Daytona speedway

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.

 

 

Starworks Motorsport Preview

The build up to the Rolex 24 at Daytona is always a stressful time for both the teams and the drivers competing. The opening round of the revamped WeatherTech Sportscar Championship always brings questions for the longest race of the year, and this year will be no different.

With this in mind, the Florida based Starworks Motorsport team were kind enough to give me an insight into their thoughts and preparations for the race. The team have two entries in the Prototype Challenge class and have a good chance of winning the class this year. They let me ask their drivers Renger Van Der Zande of the #8 car and newcomer Felix Rosenqvist of the #88 about their preparations for this race and their future plans. Here are there responses, starting with Van Der Zande first.

Q1)First of all, how have your and the team’s preparations for this race been going so far?

Its better than the other two years before. I am at the track now and the car is ready, the plan is sorted and we can start thinking about the details already now. It’s good.

Q2)What do you think are your chances of claiming the class victory going into the race?

The line up on our car is great–actually the best in the field. Jack and I have both been very fast in this class compared to the other pro’s and for the silver rated drivers Alex and Chris are literally the fastest guys. This gives confidence but we still need quite a bit of luck too, as a 24h race is very very long.

Q3)Now, you’ve made the American sportscar racing scene your home for the last few years, how was the transition from the European single seater/racing scene to the American sportscar scene and are their any similarities/differences between them?

Endurance racing is much different than formula cars. Here we can damage the car and start repairing and get out again. As the races are long you can still grab valuable points or good end results. There is a lot of strategy to think about. I like that part a lot more over sprint racing where the short races can be over because of very small details.

Q4)Your signed up for the full WeatherTech Sportscar season, but who do you think are your closest rivals for the class championship?

Core is always fast and their car is always reliable. Speed-wise we are on top, and we now have to raise the reliability to win the championship.

Q5)Your going to be competing in the Dubai 24 Hours, Rolex 24 hours and Bathurst 12 Hours within the same month, what are the challenges of competing in three very tough races within the space of a month?

It’s just an awesome preparation for the rest of the season. And very nice to kill the cold wintertime is Florida, the emirates and Oz.

imsa-daytona-24-2016-8-starworks-motorsports-oreca-flm09-jack-hawskworth-chris-cumming-renThe #8 Starworks Motorsport entry of Renger Van Der Zande in action during practice. 

And here are Rosenqvist’s responses also.

Q1)How have both your and the team’s preparations been going for the race this weekend?

It’s all quite busy and you have to use every minute you can to jump in the car and get comfortable with all the buttons and tools etc. I think you’re always abit nervous going into something new like this, but I’m sure once you get your first stint out of the way it will be much more clear!

Q2)Now, how has your transition been coming from European F3 to the Prototype challenge class, especially learning the Daytona circuit also?

It’s a very different car, but I think I benefit from having formula experience since the car has a fair bit of downforce. In the end it’s just another car with 4 wheels, and you get used to it after you get some laps in.

imsa-daytona-24-2016-88-starworks-motorsport-oreca-flm09-mark-kvamme-sean-johnston-maro-enThe Florida’s team second entry is Prototype Challenge is this #88 car. Both have a good chance of class victory come Sunday afternoon.

Q3)With your next career move unclear at this present time, would a move into sportscar racing be something that is appealing to you?

It’s for sure something I’m looking at. There are many good options out there, I just have to sort of find out what would be the best move for me!

Q4)What do you think your car’s chances are of claiming a good result this weekend?

I think we have a very good shot at the win and it’s just all about keeping cool until the last hour, if you can be on the lead lap then with an undamaged car – there you go!

Q5)At the moment, is this a one-off race for you or could we see you returning to the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship later in the season?

There’s definitely a possibility. The Petit Le Mans has always been one race I wanted to get off the list.

Both drivers appear to be quietly confident going into the race, but are also respectful of this long distance race where anything can happen. We will have to see this weekend if the Rolex 24 hours is going to be cruel or kind to the two drivers and their respective cars.

I would like to thank everyone at Starworks Motorsport for their co-operation and their drivers Renger Van Der Zande and Felix Rosenqvist for taking the time to answer these questions. Finally I would like to thank first of all Kelly Brouillet at KBru Communications for her help in setting up these interviews and to motorsport.com for the high quality photos you see in this article.

