled on the high banks of Daytona, as they eventually were forced out of the Rolex 24 thanks to reliability issues. The team will not let that dampen their progress however as they look to bounce back for round two this weekend.

The team is one of the smaller outfits in the class, but they have proved in the past they can mix it with the bigger and more prestigious teams within this class. The driver line up is a another solid one at this level, and this team may well sneak a podium place if the attrition rate matches what we say in Daytona. Do not discount this entry as an afterthought in this class.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-38-performance-tech-motorsports-oreca-flm09-james-french

#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Tom Kimber-Smith/Robert Alon/Jose Gutierrez

The #52 PR1/Mathiasen entry was one that recovered from adversity to eventually finish second, only four laps down on the class winner at the Rolex 24. The team have a knack of attaining victories in the key long distance races and this team actually won the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup last year. This is a mini-series made up of the four longer distance races on the calendar.

Second gave the team a great points haul, especially as their primary rivals such as the #54 entry retired early on. The team will be hoping they can repeat their victory at this race last year, as this would put the team in a very good championship position after the early rounds of the WeatherTech series.  This PR1/Mathiasen entry has the perfect blend of youth and experience behind the wheel, so watch out for this car to fly with all three drivers at the wheel.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-52-pr1-mathiasen-motorsports-oreca-flm09-robert-alon-tom

#54 CORE Autosport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Colin Braun/Mark Wilkins/Jon Bennett

The Rolex 24 at Daytona was a disaster for this usually dominant CORE Autosport team. The class champions from the past few years suffered an early engine failure which put them out. Now have some ground to make up on their rivals in the championship also, something they will look to do with a class victory this weekend.

The team and driver line up is the best in this PC class, and will be looking to reassert their dominance at the bumpy airfield of a Sebring circuit. The #54 will be one of if not the ultimate favourite for the PC class victory come Saturday night.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-54-core-autosport-oreca-flm09-jon-bennett-colin-braun-ma

#85 JDC/Miller Motorsport Oreca FLMO9-Chevrolet: Misha Goikhberg/Stephen Simpson/Chris Miller/Kenton Koch

The Rolex 24 was an almost perfect race for the JDC/Miller Motorsport race as they claimed the class victory by four laps over the #52 PR1 entry. Whilst the team had some scrapes in the race, they were the most reliable car which gave them the victory.

This team is another of the smaller outfits in the class, and their class win was a great story in Daytona, but can they do it again this weekend? All four drivers demonstrated their talents in Daytona, especially Stephen Simpson, so can they reproduce this at another sportscar classic run in Florida. This team showed on pace they can match anyone else in this class, so can they topple the bigger teams once again? It’s difficult to see but after Daytona anything is possible for this JDC/Miller team.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-85-jdc-miller-motorsports-oreca-flm09-chris-miller-mikha

#88 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Sean Johnston/Michael Lyons/Maro Engel 

The second of the Starworks entries is another high quality addition to this class for this years Sebring 12 Hours. The team are locally based in Florida therefore will feel confident going into this race. Whilst this car was out early on in Daytona, they will be another team hoping to bounce right back with a great result at Sebring.

The driver line up is yet another very strong one, and the team will have more than enough talent to grab the class victory, although a class podium and a good haul of points of the championship would also be a success for this team. This #88 car is a strong contender for class honours this weekend.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-88-starworks-motorsport-oreca-flm09-mark-kvamme-sean-joh

That wraps up my look at the seven car Prototype Challenge Class for this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours, soon I will be posting my preview of the ultra competitive GTLM class. I would like to say a huge thank you once again to IMSA.com and Motorsport.com for their information and high quality pictures that grace this article. I would also like to say a final thank you for reading this and any comments below would be greatly appreciated. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

2016 Rolex 24 Prototype Challenge Race Preview

The Prototype Challenge class has been a mainstay of first the previous American Le Mans Series and now the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship since 2010. The series will introduce some subtle tweaks for this year, although the full impact of these will not come in to play until the Sebring 12 Hours in a few months time.

