Mark Kvamme

2020 Rolex 24 GTD Preview Part One

Part four of my Rolex 24 preview looks at the GTD class, open to GT3 machinery. If you would like to view my other class previews, you can find DPI here, LMP2 here and GTLM here. The GTD class is by far the biggest in the race, with 18 entries from nine different makes.

The class focuses on pro/am racing, similarly to LMP2, with the focus being on pairing amateur drivers with professionals. With 18 entries and nine different cars, the class will provide intense racing the entire 24 hours. Let’s preview the first half of this GTD class.

#9 Pfaff Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R: Lars Kern/Dennis Olsen/Patrick Pilet/Zach Robichon

Pfaff Motorsport return to IMSA, aiming to improve upon a very good 2019 season. Two wins at Lime Rock and Road America propelled the team to third in the GTD standings. Porsche’s renewed focus on GT racing has massively improved their 911 GT3 car across the world.

Canadian Zach Robichon impressed last year and so returns for the full season, partnered with Dennis Olsen. Porsche factory drivers Lars Kern and Patrick Pilet complete the line-up for Daytona.

Qualifying at the Roar didn’t go to plan, with Robichon placing the Porsche 14th. The team ran consistently during the test without any issues. The pace wasn’t there, except when Pilet was in the car, but don’t discount them. The Porsche is a proven package and their driver line up deserves respect.

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#11 GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo: Albert Costa/Richard Heistand/Franck Perera/Steijn Schothorst

De facto Lamborghini factory team GRT Grasser Racing have made the switch to IMSA  this year, after impressive cameo appearances in recent seasons. The team are twice defending Rolex 24 champions, along with a Sebring 12 Hours class win last year. Despite only running the Michelin Endurance Cup rounds, the team are a formidable opponent.

Lamborghini factory aces Albert Costa and Franck Perera lead the team, joining very quick silver rated driver Steijn Schothorst. Richard Heistand moves across from Lexus to complete the quartet.

The car ran quickly at the Roar in the hands of Costa and Perera, with Heistand going ninth in the qualifying session. The team have a proven pedigree in Europe, and recent years have shown that the Lamborghini is ideally suited to Daytona.

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#12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3: Townsend Bell/Shane van Gisbergen/Frankie Montecalvo/Aaron Telitz

AIM Vasser Sullivan return for a second year running the Lexus GT3  program, after a promising debut season. The team came a close second at the Rolex 24 last year with this #12 car.

Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo return, with Indy Lights star Aaron Telitz also back as the third driver. Completing the team is Australian V8 Supercars star Shane van Gisbergen. His signing is a real coup for the team, as he embarks on his fifth Rolex 24.

Montecalvo topped the Roar qualifying session, a boost for the team heading into the race. He was consistently quick in the car, with a faultless three days another promising sign. They have all the ingredients to go one better than their second last year.

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#14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3: Kyle Busch/Parker Chase/Michael de Quesada/Jack Hawksworth

The #14 car has created headlines this year, thanks to signing Nascar superstar Kyle Busch for his Rolex 24 debut. The team showed enormous promise last year, with third in the Sprint Cup and two wins in a stellar debut year.

Jack Hawksworth returns, this time partnered with Parker Chase. 2017 Rolex 24 GTD winner Michael de Quesada joins for the Endurance rounds, along with Busch.

Hawksworth did a masterful job to top the opening Roar test session by three tenths of a second, a big gap in this class. From here the test was used to get the others up to speed. De Quesada and Busch had never driven the car before. The team has a great line-up, they just need more time in the car

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#16 Wright Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R: Klaus Bachler/Ryan Hardwick/Anthony Imperato/Patrick Long    

Wright Motorsport steps across into IMSA from the Blancpain GT World Challenge America. The team do have prior experience of the Rolex 24.

Porsche factory driver Patrick Long joins Ryan Hardwick for the season, with Anthony Imperato joined by fellow Porsche factory ace Klaus Bachler for this race. Imperato was with the team in Blancpain last year, with Hardwick moving across from Paul Miller Racing.

Long put the car in the top five for the Saturday night session at the Roar, however Imperato struggled in the qualifying session. 17th and 1.2 seconds back is tough, but the test is about gaining experience and the team ran smoothly throughout.

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#19 GRT GEAR Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo: Tatiana Calderon/Rahel Frey/Katherine Legge/Christina Nielsen

The second GRT entry falls under the GEAR Racing banner. GEAR are promoting women in motorsport, starting in IMSA. The initiative aims to expand into other forms of motorsport, and has already garnered plenty of publicity.