What are your thoughts on the chances for the Starworks Motorsport team going into the 2016 edition of the Rolex 24 hours? Please feel free to comment below and thank you for reading.

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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is always the traditional starting point for the international motorsport season. The grueling 24 hour sprint has been noted to be a bigger challenge than the Le Mans 24 hours, and is this year is the curtain raiser for the renamed WeatherTech Sportscar Championship. This year also is the first of the newly GT3 spec GTD class, along with the high profile debut for the Ford GT programme in the GTLM class.

All four classes are very hotly contested, and based on the times from the recent pre-race Roar before the 24 test, this race to set to be a thrilling encounter across all classes for the entirety of the 24 hours. The opening race preview looks at the contenders in the top Prototype class.

#0 DeltaWing Racing DeltaWing DWC13 Elan: Sean Rayhall/Katherine Legge/Andreas Wirth/Andy Meyrick

After being the subject of much speculation this winter, the unique DeltaWing returns for another full season in the Prototype class. After a up and down year in 2015 the team returns with Sean Rayhall now replacing Andy Meyrick as the full season partner for the returning Katherine Legge.

For the longer North American Endurance Cup events Meyrick returns, with the line up completed for Daytona by the German Andreas Wirth. With both Legge and Meyrick they will bring consistently quick times and experience with this unique car.

Wirth is an established name and has shown his pace in his domestic ADAC GT Masters series. The only question mark surrounding him will be the length of time it will take him to adapt to both Prototypes and the DeltaWing.

Sean Rayhall has shown his pace both in this series and Indy Lights in the past few years, and is now being rewarded with a full time step up to the Prototype class. He will likely be the teams young charger in the race, and despite the late announcement of this programme he will likely be up to speed with the car by the time of the race.

Reliability has always been a crucial factor in endurance racing, and this entry will be looking to improve on their retirement last year after only 90 minutes thanks to transmission problems. The car showed impressive pace in the recent Roar before the 24, and if they can finally match reliability with the car’s pace this car could be in the hunt for a podium come the final hours of the race.

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#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier JS P2-Honda: Scott Sharp/Ed Brown/Johannes Van Overbeek/Pipo Derani

The Extreme Speed Motorsport team are using these early season WeatherTech Sportscar Championship as a precursor for their 2016 World Endurance Championship campaign. They return to the Rolex 24 with a tweaked driver line up this year. Team sponsor Tequila Patron CEO Ed Brown is the team’s amateur driver, and long term team mates Scott Sharp and Johannes Van Overbeek returning. Both are very experienced and quick prototype racers, and are well bedded into the team helping amateur driver Ed Brown.  For this season the team have been joined by the very quick young Brazilian Pipo Derani.

He made the transition to sportscars last year, and has joined the ESM team after they switched to Ligier chassis for this year. In his debut at Daytona Derani posted the fastest time in the pre-race roar before the 24 test. His 1m39.249 time is a big statement of intent from him and the ESM team that they are looking to win this Rolex 24 race.

The Ligier JS P2 has fast become one of the premier LMP2 chassis, and as such with a hugely competitive field such as the Prototype the deciding factor will be down to unreliability and the ability to stay out of any drama’s and accidents over the first 20 hours. From there any subtle differences in car set up could be the deciding factor between victory and a place outside the top three.

Whilst the ESM team will be primarily focusing on the WEC this year, the freedom of not racing for a championship can allow them to take some chances in this race that some of the other championship contenders may not wish to do. This is a strong team  with a high quality driver line up. Whilst predicting the favorites is an impossible task across all four classes, this entry is one of many who can challenge for victory come the end of the 24 hour sprint that this race undoubtedly will be.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque/Scott Pruett

The Action Express team return in 2016 with a largely similar line up that has yielded two championship years in 2014 and 2015. The team have established themselves as the team to beat in American sportscar racing, and have only grown stronger this year.

The full season line up of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi remains, and for this Rolex 24 they have signed two very quick drivers. Audi Sport driver Filipe Albuquerque joins the team and is a good addition, as any Audi sport prototype driver will be both very quick and consistent throughout the race. The headline signing for this team was American sportscar racing legend Scott Pruett.