This years Rolex 24 will see eight identical Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet cars take to the grid, with their class battle always providing intrigue with such evenly matched teams and cars. This class is a good introduction to American prototype racing, and it’s down to the drivers and teams to find the advantage they need to secure victory.

For the past few years it has been the CORE Autosport team which have effectively dominated this class, although as they showed in last years Rolex 24, anything can happen in this race and these cars seem to struggle with the demanding nature of the Daytona International Speedway.

#8 Starworks Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Jack Hawksworth/Renger Van Der Zande/Alex Popow/Chris Cumming

The Florida based Starworks motorsport have decided to fully focus on their Prototype Challenge campaign this year after some successful years running Daytona Prototypes. They are running two entries in this class and have assembled driver line up’s that can both easily win this class.

In this #8 entry the team have partnered full season line up Renger Van Der Zande and Alex Popow with Jack Hawksworth and Chris Cumming for the Rolex 24. Van Der Zande is one of the quickest drivers in this class and has been for the past few seasons, whilst Popow is also a very quick driver who has been loyal to the Starworks team for a long time now.

Hawksworth is a very talented British racer who is taking time out of his preparation for the upcoming Indycar season with this drive for Starworks. Finally Cumming joins the team as an experienced and very good amateur racer who is preparing to make the jump from the WeatherTech series to join the Tequila Patron ESM team for the full World Endurance Championship season.

With the talent behind the wheel and this team’s long history with both the series and this race, this entry will likely go into the race as one of the main contenders and favourites for victory.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-8-starworks-motorsports-oreca-flm09-jack-hawskworth-chri

#20 BAR1 Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Johnny Mowlem/Marc Drumwright/Tomy Drissi

The BAR1 Motorsport team are the other two car entry in this class this year, and will be hoping to show their pace from last year was not a fluke. The team secured the class pole last year, and ran strongly to a second place overall before being disqualified for one of their amateur drivers not meeting the minimum driving time.

This error cost the team in a huge manner and will not be something they will likely repeat this year. From last years driver line up the experienced Brit Johnny Mowlem returns to the team along with Tomy Drissi, who rejoins the driver line up for this car after a good race last year.

Marc Drumwright is an experienced amateur racer who competed in the series last year so will provide some experience for this team. Whilst the Mercedes DTM driver Lucas Auer produced the car’s best time at the pre-race test, during race week it will likely be either Mowlem or Drissi that are setting this car’s fastest times.

This BAR1 team showed last year they can compete in this closely fought class, and this year will be hoping they can turn their good work into a strong result to start off their season. A repeat of last year’s no-score will put them on the back foot for the championship from the get go, along with continuing their bad luck at one of the premier races in the season. A class podium will be a good result and a class win an outstanding one for this ambitious young team.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-20-bar1-motorsports-oreca-flm09-johnny-mowlem-brian-adle

#26 BAR1 Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Adam Merzon/Ryan Eversley/Don Yount/John Falb/Ryan Lewis

The second of the BAR1 entries is this #26 car, which much like the sister #20 entry has a great chance for a good result for this team. Adam Merzon is a good solid driver the only drawback for him is his lack of track time in recent year. He has plenty of both prototype and GT racing experience although his last full season in a top line series such as this was over ten years ago.

Ryan Eversley is a well known name in American sportscar racing, and joins the BAR1 team after spending 2015 in the supporting Pirelli World Challenge series as an Acura factory driver. Eversley has plenty of experience in this race and will be hoping he can lead this team to at least a class podium come the final hour of the race.

Don Yount is a racer who is making the step up to the Prototype Challenge class on a more permanent basis after he dipped into the class at the tail end of last year. Yount is a solid racer who has progressed from Radical’s through the supporting Cooper Tires Prototype Lights category, placing second in the Masters class in 2014. Although his relative lack of experience in this class will hamper him, he is a good enough driver to still run competitive times in this car throughout his stints behind the wheel.

Ryan Lewis is a good driver who has plenty of experience at this level, combined with an impressive junior racing record from series such as British Formula Three in the past. He will likely provide some good solid stints behind the wheel, which will be what this car needs if it is to achieve a good result come the end.

