Simon Pagenaud

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!

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 2

This is part two of my preview for this Sunday’s blue riband Indianapolis 500, one of the three triple crown races which carry the most prestige in motorsport. If you missed the first part of my preview, you can view it here. Part 1 preview . For now let’s move onto the second part of my preview, enjoy.

#12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Will Power

Will Power has proved himself one of the fastest and most consistent drivers in Indycar over the past five years. The Australian’s season has been up and down so far, with podiums teamed with missing the first race because of a practice crash, which caused concussion.

He is now back to his best and starts sixth for the 500. With other rivals further down the field, Power is in a great position to fight for the victory all through the race. He has never won in the Indy 500, but with his skills and great pit work from Team Penske he may well find his 2016 turns around with a momentous victory in the centre piece 500. A win or even a top five finish would also really help kick start his potential title challenge after missing the first round.

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#14 ABC Supply Co A.J Foyt Enterprises Dallara DW12-Honda: Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato has become a staple of the legendary A.J Foyt’s team, and this familiarity may breed a good result for the popular Japanese racer. Despite making a name for himself in F1, Sato has adjusted well to oval racing.

He came very close to winning the 2012 Indy 500, and he may become a surprise contender once again come race day. So far his season has been uneventful, with two top six results his best after five rounds. He qualified twelfth for the 500, well ahead of his team mate. It seems Sato is most likely to lead the A.J Foyt team, and he can easily achieve a top ten or even top five result. Sato can be considered in the second group of contenders, ready to capitalize on any mistakes to ensure a good result.

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#15 Steak & Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Dallara DW12-Honda: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal surprised everyone in Indycar with his stellar 2015 season. Both Rahal and his team were underrated, and they proved everyone wrong with a title challenge which came very close to succeeding.

This year it seems this combination was initially struggling to find it’s feet, although with two podiums in the past two races Rahal is seemingly hitting the right form going into the 500. It appears the team have been usurped as one of the top running Honda teams, with Rahal really struggling in qualifying. He will start from 26th and this leaves him a lot of work to do in the race. It also means he’s more likely to be caught up in accidents which could prematurely end his day.

If Rahal can keep his nose clean expect him to rise up the field throughout the race, with a top five result surely a huge result for Rahal considering his lack of qualifying pace. Clearly the team have some work to do with the car, with time running out before the race.

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#16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Dallara DW12-Honda: Spencer Pigot

Rahal Letterman Lanigan have taken on reigning Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot for a partial campaign this year, as he makes his debut in the Indy 500. So far Pigot has done his best to adjust to Indycar, with only two races experience going into the 500.

With a rookie running a partial schedule it’s very difficult to come in and do well from the start, with so much to learn and not enough track time to do it. So far Pigot has stayed under the radar and got on with his programme, which is the perfect thing for a rookie to do. He starts 29th on the grid for the race, but he’s a talented young racer so will make up places. Finishing the race with a top 10 or 15 finish would be a good result for Pigot, as he continues to gain experience in Indycar.

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#18 Shirts for America Dale Coyne Racing Dallara DW12-Honda: Conor Daly

Conor Daly is another rookie looking to gain experience in Indycar, after a few years trying to climb the European single seater racing ladder. In his first full season Daly is another racer who is flying under the radar, although a sixth in the most recent round suggests Daly is improving with every race. The fact he is currently the second best rookie shows also his impressive switch to Indycar.

He struggled slightly in qualifying, as he starts 24th for the 500. In the race gaining as much track time as possible will be important to Daly, with a top 15 finish surely a good result for Daly in his first Indy 500, against such a high quality field also. Don’t be at all surprised if Daly finishes as the best rookie in the race.

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#19 Boy Scout’s of America Dale Coyne Racing DallaraDW12-Honda: Gabby Chaves

Colombian Gabby Chaves is looking to maintain his Indycar career after an impressive rookie season last year. The 2014 Indy Lights champion showed plenty of pace and won the rookie of the year honour, but despite this he has not found a full season ride this year.

After missing the opening rounds he’s been handed this lifeline by the Dale Coyne racing team, something he will surely want to turn into a good result. Coming into the biggest Indycar race of the year with a small team, having missed races is always a very difficult task.

He starts 21st in the race and will be looking to turn this into a top ten finish. A big result could put him in the shop window for next year, but this will be very tough for Chaves. Should he pull it off he will surely be deserving of a full time Indycar drive next year.

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#20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Ed Carpenter

Ed Carpenter returns once again for another crack at the 500 with his own team, as he aims to finally turn the promise he’s shown into a good result. Carpenter always runs well on ovals, and this year should be no different.

He’s only competed in one race so far this year, and this appeared to show as he qualified 20th for the 500. Carpenter always manages to be a thorn in the side of the much bigger teams, and watch for him to rise up the field into victory contention by the end of the race. A top five finish would be a good result for this small team, and would finally ensure a reward for Carpenter after years of near misses.

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#21 Preferred Freezer Services Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden has emerged as one of the best young racers in Indycar, having already secured a podium this year for the relatively small Ed Carpenter Racing team. The team have always performed well on ovals, especially Indianapolis. This is usually shown by team owner Ed Carpenter, but this year it appears Newgarden has usurped him for this honour.

After a good start to the season Newgarden has carried this on by qualifying a very close second for this Sunday’s race, missing out on pole by only 0.060mph. Both car and driver are clearly performing well, and barring any dramas watch out for him as one of the outside contenders for victory. A win in the Indy 500 would be a surprise by well deserved honour for this young American.

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#22 Menard’s Team Penske Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Simon Pagenaud

After a difficult first season with Team Penske, Simon Pagenaud is now taking Indycar by storm in his second year with the team. He has emerged as the dominant driver this year with three wins for five races, and will be aiming to make it four from six this Sunday.

He has never been primarily known for his oval prowess, but with a solid eighth qualifying spot showing his car has pace here. Watch out for Pagenaud to rise to the front, with form from this season suggesting he is the man to beat going into the biggest race of the year.

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#24 Gas Monkey Garage Energy Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara DW12-Chevrolet: Sage Karam

Sage Karam is a young driver looking to rebuild his reputation, after a difficult 2015 season. The young American clearly has pace, having won the Indy Lights title as a rookie in 2013. Since then he’s shown flashes of pace in Indycar, but has garnered a reputation as a reckless and sometimes dangerous driver.

Despite having previous Chip Ganassi Racing support, this year he’s entering the 500 in a one off Dreyer & Reinbold entry. For a young driver in a one car, one off entry this is a very hard situation to produce a good result. He qualified 23rd and therefore will have the opportunity to rise through the field if he and the car are running well. He performs well on ovals so may be an outside bet for a top ten maybe top twelve finish, but for this entry gaining attention and support for further outings this year is the primary goal.

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That wraps up the second part of my preview for this weekend’s Indianapolis 500. I would like to say a huge thank you to Motorsport.com for the high quality photos which adorn this article, everyone should check out their website for the latest motorsport news. I would also like to thank you for reading this article, with any comments being greatly appreciated. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.