The very experienced Pruett is a legend of this race and jointly holds the record for most victories with five. At age 55 he is still a very fast and experienced racer, and his decades of knowledge of this race will be invaluable to the Action Express team. The team has a habit of always being in the running for victory late on, and will hope they this year they can avenge their defeat by  the tiny margin of 1.3 seconds and repeat their 2014 victory.

This team has all the tools and capability to win this race, only misfortune or unreliability will see them out of contention in the final hours.

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#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP: Ricky Taylor/Jordan Taylor/Max Angelelli

The Wayne Taylor racing team return for yet another crack at the Rolex 24, after near misses in the last few years. The team is unchanged last year with South African team boss Taylor retaining the dynamic partnership of his long time team mate “Max the Ax” Angelelli and his two sons Ricky and Jordan Taylor.

This partnership has been unlucky multiple times and arguably should have a Rolex 24 victory of their CV if luck had gone their way. The team is one of the most competitive in the new WeatherTech Sportscar series, and much like Action Express can be counted on to be at the front in the final hours barring any misfortune.

The Corvette Daytona Prototype is a proven package that is both reliable and fast, and with former winner Wayne Taylor running the team they have every chance of securing a very popular and long overdue victory in this Rolex 24 event at Daytona.

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#31 Whelen Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Eric Curran/Dane Cameron/Simon Pagenaud/Jonny Adam

The second Action Express entry is yet another contender for victory, with a very good driver line up and one of the best teams in the class. Full season drivers Eric Curran and Dane Cameron return after a breakthrough 2015 season. The duo combined for two wins and finished the year in third, only five points behind their team mates in the championship battle.

Whilst this entry hasn’t had the attention it’s sister entry has, the #31 crew appear to be stepping out of the shadow of the #5 entry and will want another championship run this year. The best way to do this is to start the season well and the team have secured a very good lineup to help with this.

Alongside  quick amateur Curran and Cameron are Penske Indycar racer Simon Pagenaud and the Sunoco Whelen Challenge victor Jonny Adam. Pagenaud is a very quick sportscar driver and will provide both blistering pace and experience for this car, whilst Adam is a very quick British GT driver who will look to show his talents in the step up to prototype machinery.

With the Action Express crew running the car this car has every chance of victory come Sunday afternoon, although it will face very tough competition if this car wants to secure victory, the perfect car set up will be one of the key’s to victory. Do not overlook this car as it’s a contender.

#37 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan: Maurizio Mediani/Nicolas Minassian/Mikhail Aleshin/Kirill Ladygin

The Russian SMP Racing team make their debut at the Rolex 24 this year, with their newly designed BRO1 car now looking to be a fully reliable and quick car after it’s introduction halfway through last season.

The team are novices at Daytona and will therefore have a lot to learn during the race week, although with the LMP2 entries having an apparent slight edge on the Daytona Prototypes based on the pre-race roar before the 24, this team could be an outside shout for a podium if it can have a relatively clean run in the race.

On the driving front the team has a very good line up consisting of their usual WEC roster. Ferrari backed driver Maurizio Mediani is a quick driver, with Nicolas Minassian and Mikhail Aleshin they have two very quick racers who will likely post the fastest times for this car. Completing the line up is the Russian amateur Kirill Ladygin, although he surprised everyone by posting the car’s fastest time in the pre-race test.

This entry has plenty of potential to spring a surprise in the race, although the lack of experience from both the team and driver line up in this race will surely count against them as the race progresses. If the team can have a good run a podium is on the cards, but it will all depend on staying out of trouble and how their amateur rated drivers does.

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#50 Highway to Help Riley-BMW DP: Jim Pace/Bryon DeFoor,David Hinton/Dorsey Schroeder/Thomas Gruber

The #50 entry returns for an expanded 2016 calendar comprising the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events. This is typically a Daytona only entry, with the charitable cause benefiting is typically the primary goal for this team.

This year they have the highly professional Starworks Motorsport providing technical assistance to the team, although with a car that is now several years old and a largely amateur driver line up a good result for this team will be very tough to achieve.

For this team however, attaining a good result is simply an added bonus and instead will simply enjoy driving in the race. The line up will be led once again by Fox Sports TV commentator and long term racer Dorsey Schroeder. Racing is now a hobby for the experienced American, although expect him to still be driving quickly and leading this entry in the race.

