Juan Pablo Montoya

2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2016 Indianapolis 500 Preview Part 1

The last weekend of May is always a special weekend for motorsport fans. The most prestigious grand prix on the calendar takes place, the Monaco Grand Prix. Famous the world over it always provides excitement and celebrities flock to watch the on track action. Fans from across the world will be tuning in this weekend, eagerly anticipating the next stage of the Nico Rosberg vs Lewis Hamilton battle.

After the champagne has been sprayed on Sunday, many motorsport fans will be switching their attentions stateside, as another of the motorsport triple crown takes place only hours after the action in Monte Carlo. The 100th Indianapolis 500 is something any self respecting motorsport fan will not want to miss, with furious high speed on track action guaranteed.

The Indycar series has no where near the profile of F1, but in America the Indy 500 is still a major sporting event and will garner a further international audience. With speeds topping 225mph the action could not be more different to that in Monte Carlo. Both are equally considered races that form the triple crown of motorsport, the other being the Le Mans 24 Hours in several weeks time. Let’s take a look at the contenders in this years Indy 500.

#2 Verizon Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Juan Pablo Montoya

The reigning champion will want to add a third Indy 500 victory resume, and with Penske he has the perfect opportunity to achieve this. The most high profile name in the series has shown himself to be the front runner in the series for the past season and a half, despite narrowly missing out on the title at the final round last year.

At 40 years old Montoya has lost none of his speed or hunger, which explains why he is such a formidable competitor for his rivals. Despite a good start to the season,  Montoya suffered from a plastic bag getting stuck in his radiator on his qualifying run. After this bizarre problem ruined his qualifying he only managed to qualify 17th.

The good thing for Montoya is that the race is 500 miles long, giving him plenty of time to move up the field and back into leading contention. With the knous of Team Penske behind him he will have a great chance to win a second consecutive and third overall Indy 500, ensuring he will be added to the list of Indycar greats. Despite qualifying Montoya is still arguably the favourite.

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#3 Pennzoil Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Helio Castroneves

The experienced Brazilian prepares for his 16th Indy 500, and is every bit as much a contender for victory as in his previous fifteen. The 41 year old knows the track arguably better than anyone else on the grid, and is in good form going into this Sunday centre piece race.

With two podiums in the first five races he sits third in the points standings, and a win here from ninth on the grid  would really give his title challenge serious momentum. Castroneves is another member of the four car Team Penske fleet, something that only enhances his bid for victory. He is a three winner of this event, although his last victory in the 500 came in 2009.

With Castroneves in good form and the might of Team Penske behind him a fourth victory is very much possible for him. His competition will likely come from his team mates and rivals at Chip Ganassi and Andretti Autosport, but Castroneves could overcome them all if things fall his way on Sunday. Don’t be surprised if Castroneves is drinking the milk in winners circle come Sunday evening.

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#4 Lazier Burns Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Buddy Lazier

Buddy Lazier returns this year with his annual effort with his family run Lazier Burns racing team. Whilst this is a small one car team with limited resources compared to the bigger teams, this team could spring a surprise come race day.

The team struggled in qualifying with Lazier set to start 32nd, with a speed over 1mph down on anyone else. Whilst it doesn’t seem much, at Indianapolis this is a large difference. It also cannot be discounted the fact Lazier is one of six former winners in this race.

Lazier was one of the original drivers in the Indycar series, winning the 1996 Indy 500 and 2000 Indycar series title. For the past ten years Lazier has focused on one-off entries in the Indy 500, and this will surely hamper him going into the race. Without the experience of the regular series drivers, this will only hamper his preparations for the race. For Lazier a top ten or top fifteen result will be a good effort for this small one car team.

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#5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara DW12-Honda: James Hinchcliffe

Canadian James Hinchcliffe provided a great pre-race story by claiming pole position, only a year after a huge accident here ended his season prematurely.  Hinchcliffe has lost none of his speed and overcame the traditional big teams with his Schmidt Peterson motorsport entry.

Sitting on pole position puts Hinchcliffe in the best possible position to secure a remarkable victory come Sunday. He definitely has the talent to do it and is coming into the race after scoring his first podium of the season in the Indianapolis road course race only a few weeks ago.

To secure a Canadian victory in America’s premier motor race Hinchcliffe will have to put in a great drive, alongside fast pit work by his team. Both team and driver have the potential to win, they just need to execute under pressure, which is a lot easier said then done.