Completing the line up is John Falb, who much like Yount has progressed through junior categories to reach the Rolex 24 in this #26 entry. Falb was the Radical Cup USA champion in 2014 and in his rookie year of the Cooper Tires Prototype Lights class he finished a very respectable 4th overall. Although this will be a step up for Falb, his record shows he is a very good amateur driver who has the potential to become one of the best in this class.

This entry may struggle to match the ultimate pace that it’s sister entry may have for the entire 24 hours, although by no means count this entry out for a class podium as a clean run for them will put them in the hunt. Whilst the #20 car may get a lot of pre-race attention, the #26 team can spring a surprise in this race and with the attrition that usually engulfs this class anything is possible for this team.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-26-bar1-motorsports-oreca-flm09-adam-merzon-ryan-eversle

#38 Performance Tech Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: James French/Jim Norman/Josh Norman/Brandon Gdovic 

The Performance Tech team return for yet another season in the Prototype Challenge class this year. The Florida based team have been running in the class almost since it’s inception, and this experience will prove to be a great help for the team during the race.

James French returns to the team after doing the full season for the team last year, and will provide some experience and pace to this entry. Joining French is the father-son duo Jim and Josh Norman. Jim is an experienced racer and doctor, and can count a class win in the GX class of the 2013 Rolex 24. He has extensive experience in GT racing and is now stepping up to the prototype ranks.

His son Josh joins him in the car after they shared a car in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo USA category last year. Norman is combing his racing with his biology studies at the University of Florida, but his inexperience at this level may hinder the team slightly in the race, although likely not by much.

Completing the line up is Brandon Gdovic, who is a young racer with good potential. Gdovic exceeded expectations in 2015 and became the Lamborghini Gallardo world champion at the Italian marque’s end of year finals race meeting. Gdovic has also shown promise in the Nascar Xfinity series, and this adaptability will help him get up to speed with the ORECA prototype. Although this is his first foray into the prototype ranks, he could end up impressing the class paddock with his performance.

Although this team will likely not be considered amongst the absolute elite of this class, should anything unforeseen happen to these contenders this #38 entry will be right there to pick up the pieces and claim a good result to start their season. Watch out for this team as an outside contender to spring a surprise.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-38-performance-tech-motorsports-oreca-flm09-james-french

#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Robert Alon/Tom Kimber-Smith/Jose Gutierrez/Nicholas Boulle

The reigning class winners at this race return eager for more success in 2016. Whilst this team benefited from the misfortune of the CORE Autosport last year, the team will want to show they can win this race again in a straight fight.

Leading the line up once again is the expat Brit Tom Kimber-Smith, whose vast experience and pace will likely be the driving force for this team in the race. Partnering Kimber-Smith will be Robert Alon, Jose Gutierrez and Nicholas Boulle. Alon is another driver stepping up from the feeder IMSA Prototype Lights series, with a string of podiums showing his talent despite only having raced cars for two years. If he can get up to speed with both the car and the circuit quickly he could prove a revelation for the team.

Jose Gutierrez is a young up and coming Mexican racer who has shown promise in the Pro Mazda junior category for the past two years. This year see’s him switch from single seaters to sportscars with a Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup campaign with this #52 entry. His pace will be known but will he be able to keep his nose clean and produce consistently quick stints in the race? If he can do this watch out for him.

Completing the line up is Nicholas Boulle, an accomplished racer who is a good amateur driver. His racing commitments fit around his business and his cycling, of which he is a Texas criterium champion. Although Boulle hasn’t got a lot of experience at this level, he may be able to post competitive times if he is able to fully get comfortable with the powerful ORECA racer.

This team as defending class winners is one of several contenders for victory, although the driver line up is lacking something from last year and this may hurt the team over the course of the race. If their young line up can prove itself they have a great chance at back to back victories in this class.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-52-pr1-mathiasen-motorsports-oreca-flm09-robert-alon-tom

#54 CORE Autosport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/Mark Wilkins/Martin Plowman

The CORE Autosport team have dominated this class for the past several years, and will be hoping they can put last year’s accident in the final hours behind them to claim another class victory in this race.