Of the rest Jim Pace is one to look out for, as the experienced racer is a former winner of this race back in 1996 and can still turn fast times at this track despite his age. Bryan DeFoor, David Hinton and Thomas Gruber will be a solid pair of hands for this car, although don’t expect them to be setting the pace of the leaders in their stints. For this team finishing the race will be an achievement, with a top ten in class an added bonus for this team.

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#55 SpeedSource Mazda-AER Prototype: Jonathan Bomarito/Tristan Nunez/Spencer Pigot

The SpeedSource factory supported Mazda team return in 2016 with a petrol powered AER entries, after suffering with constant reliability issues with their previous Skyactiv diesel technology.

The team appear to be back in contention based on their times at the pre-race roar before the 24, although testing times are hard to gauge as the real representative times won’t be set until qualifying.

The team is experienced now in the series, and has a very good young driver line up in this #55 entry. Jonathan Bomarito provides years of sportscar experience a long with quick times in a car he is very comfortable with. His full season partner will be the young Tristan Nunez and he is a very quick up and coming sportscar driver. Whilst completing the line up the team completed a coup by signing Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot. He appeared to have adjusted well to sportscars and was setting quick times in the pre-race test, so his stints in the race will be well worth watching.

This team is somewhat of an unknown quantity going into the race thanks to it’s new petrol engine, therefore making a prediction on it’s form is very tough. If this team can remain trouble free with the new engine they will likely be in the hunt for a podium, although it’s not yet known if they have the last few tenths that will required to secure a podium placing in this race.

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#60 CURB Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2-Honda HPD: John Pew/Ozz Negri Jr/AJ Allmendinger/Olivier Pla

Michael Shank returns with his Ligier JS P2 for another crack at the race they won in 2012. The team were the first Daytona Prototype team to switch to the LMP2 spec Ligier, and with a year of running under their belts should come into this year’s race with a much better chance of victory.

The team have been working on the lack of torque and drive ability that they suffered with last year. This will be crucial especially for the experienced amateur rated driver John Pew, and could he could be the difference between victory and a podium place come the final hours of the race.

Full season partner Ozz Negri Jr returns once again as does Nascar race AJ Allmendinger, and this year are joined by on-loan factory Ford driver Olivier Pla. The very quick Frenchman spent last year with the Nissan LMP1 programme, and has extensive experience with the Ligier JS P2 prototype.

With a high quality driver line up like this and a quick car underneath them, only misfortune will likely stop this team fighting for victory. This entry is right up there with any other in the class for victory and don’t be surprised to see this car driving into victory lane immediately after the race.

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#70 SpeedSource Mazda-AER Prototype: Joel Miller/Tom Long/Ben Devlin

The second SpeedSource Mazda entry is this #70 car, which was also looking very quick in the pre-race test. The team’s issues appear to have been solved thanks to the new petrol powered AER 2.0 litre engine.

The SpeedSource team has plenty of experience and factory Mazda assistance so therefore will be strong with pit stops and strategy in the race. On the driving front the team has a good, solid line up that will be able to get them to the finish in a good position.

Ben Devlin will likely take on the role of the experienced driver thanks to almost 15 years of prototype experience across Europe and America. Tom Long has been associated with Mazda for most of his career and also brings plenty of experience to this entry. Completing the trio is Joel Miller, who has adapted well in the past few years since switching from single seaters to sportscar racing.

There will be almost nothing this team and driver line up will not have seen before with this race, and this experience could prove crucial in a race that will be likely decided by the smallest of margins. If the new AER engines can remain reliable this team has the chance of a overall podium, which would be a huge result for the SpeedSource team.

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#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP: Ryan Dalziel/Marc Goossens/Ryan Hunter-Reay 

The Spirit of Daytona squad came within a whisker of winning last years championship after leading it for most of the season, yet has decided to change their driver line up for 2016. Gone are the previous long term pairing of Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante, with Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens replacing them.

Both Dalziel and Goossens are very quick and experienced sportscar racers, with Dalziel winning the race in 2010 whereas Goossens brings over twenty years of racing experience. The new full season line up is joined for Daytona by former Indycar and Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter Reay. He will bring pace along with years of experience from competing in this race.

