Patrick Pilet

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Rolex 24 GTLM Preview

The GTLM class is arguably the most competitive of all classes in the IMSA WeatherTech championship, and 2018 should again see no quarter given as nine cars from five factory supported manufactures will do battle. Last year saw Ford claim the spoils, with seven cars finishing on the lead lap showing how competitive this class is. This year see’s renewed input from BMW and Porsche, with choosing a winner for this class virtually impossible. If you have missed my first two prototype class previews, you can find them here. Part 1  Part 2

Let’s look at the class field, which may lack in numbers but certainly not in overall quality.

#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Antonio Garcia/Jan Magnussen/Mike Rockenfeller

The defending GTLM class champions return with an unchanged line-up this year, unsurprisingly. The Pratt & Miller run Corvette racing programme are one of the slickest operations in the IMSA paddock, and have been a competitive factory GT outfit since the turn of the millennium.

Three wins last year, including the Sebring 12 Hours, secured the GTLM title for this #3 crew, something they will look to repeat this year. Both Garcia and Magnussen are vastly experienced in the C7.R and and have the pace to challenge at the front in the class. Audi DTM racer Mike Rockenfeller returns once again after joining the team last year, and provides added pace to an already strong line-up.  Fifth in the pre-race test for Antonio Garcia does not indicate strong pace, but Corvette racing should recover come race week.

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#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Marcel Fassler

2017 was a down year for this always successful #4 crew. Full season drivers Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner only secured one class win, but should bounce back in 2018. Their previous success has meant GM has retained the duo for this year, with Swiss Audi factory driver Marcel Fassler returning once again to bolster the endurance line-up.

Gavin looked impressive in the pre-race Roar test, securing the second fastest time, 0.3s quicker than their team mates. Both the Corvette Racing entries are formidable opponents for their rivals, and their consistently strong results year after year show this team is one of the best in business.

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#24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: Jesse Krohn/John Edwards/Nicky Catsburg/Augusto Farfus

BMW have a much increased involvement in GTE class racing with a new M8 GTE car for this year. They have expanded into the WEC for this year, alongside their long running IMSA GT factory programme. The team have encountered some expected new car troubles, but the team will not be using that as an excuse during the race.

John Edwards has been a long-term BMW factory IMSA driver, and for the full season is joined by Jesse Krohn, who has impressed in the GTD class in recent years. Joining them for Daytona are WEC racers Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus. All four are very quick drivers, the only question mark for this team in a highly competitive class is their new M8 car.

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#25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: Alex Sims/Conor de Phillippi/Bill Auberlen/Philipp Eng

The second of the factory BMW entries has another all-star cast of factory drivers, with Alex Sims joined by new signing Conor de Phillippi for the full season. Sims was very quick in the old M6 last year and Phillippi was a standout in the GTD class in an Audi R8.

Long term factory pilot Bill Auberlen has stepped back into an endurance-only role this season, and Philipp Eng has proved very quick with various customer teams in the GT3 spec M6. As with their other entry their result will depend on the new M8 GTE and its reliability. Ford hit the ground running with their GT several years ago, so anything will be possible for the German marque.

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#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE: James Calado/Toni Vilander/Alessandro Pier Guidi/Davide Rigon

This family run factory supported team return for a partial campaign this year, after an abrupt end to their 2017 season after the Le Mans 24 Hours. They return to Daytona after finishing a close third in the Rolex 24 last year.

On the driving front the team have 2017 WEC GTE Pro champions James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, with fellow factory drivers Toni Vilander and Davide Rigon  completing the line-up. Rigon was a late addition and missed the pre-race test, but he has enough experience of the GTE spec Ferrari.   This is a seriously strong line-up of Ferrari GT talent, although they did appear to struggle for ultimate pace at the test. The fact this is a one-car team may hinder them against their well stocked factory opponents, but this team will be pushing them all the way in the race.

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#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Sebastien Bourdais/Joey Hand/Dirk Muller

The factory Ford GT programme enters its third year, but already has claimed some major honours. This #66 car claimed GTE Pro victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours in its debut year, and claimed the GTLM Rolex 24 class victory last year.

The team retain an unchanged line-up, of full season drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Muller, with Indycar racer Sebastien Bourdais joining them for the endurance rounds. All three are very quick in this Ford GT, and with Bourdais having firmly put his severe Indy 500 practice accident behind him, the team will be hoping their good form can extend into a third year. A fastest time at the Roar test is a good omen for this #66 team.

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#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook/Scott Dixon

This #67 crew have been forced to watch on as their teams other entry has claimed major successes across the world for the past two years. They seem to have attracted the majority of the teams bad luck in that time, because in a straight fight they are evenly matched with their intra-team rivals.

Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook are a very talented pairing, with multiple Indycar champion Scott Dixon a very strong third addition to the team. Ryan Briscoe set the third fastest time at the test, and with the top six cars separated by only a second this class battle will be on for the entire 24 hours.

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#911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Frederic Makowiecki/Patrick Pilet/Nick Tandy

This CORE Autosport led factory Porsche GT outfit enter the second year of their new mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR car. With their withdrawal from the LMP1 class Porsche have put renewed investment into their GT racing across the world, something that is shown with their IMSA programme.

Patrick Pilet returns, but has a new team mate this year with LMP1 racer Nick Tandy moving across to replace Dirk Werner, who likely moves across to the WEC. Joining them for the long distance rounds is WEC GT racer Frederic Makowiecki. Last year this team were the closest challengers to the winning #66 Ford entry this year, and with a renewed emphasis on GT racing can they go one step further this time around.

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#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Earl Bamber/Laurens Vanthoor/Gianmaria Bruni 

The #912 car in the hands of Earl Bamber was the fastest of the two Porsche’s at the pre-race test, showing they are definite contenders for victory. The #912 crew struggled last year, with only two class podiums and no wins across the year.

The team retain the very quick Belgian Laurens Vanthoor for his second season with the team, with former LMP1 factory driver Earl Bamber coming across to IMSA as his new full season team mate. Italian Gianmaria Bruni rejoins the team for Daytona after a truncated 2017 season.

That wraps up my preview looking at the fiercely competitive GTLM class. It’s not an exaggeration to say that any one of the nine entries could win this class, and expect the class lead battle to go on for the entirety of the race.

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I want to say a massive thank you for anyone who has read this article and I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, feel free to comment, like or share. I have to say a final massive thank you to Motorsport.com for their high quality photos which grace this page. For all the latest motorsport news please visit their website.  You can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Coming up next is a two-part preview of the GTD class. Stay tuned!