The class benchmarks have returned even stronger in 2016, with the addition of very quick Indycar racer Martin Plowman to their regular line up. Team principal Jon Bennett is a very quick and experienced amateur, and is supported by the charger Colin Braun, who has shown himself as one of the best drivers in this class for the past few years.

Mark Wilkins completes the line up and knows exactly what to do to keep the car competitive and trouble free. This team has the perfect blend of young pace in Braun and Plowman, and experience with Bennett and Wilkins.

For this professional team anything less than a victory will be considered a relative failure, although a class podium and a decent haul of points for their championship campaign would be a welcome consolation.This team has become the benchmark in this class that has set them apart from the rest. Expect to see this team running at the front of the class for the majority of the 24 hours.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-54-core-autosport-oreca-flm09-jon-bennett-colin-braun-ma

#85 JDC/Miller Motorsports ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Mikhail Goikhberg/Chris Miller/Stephen Simpson/Kenton Koch

The JDC/Miller motorsport team are another mainstay of this class, although they have struggled to find success in the past few years. With the high quality of this class that is no huge bad reflection on the team, it simply reflects the quality of the class.

Stephen Simpson will be the ace professional driver in this entry, and his pace will likely lead the team throughout the race. Mikhail Goikhberg will be another hotshoe in this car, as he has experience in this class now after stepping up to the category last year on the back of his championship year in the IMSA Prototype Lights class in 2014.

Completing the line up are the young driver Kenton Koch and American Chris Miller. Koch replaced Goikhberg as the IMSA Prototype Lights champion and now follows him into this class as his team mate. Miller is an experienced racer who will help this team secure a good result.

For this team their race result will likely be factored on how Goikhberg and Koch perform in their stints. If they can run consistently quick times whilst managing to keep something in reserve this team has a chance of a class podium come the end of the 24 hours, although a lot depends on the reliability of the car and the team’s ability to stay out of trouble.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-85-jdc-miller-motorsports-oreca-flm09-chris-miller-mikha

#88 Starworks Motorsport ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet: Sean Johnston/Mark Kvamme/Maro Engel/Felix Rosenqvist

The second Starworks entry is another that is one of the pre-race contenders for victory, thanks to the team and the high quality driver line up they have assembled for this #88 car.

After being drafted into the line up late on, it was Swede Felix Rosenqvist who produced the fastest time for this car in the pre-race test. This will be an ominous sign for the rest of the field, as his pace may set this car apart from the rest except from possibly the #54 entry. Could a good performance here create some sportscar opportunities for the reigning FIA European F3 champion?

Equally talented is the German Mercedes GT ace Maro Engel, who adds to the quality of this line up. Engel has years of sportscar experience and will likely use his single seater experience to help adjust to the Oreca chassis.

Completing the line up are young American Sean Johnston and the experienced Mark Kvamme. Johnston is one of many racers who started through the Nissan GT academy, and has developed into an accomplished GT racer. He should be a dark horse in this car and may well end up surprising a lot of people with his performance. Completing the line up is Kvamme, who has raced for fun in several GT series over the past few years. He has raced at this level before and will likely only need to adjust to the car rather than learn the circuit.

For this team they have a great chance to claim class victory, although they will likely need to be at their best to beat the CORE Autosport team. Both Starworks entries are contenders and could spring a surprise in the race.

imsa-daytona-january-testing-2016-88-starworks-motorsport-oreca-flm09-mark-kvamme-sean-joh

In this class there are several pre-race favourites, although theoretically three quarters of this class could claim the victory if they have a clean race. Of the top contenders the class victory is most likely to be fought out between the #54 CORE Autosport entry and the two Starworks entries. The #52 PR1 entry is another who will be right up there throughout the race, although if I was a betting person it would be hard to bet against the #54 entry. But the great thing about sportscar and 24 hour racing is that anything can happen.