Katherine Legge moves across after three successful years with Michael Shank, and is joined by former double class champion Christina Nielsen. Completing the all female line-up is experienced GT racer Rahel Frey and F2 convert Tatiana Calderon.

The car completed over 160 laps across the three day Roar test, as all four driver get used to a new car. The Lamborghini package is competitive at Daytona, so gaining as much experience as possible before the race will be key.

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#23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3: Roman de Angelis/Ian James/Alex Riberas/Nicki Thiim 

The popular Heart of Racing team return to IMSA after a three year absence. The team raises money for Seattle Children’s hospital and has raised over $6 Million since 1997. Their Aston Martin Vantage GT3 car is making it’s IMSA debut, the first Aston Martin customer IMSA program in several years.

Alex Riberas returns to the team, joining reigning Porsche GT3 Cup American and Canada champion Roman de Angelis. Team manager Ian James joins for the endurance rounds, with factory driver Nicki Thiim along for Daytona.

The team never troubled the top of the times during the seven test sessions, but they did run consistent lap times without issues. Thiim is the only one with experience of this car, so the team has a lot to learn in a short space of time. Simply finishing the Rolex 24 would be a great result.

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#44 GRT Magnus Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo: Andy Lally/Marco Mapelli/John Potter/Spencer Pumpelly 

The third GRT Grasser run entry is this #44 car, which takes on Magnus Racing branding after the popular team disbanded last year. The team were mainstays of IMSA, but return with new support.

Magnus team owner John Potter returns, along with long time co-driver Andy Lally. Spencer Pumpelly joins for the endurance races, with factory driver Marco Mapelli recruited for Daytona.

The #44 team were consistently at the top during the Roar. Amateur driver Potter struggled in the qualifying session, but the car was very quick in the other drivers hands. The team were tenth last year, but as former two-time winners of the Rolex 24 this entry cannot be discounted.

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#47 Precision Performance Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo: Brandon Gdovic/Johnathan Hoggard/Mark Kvamme/Eric Lux

PPM Motorsport return for another year of IMSA competition with their #47 Lamborghini Huracan GT3. The team only ran the Michelin Endurance Cup rounds last year, their second in IMSA after moving across from Nascar.

The owners son Brandon Gdovic returns, with Eric Lux joining after partial seasons in the LMP2 class. Johnathan Hoggard and Mark Kvamme were late additions from the aborted Rick Ware Racing LMP2 entry. Hoggard is the Sunoco Challenge winner, and as a British F3 race winner should be quick despite a lack of experience.

Gdovic impressed at the Roar, qualifying fourth, less than two tenths from top spot. Lux didn’t complete any laps, losing valuable driving time as he adjusts to GTD. Based off testing times, this #47 car could surprise a lot in the paddock.

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#48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo: Andrea Caldarelli/Corey Lewis/Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow

Paul Miller Racing return for a fifth season with their Lamborghini Huracan. The team won at Laguna Seca last year. Problems last year limited them to 15th at the Rolex 24, a result they can improve upon.

Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow return, aiming to repeat their 2018 IMSA GTD title. Corey Lewis is back for the endurance rounds, with factory pilot Andrea Caldarelli also back for Daytona.

Caldarelli and Sellers had the car running competitive laps at the test, although Snow will be disappointed with 13th in qualifying. This team are looking to bounce back and repeat their 2018 form.

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That wraps up the first half of my GTD class preview for the Rolex 24, stay tuned for part two coming very soon. Who do you think anyone deserves the tag of favourite for the race? Let me know either by commenting below or finding me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Thank you for reading! Finally, a big thank you must go to Motorsport.com for the high quality images in this post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2019 Rolex 24 LMP2 Preview

The big change at the top of the IMSA WeatherTech series is the split of the DPI and LMP2 machinery for 2019. This has had a massive effect on the health of the LMP2 entries, with many teams opting to move into the DPI class as they look to continue fighting for race victories.

For the Rolex 24 there are only four entries, and only two of these are for the full IMSA season. This is been an issue for the series all winter, with the health of the class beyond this season looking very shaky right now. Despite the long-term reservations of this class, the small entry more thank makes up for in quality what it lacks in quantity. Let’s assess each of the four contenders for class victory and a priceless Rolex watch.