With a team that was arguably the best in the class last year, along with a driver line up containing this much experience and pace this entry is one of half dozen that are serious contenders for overall victory. For the local Spirit of Daytona team this would be a huge achievement and no one could begrudge this entry victory.

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#01 Claritin Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford DP: Alex Wurz/Andy Priaulx/Brendon Hartley/Lance Stroll

The fabled Chip Ganassi Racing team return for another season in the prototype class, despite also taking on the race debut for the works Ford GTLM programme this year also.The team once again brings two Riley-Ford’s to Daytona and will be looking to repeat their win from last year.

In recent years the Chip Ganassi team have dominated this race, winning three of the last six. This year the #01 has an all star driver line up of long term F1 and sportscar driver Alex Wurz, touring car and GT fast man Andy Priaulx, current WEC champion Brendon Hartley and up and coming F3 racer Lance Stroll.

This line up is likely the best in the class in my opinion, with Wurz and Priaulx providing years of experience along with plenty of pace to boot. It’s likely Hartley and Stroll will be the all out attack racers of this entry, although for Stroll he is still adjusting to the Riley Daytona Prototype. He suffered an accident in the pre-race test which hampered them, although his experience will only improve during race week.

With such an all star team and line up, only mechanical misfortune or a mistake from one of the drivers will likely stop this team. Amongst a potential half dozen serious contenders a lot of people would likely bet on this car if they were forced to. It will be interesting seeing how this car gets on throughout the race, don’t expect it to be far from the top of the timing screens all race.

#02 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford DP: Scott Dixon/Tony Kanaan/Kyle Larson/Jamie McMurray

The second Chip Ganassi racing entry comes into the race as defending champions from last year. Whilst the #01 has taken a lot of the pre-race press attention, do not ever discount this #02 entry as they are more than capable of repeating their victory from last year.

Team boss Chip Ganassi has smartly retained his mixed roster of Indycar and Nascar racers this year, after their big success last year. Indycar duo Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are both very quick along with experience. It was the uncanny fuel saving ability of Dixon last year that played a part in their close fought victory, with Nascar racers Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray swapping their stock cars for another crack at the Rolex 24.

The #02 slightly edged the #01 in the pre-race test, although choosing between the two will be very difficult to do until the early hours of the race have passed. Both entries have an equal chance of victory, and if any team will win this race it’s hard to look past the Chip Ganassi outfit. This entry in particular has a winning pedigree, one that it will want to continue this year.

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That concludes my preview of the prototype class for this year’s eagerly anticipated Rolex 24 hours at Daytona. As I’ve mentioned above there are half a dozen very serious contenders for victory, with a further half dozen likely to be in the hunt for victory if any of these teams slip up or suffer from misfortune in the race. Predicting a winner before the race is impossible, it will be thrilling to watch the race unfold and see who is in the right position to claim victory.

Coming up in the next few days will be my preview of the prototype challenge class, so stay tuned for that. I have to give huge credit to Motorsport.com for their incredibly high quality photos used in this preview and I encourage everyone to visit their website at Motorsport.com for all the latest news and high quality pictures from around the motorsport world. Finally I wanted to say thank you for making it this far and reading the article, I would greatly appreciate any feedback both positive or negative I want to hear your thoughts on this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 Sebring 12 Hours Prototype class Preview Part 1

After a thrilling opening Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona at the end of January, next weekend see’s the next round of the 2015 Tudor United Sportscar Championship, the Sebring 12 Hours. This iconic race will be just as tough as the Rolex 24 despite being only half the distance, such is the bumpy nature of this airfield circuit. Sebring is renowned worldwide as a severe test of sportscars, which means that combined with the unpredictable nature of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship, a brilliantly thrilling 12 Hours of racing is almost guaranteed next Saturday.

In the first of my previews of every class racing at Sebring, this first article focuses on the first half of the prototype class which will be fighting to victory for 12 hours straight. Here’s a look at the contenders. Part 2 will be posted shortly.

#0 Claro/ TracFone Delta Wing Racing DeltaWing DWC13-Elan: Memo Rojas/Katherine Legge/Andy Meyrick

The DeltaWing team will be hoping to bounce back from a very disappointing Rolex 24 at Daytona, where gearbox issues hampered the team throughout the weekend and led to an early retirement in the opening hours of the race. A source of comfort for the team will be their competitiveness this year, which is carrying over from the progress they made towards the end of last season.