Finally I have to give credit to Motorsport.com for their amazing high quality pictures which are featured in this article. Please go and visit their website Motorsport.com for all the latest news and pictures from around the motorsport world. I hope you enjoyed the article and I would love to hear your thoughts on both the article and the upcoming race. Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 Sebring 12 Hours Prototype Challenge Preview

Next up in my series previewing next weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours is the Prototype Challenge class. Whilst the class consists of spec Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet cars, the class provides great racing with the spec Oreca meaning the teams and drivers are very closely matched. Let’s take a look at the runners and riders for next weekend’s Sebring 12 Hour enduro.

#8 Martini Starworks Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Renger Van Der Zande/Mike Hedlund/Mirco Schultis

The Starworks motorsport teams Prototype Challenge class entry virtually mirrored their Daytona Prototype entry in that both cars showed impressive pace when running cleanly, although a series of issues hampered the team and ultimately led to the retirement of both cars. In the case of this #8 PC entry an alternator faliure forced the team out during the night.

For this weekend’s next round at Sebring the team will be hoping for a more comfortable run for the #8 entry as they look to recover from their first round retirement during the gruelling 12 Hours of Sebring. The team has retained the majority of it’s stellar driving line up from the Rolex 24 with the very fast Dutch driver Renger Van Der Zande leading the line up alongside the added pace from Mike Hedland, with the trio being completed by the very experienced German Mirco Schultis.

If this teams #8 Martini entry can remain reliable throughout the 12 Hours and avoid an on track drama’s, expect this team to be right at the front of the highly competitive Prototype Challenge class with Van Der Zande leading the charge for class honors.

#11 AutoMaxUSA RSR Racing Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Bruno Junqueira/Chris Cumming/Gustavo Menezes/TBA

The #11 RSR Racing entry was another Prototype Challenge car to face difficulty in the opening Rolex 24, the team forced to retire on the Sunday with an engine faliure. The team will therefore be hoping for much better this weekend at Sebring, although the 12 Hour race on the airfield circuit is another stern test for the Tudor United Sportscar Championship grid.

The RSR Racing has a wealth of American sportscar racing experience to count on, something even more important in a class where the car and engine package are the same for everyone, as is with the Prototype Challenge grid. On the driving front the team has former F3000 champion and Champ Car title contender Bruno Junqueira, a stunning signing for the RSR team.

Partnering him will be the young American driver Gustavo Menezes. He is climbing the single seater ladder in Europe and will be another fast driver for this team. The final piece of their line up is the amateur driver Chris Cumming, another fast Canadian who is a former PC class champion in the old American Le Mans Series. With the experience of the RSR Racing team and the very fast driver line up they have the team will be certain to challenge for class victory if they can have a clean run during the 12 Hours.

#16 Spongebob Movie BAR1 Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Johnny Mowlem/Martin Plowman/Tom Papadopoulos

The BAR1 Motorsport team were another team to show their pace during the Rolex 24, and will be hoping to continue this good start to the season this weekend at Sebring. Whilst things went well for the team on the track at Daytona, unfortunately the team were disqualified after the race for a drive time violation. Whilst this is rightly a huge blow for the promising young team, they can at least take solace from their strong run to pole position and a close second in class.

The team will be hoping to show similar pace this weekend, whilst keeping in line with the rules so they can keep their finishing position points. The team’s line up of very fast British drivers Johnny Mowlem and Martin Plowman are joined by the amateur driver Tom Papadopoulos, who is a good addition for the team. This line up is one of the best in the class and the team will be disappointed if they have a clean run during the 12 Hours and don’t come away with at least a podium place. Watch out for this team this weekend.

#38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Jerome Mee/James French/Conor Daly

The Performance Tech Motorsport team suffered a difficult Rolex 24 at Daytona, an accident eliminating them early on in the race. The team will therefore be looking for a smoother run in this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours, although this race is another punishing event for everyone on the grid. The team will hope for a clean run throughout the race, something which should land the team a respectable result if they can achieve this.

On the driving front the team has the relatively experience James French to lead the line up alongside Jerome Mee, someone stepping up to the Prototype Challenge class of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship after competing for the last few years in the feeder IMSA Prototype Lights category. The team created a stir amongst the TUSC grid by announcing this week that the very fast young American Conor Daly will complete their line up for this weekend. Daly is inexperienced with sportscar racing although should impress at his first attempt. With this line up the team can definitely challenge for a class podium.