#18 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson: Ryan Cullen/Roberto Gonzalez/Pastor Maldonado/Sebastien Saavedra

DragonSpeed has risen quickly to become one of the most competitive LMP2 teams in both the European Le Mans Series and the World Endurance Championship. The team have now turned their attention to the Rolex 24, and have brought plenty of talent with them.

This #18 entry is piloted by the WEC driver pairing of Roberto Gonzalez and Pastor Maldonado. They currently sit 4th in the WEC points and have quickly formed a strong duo. They are joined by Sebastien Saavedra, former Indycar racer who transitioned to the IMSA series last season. Completing the driving crew is another sportscar convert from single-seaters, Ryan Cullen.

All four drivers have sportscar experience and whilst Maldonado is the star name because of his F1 career, all four are very quick and can win this class for the team. The crew struggled slightly in the pre-race qualifying session, however it’s impossible to judge ultimate pace from one session as we don’t know the programmes’s teams were running at the test.

 

#38 Performance Tech Oreca 07-Gibson: Cameron Cassels/Kyle Masson/Robin Masson/Kris Wright 

Performance Tech were one of many teams that graduated from the LMPC class up to the main Prototype class last season. The team flashed potential, most notable with their 4th place qualifying result for the Rolex 24 last year, but the team did struggle to translate this into consistent results across the year.

The team have retained a driver line-up largely familiar with the team, beginning with Kyle Masson. He raced with the team in the series last year and is quick racer. Cameron Cassels steps up to the series after good results in the LMP3 support series last year. Kris Wright is another promising driver who won the LMP3 class last season and has now been rewarded with a promotion for the Rolex 24.

The team were the slowest of the LMP2 entries at the pre-race Roar, however over a 24 hour race one lap pace is not a key to victory. The team have a years worth of experience with this Oreca and the series, and can go for the win. They’re drivers are not as flashy as other line-up’s in this class, but they are consistent and underrated for sure.

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#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Oreca 07-Gibson: Gabriel Aubry/Enzo Guibbert/Mark Kvamme/Matt McMurry

2018 was a difficult year for the PR1/Mathiasen team, and one they will hope to rebound from this year. The team partnered with Indycar team AFS Racing, and switched from a Ligier to Oreca chassis halfway through the season. The team now have some experience with the dominant Oreca chassis and will go into the Rolex 24 with renewed confidence.

The driving crew is a mix of young talent and experience, led by Gabriel Aubry and Matt McMurry. Aubry is currently proving his talents in the WEC and looks a highly promising prospect for the future. Matt McMurry, despite only being 22, has a wealth of sportscar experience and is a proven talent at this level. Enzo Guibbert is another talented young racer who has shown good performances in Europe. Experienced Am Mark Kvamme completes the crew. He won’t be as fast as his young teammates but he does have a wealth of experience at this level.

The team showed their one lap pace is good, setting the fastest time at the Roar qualifying session. They were almost half a second clear of their rivals, although for the race consistent pace and a clean run are much more important than one lap pace. The team has a good chance of winning this class, and based off the Roar they would be favourites to claim the class pole also.

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#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson: Ben Hanley/Henrik Hedman/Nico Lapierre/James Allen 

The second DragonSpeed entry is this #81 car, the teams usual ELMS entry. The team have flashed potential in the ELMS, but have not quite found the ultimate pace to challenge consistently for the title. It’s clear however that the team have more than enough pace to be able to challenge for this Rolex 24 victory.

The team have brought over their usual ELMS driving talent, of Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and Nico Lapierre. Lapierre is a former Toyota factory driver and is a very quick driver at this level. Ben Hanley is a fellow single-seater convert who has found a place to show his considerable talents after a few years out of car racing. Henrik Hedman is the Am in this entry, but he has shown solid pace and has years of experience with the team. Completing the team is James Allen, a young Australian with bags of potential and has already shown tremendous potential at this level.

The #81 crew got the best of their teammates in the pre-race Roar, finishing almost a second better than them in qualifying. The team can take promise from this good showing, and will fancy their chances against the two American based teams in the race. Either one of these DragonSpeed entries will likely be favourites for the race, barring any accidents or mechanical issues during the 24 hours.

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Who do you guys think will win the LMP2 class at this years Rolex 24? Let me know in the comments section below. A massive thank you must go to Motorsport.com and LAT Images for those featured in this page. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism and thank you for reading!