Davide Rigon

2020 Rolex 24 GTLM Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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