The car is now genuinely competitive, and if the team can run without major problems during the race expect the unconventional DeltaWing to be challenging for at least the podium. This will be a big ask however for everyone given the brutal nature of the bumps on the former airfield circuit. On the driving front the team has improved their line up this year with the addition of four time Grand-Am champion Memo Rojas to partner the experienced and very quick English duo of Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge. With their driver line up and the competitiveness of this car a podium or even victory would not be a surprise for this team.

#1 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Honda HPD ARX 04B: Scott Sharp/Ryan Dalziel/David Heinemeier Hansson

The #1 Extreme Speed Motorsport is another car that suffered a difficult start to the season at the Rolex 24. The Extreme Speed team were not expecting a great start to the year as their new HPD ARX 04B car arrived late, leaving the team unprepared for the opening Rolex 24. Their difficult weekend started with the team missing the Prototype qualifying on Thursday afternoon with a bell housing issue forcing them to start from the back of the Prototype class.

During the race the car showed it’s tremendous potential with the car easily running in the top 10 throughout the race and into the night, before a gearbox problem forced the team to retire the car at 5am. The team can be heartened however with the pace they showed during the Rolex 24, alongside the large amount of miles they were able to run in Daytona.

The driver line up of the experienced Scott Sharp partnering the rapid Scot Ryan Dalziel is a very impressive one, even more with the addition this year of one of the fastest amateur drivers in the class with the Dane David Heinemeier Hansson. Watch out for this team to contend for the podium if their reliability problems from Daytona are behind them.

#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Honda HPD ARX 04B: Ed Brown/Johannes Van Overbeek/Jon Fogarty

The #2 Extreme Speed Motorsport suffered the worst luck of all the prototype teams at the Rolex 24 in January, with any prolonged running during the Sebring 12 Hours a bonus. The team made quick progress from a lowly starting position, in the opening stint Johannes Van Overbeek rocketed up from 12th to 6th. Going into his next sting Van Overbeek began reporting a drop in the oil pressure, something which forced the car into the garage. From here the team tried to fix the car, however they diagnosed a systems failure that caused a loss of power, forcing the team to retire the car after only 1 hour 45 minutes of the race gone.

Whilst the Rolex 24 was a very difficult race for the team, Sebring will surely be better for the well supported team as they will have a lot greater understanding of their new Honda HPD ARX O4B race car, although the team may still run into trouble with the new car given the reputation Sebring has as being a majorly tough circuit on sportscars.The driver line up is an experienced on with Tequila Patron CEO Ed Brown proving to be a fast amateur driver alongside similarly experienced pro’s Johannes Van Overbeek and Jon Fogarty. If the team can keep this car reliable throughout the 12 Hours, expect this entry to be competing for the top five at the very least.

#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing Corvette Daytona Prototype: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Sebastien Bourdais

The Action Express Racing team began the 2015 Tudor United Sportscar season in much the same vain in which they completed the 2014 campaign. The team dominated the debut season of the TUSC and once again was a contender for victory at Daytona. The team began the race slowly although they crucially stayed out of major trouble and used the cautions to get their laps back. By Sunday morning it became clear that the race was between the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing entry, the Action Express car and the #02 Chip Ganassi car. With the troubles late on for the #10 car the Action Express entry challenged the #02 car until the chequered flag, finishing a close second only 1.3 seconds behind the winner after 24 Hours of ridiculously close racing.

Going into the Sebring 12 Hours the team will surely go into the race as one of the favourites, based on their form from last year and the opening Rolex 24 Hours. The Sebring track will provide a challenge although the team has a year’s worth of experience with the car, and the team will be looking to win the race as last year this was one of the few major TUSC races the team failed to win.The team has retained it’s mightily impressive line up of professional’s with all three having the holy grail of experience combined with prodigious pace. Look for the team to be contending for victory at the end of the 12 Hours, with anything less a disappointment for this ambitious Action Express Racing team.

#7 Martini Starworks Motorsport Riley-BMW Daytona Prototype: Scott Mayer/Brendon Hartley/TBA

The Starworks Motorsport team will have been disappointed not to finish in the top five at the Rolex 24, with the team forced to retire their Daytona Prototype during the night after 14 hours with an engine failure. Before that the team had struggled through the opening hours with constant understeer issues, although the team was beginning to rectify the problem before the engine failure.