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#6 Preferred Freezer Services Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand returns yet again to Indianapolis with a one-off entry with Ed Carpenter racing, after racing with CFH Racing last year. Both Hildebrand and Carpenter perform well on ovals and the team have shown the potential to score a great result in the 500.

Whilst he’s likely known for his last corner crash in his debut Indy 500 five years ago, the fact he was a few hundred meters away from winning his debut 500 shows how well he can run here.

Despite being inexperienced compared to his full season rivals, Hildebrand has two top ten finishes from the past two years. This is a huge achievement for a one-off entry with a smaller team. He lines up fifteenth on the grid, but during the race Hildebrand could very well improve from a top ten to top five finish.

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#7 DOOM Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Dallara DW12-Honda: Mikhail Aleshin

Mikhail Aleshin has returned to Indycar this year, after switching to sportscar racing last year with SMP Racing. The talented Russian’s season has been solid so far, with a top five finish in the opening round showing his potential once again.

Whilst he’s a European convert Indycar racing, qualifying seventh for the 500 shows Aleshin can become a good oval racer. The Schmidt Peterson team have produced good cars for Aleshin and team mate James Hinchcliffe, with both capable of shocking the major teams with a podium or victory this Sunday.

Whilst Aleshin does not have a wealth of experience in Indycar, he has enough to produce a great result in the 500 with his talent. Watch out for Aleshin as an outside bet for a top five, although even a top ten would be a good result for the Russian and his team.

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#8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Max Chilton

Max Chilton prepares for his debut Indy 500, as he still adjusts to the Indycar series and it’s ovals in his rookie season. Despite some limited experience in the Indy Lights series last year, the former F1 racer is doing well adjusting to the series.

With his F1 experience a lot of people may expect him to immediately come in and be competitive, but that’s not realistic. Whilst his results so far have not been spectacular, he is improving with every race and the Indy 500 will only accelerate this.

He’s qualified a respectable 22nd on the grid, and he will likely improve as the race goes on. With the collective might of Chip Ganassi Racing supporting him, he could not be in a better place to become a very good Indycar driver with the likes of Dario Franchitti helping him. For Chilton a top fifteen finish would be a very good result for him, although simply finishing the race will only further his experience with the car and ovals in general.

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#9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Scott Dixon

The mild mannered Kiwi Scott Dixon arguably rivals Juan Pablo Montoya as the current series benchmark, with Dixon being the reigning series champion only enhancing this viewpoint.

He won on the series only oval round so far in Phoenix, and sits pretty in second as he looks to win back to back titles. He’s a four time champion and the winningest driver in the field, although he has only managed one Indy 500 win in 2008.

He starts out of position in thirteenth, but expect him to quickly rise through the field like the driver his livery emulates, legend Alex Zanardi. Discount Dixon at your peril, as he always manages to produce good results from nowhere, and this Sunday may be the latest example of this.

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#10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Tony Kanaan

Another former winner amongst the Ganassi stable of entries is Brazilian Tony Kanaan, who has so far had an average start to his season. He was always the hard luck story before he won the 2013 Indy 500, with his old luck returning since.

With two successive 26th finishes in 2014 and 2015, it will be hard for Kanaan to do any worse this year. The 41 year old qualified eighteenth this year, and will surely move up the grid once the green flag is dropped.

Whilst he’s always suffered from bad luck at this circuit, he always runs well here and teamed with Ganassi he has the perfect package to win or even finish in the top five. Either would be a great result for Kanaan and would really kick start his season.

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#11 Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais is well versed in the American Indycar scene, having made a name for himself stateside over the past decade. The Frenchman’s best finish in the Indy 500 is seventh in 2014, although he has plenty of Champ Car titles and wins to cement his reputation as a very quick Indycar driver.

It’s been a tough start to the year for Bourdais and his KVSH team, with a best finish so far of eighth in the opening five rounds. Qualifying for the 500 didn’t change his luck, as he posted the nineteenth fastest average speed.

Despite a bad start to the season Bourdais is the kind of driver you can never discount, as he could spring a surprise and produce a great result from nowhere. He will need his KVSH team to produce slick pitstops if he wants a good result, but certainly don’t discount the experienced Frenchman.

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That wraps up part one of my Indy 500 preview. I would urge everyone to visit  Motorsport.com for the latest news and high quality photos, some of which have been used in this article.  Part 2 will be coming in the next few days and finally, thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.