#52 Cuttwood PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Tom Kimber-Smith/Mike Guasch/Andrew Palmer

For the PR1/Mathiasen team started the year in the perfect manner with class victory in the opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, a result the team will hope to repeat at this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours. The team got lucky in some cases during the race at Daytona, a key ingredient to all long distance sportscar victories. Whilst every team hopes before the start of a faultless run during the race, for this team this applies even more as they know if they can stay reliable they will be fighting to class victory come the end of the 12 Hours.

The team have retained their Daytona driver line up, with the very experienced and fast Brit Tom Kimber-Smith now partnering team mate Mike Guasch full time after Andrew Novich stepped down from the team after Daytona to focus on his college studies. Guasch is a very experienced a solid amateur driver to anchor the line up and will provide consistent stints whilst staying out of trouble, vital to any sportscar victory. Completing the teams line up is the fast young American Andrew Palmer, who steps up to the PC class of the Tudor series for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races. Palmer impressed in the competitive Pirelli World Challenge series last year,finishing 5th overall, and will look to continue his upward career momentum with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport. Coming off a Rolex 24 class victory, this team goes into Sebring as one of the favourites for class honours.

#54 FlexBox CORE Autosport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/James Gue

This CORE Autosport team have quickly established themselves as the leading team in the competitive Prototype Challenge class, as they dominated last year to taking the class title with numerous wins including at the Rolex 24. The team looked set for another class victory at Daytona this year, until a late accident in the final hour forced the team to settle for second in class. This team is used to winning in PC and will look to return to winning ways this weekend at Sebring. The team is highly professional and will surely go into the race as the favourite for PC class honours come the end of the 12 Hours.

The team’s driver line up looks solid on paper, although this underestimates the speed of Colin Braun or the steady and reliable team owner Jon Bennett and James Gue. Both can provide stints with a high average speed across their stint, whilst also remaining consistent and keeping out of any on track trouble that is inevitable with grids of over 40 cars. This team will go into the race as favourites for PC class honours and will surely be disappointed with anything but a class win.

#85 La Moderna JDC/Miller Motorsport Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet: Mikhail Goikhberg/Chris Miller/Rusty Mitchell/Gerry Kraut

The JDC/Miller Motorsport team will go into Sebring this weekend hoping to build on their class podium in Januaries Rolex 24 at Daytona. The team will have been happy to complete the podium in third although this was tinged slightly with the news that it only came about because of the exclusion of the #16 BAR1 Motorsport car.

The team have lost some of their star name drivers from the Rolex 24, although the line up they have retained is a very respectable one and can compete for competitive class honours in the race if they can avoid any major dramas. Mikhail Goikhberg has stepped up to the Tudor United Sportscar Championship this year after winning the feeder IMSA Prototype Lights series last year. This shows his pace and he will likely lead the teams line up throughout the race. Rusty Mitchell is another fast driver from this line up, and with plenty of sportscar racing experience he will help the team massively during the race. Chris Miller and Gerry Kraut will both be a safe pair of hands during the race and will hopefully keep the team out of trouble so that Mitchell and Goikhberg can push the team towards a top placing. If this team can stay out of trouble, they could very well spring a surprise come the end of the race. Watch out for this JDC/Miler entry and discount them at your peril.

That concludes my preview of the Prototype Challenge class ahead of this weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours. If I had to chose one car to put money on it would be the #54 CORE Autosport entry, although the likes of the #16 BAR1 Motorsport, #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport and #85 JDC/Miller Motorsport cars will all be fighting at the front for class victory. As with every class in the highly competitive Tudor United Sportscar Championship, it’s impossible to predict a clear favourite for victory, which only means the action on track will be even more exciting come Saturday. A final comment I have to make is a huge thank you to Motorsport.com for their amazing high quality images in this preview. Please go and visit their website http://www.Motorsport.com for the latest news and photos from across the motorsport world. Also feel free to comment any will be appreciated both good and bad. Enjoy!