Scott Dixon

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!

2017 Indy 500 Preview Part 1

The 101st Indianapolis 500 should prove to be one for the ages, with its reputation as a landmark race only reinforced this year.

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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.