The team will therefore hoping for a much better Sebring 12 Hours, especially after falling behind their competitors who scored highly towards the championship at the Rolex 24. This team has been used to winning in the past few seasons during the Grand-Am era, although struggled in 2014 in the inaugural year of the TUSC. Team owner Peter Barron will be hoping 2015 is the year they return to their usual competitive form, although the team will not be able to call on it’s all star driver line up it had at Daytona.

The team has currently retained it’s quick amateur driver Scott Mayer alongside the ridiculously fast Porsche factory driver Brendon Hartley. At the current moment the team have not confirmed a third driver although it’s unlikely the team will be able to call on the services of the ultimate F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello and former Indycar champion and Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay again as they did at Daytona. Their other driver at Daytona is more likely to remain with the team for Sebring. Tor Graves would bring a wealth of experience and familiarity to the team if he’s given another shot in the Starworks team. Whilst this team won’t be seen as an ultimate favourite going into the Sebring 12 Hours, watch out for this team to spring a surprise in Florida next weekend.

#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette Chevrolet DP: Jordan Taylor/Ricky Taylor/Max Angelelli

The hard luck story of the Rolex 24 within the Prototype class has to be the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing entry, which came within a whisker of victory before a late drive time infringement ruined their chances of victory. The team was a serious contender for victory and led most of Sunday morning in Daytona, and the battle looked set to go to the flag between the #10 WTR entry and the #02 Chip Ganassi car. In the last hour the race fell apart from the team when victory seemed likely for this plucky Wayne Taylor team.

A maximum drive time violation from Jordan Taylor in the final hour forced the team to haul him out the car in the last thirty minutes to be replaced with his brother Ricky. The team made the move under Caution therefore had to serve a drive through penalty once racing resumed, although the team still completed the overall podium in 3rd. After the race IMSA officials reviewed the data and found that Jordan Taylor had already broken the rule, driving 19 minutes over the four hours maximum drive time in any six hour period.The team was subsequently disqualified and lost their points from the Rolex 24.

Based on this the team will be looking for an emphatic response next weekend as they will no doubt contend for victory at the Sebring 12 Hours. The Wayne Taylor Racing team are a highly professional team and know how to win major races in the Tudor series, something the team will want to prove next weekend. The driver line up of the two Taylor brothers and the vastly experienced Italian Max Angelelli is a very potent combination and arguably one of the best driver line up’s in the highly competitive prototype class. Wayne Taylor and his team have every chance of winning in Sebring as they look to recover ground in the championship to their competitors.

#31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Racing Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype: Eric Curran/Dane Cameron/Max Papis

The second of the Action Express Racing entries is the Whelen sponsored car, which had a herculiuan recovery drive during the Rolex 24 with the team finally coming home a very respectable sixth overall and fourth in the competitive Prototype class. The car was forced into the garage in the opening two hours while the team replaced the steering rack on the #31 entry, returning to the track seventeen laps down and 51st overall. Over the following twenty-two hours the team and all four drivers drove heroically to move up the order to their eventually fourth in class and sixth overall.

The team has retained three of it’s drivers from Daytona in Eric Curran, Dane Cameron and Max Papis. “Mad Max” Papis provides a very quick burst of pace alongside an abundance of experience, complimenting the impressive experience of American racer Eric Curran from a decade’s worth of American sportscar racing. Completing the line up is the recent Prototype convert Dane Cameron, last year’s winner of the GTD class with Turner Motorsport and their BMW Z4 GT3 car. Although Cameron has previous Prototype experience, this year marks only the second time he will complete a full season Prototype programme. This team is not necessarily always seen as a contender for victory in the TUSC, although expect this team to surprise over the 12 Hours with a repeat of their Rolex 24 result possibly on the cards for this well drilled team.

That wraps up part 1 of my preview to the upcoming Sebring 12 Hours, part 2 will be posted very soon. For now feel free to comment on this piece good or bad all comments are appreciated. Finally I want to say a huge thank you to Motorsport.com for their amazing, high quality photos in this article. Please visit their website for the best high quality photos and latest motorsport news. The website is http://www.Motorsport.com .