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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!

2015 Sebring 12 Hours Prototype Preview Part 2

Here is part 2 of my preview of the Prototype class for the upcoming Sebring 12 Hours, the second round of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship. Without further ado, here’s a look at the second half of the Prototype entry list.

#50 Fifty Plus Racing Riley-BMW Daytona Prototype: Jim Pace/Byron DeFoor/David Hinton/Dorsey Schroeder

This Fifty Plus Racing team runs on a slightly different objective to the rest of the field. Whilst the rest are obsessed with winning this team has a secondary purpose of raising money for their HighwayToHelp charity. The charity is linked with the Alzheimer’s association and aims to raise money through donations. As the name suggests the team is made up of drivers over fifty years old. The team will be led by firstly formerly retired ex-pro and American sportscar racing analyst Dorsey Schroeder. Whilst he was retired for a while before returning to the track, expect him to be seriously fast in the car. Leading the team alongside him will be former overall Daytona 24 Hours winner Jim Pace. He has a wealth of experience and will match or even beat the times of Schroeder.

Partnering these two are the amateur drivers Byron DeFoor and David Hinton, both of whom will do a respectable job in the car and bring it home safely for the team. Whilst this team are unlikely to be contending for victory at Sebring, this car will post some fast times with Schroeder and Pace at the wheel. A quiet, reliable run for this team may well bring them into the top eight overall by the end of the 12 Hours.

#57 Krohn Racing Ligier JS P2-Judd: Tracy Krohn/Nic Jonsson/Olivier Pla

Krohn Racing is one of the few teams in the Prototype class fielding an LMP2 class of car, a last remnant from the previous American Le Mans Series. The team ran well in their new Ligier coupe last time out at the Rolex 24 Hours,although an engine problem sidelined the team within the first eight hours of the race. Despite this disappointing run at Daytona the team will be looking to bounce back at Sebring next weekend.

Although the team is only contesting the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events alongside a full season in the European Le Mans Series, it will look for a good result at Sebring before it ships their Ligier to Europe for the majority of the season. On the driving front the team once again has a front running line up made up of the very quick LMP2 expert and new Nissan LMP1 factory driver Olivier Pla, alongside the very experienced sportscar and former Indycar racer Nic Jonsson to partner team owner Tracy Krohn. This team is very well experienced and will look to put miles on their Ligier coupe to expand their knowledge of the car before the European season. If this car runs reliably throughout the 12 Hours expect this team to challenge for the podium, such is the quality of their driver line up and the pace of their Ligier JS P2.

#60 Tyre Kingdom Michael Shank Racing/Curb/Agajanian Ligier JS P2-Honda HPD: John Pew/Ozz Negri/Justin Wilson

Michael Shank Racing surprised last time out at the Rolex 24 with their overall pace, although reliability troubles limited the team’s overall competitiveness throughout the race. This is not surprising considering their first race with their Ligier JS P2 was the Rolex 24 Hours. The team still finished 9th overall and 5th in class still which shows the pace the team has to build on going into the Sebring 12 Hours.

The team will be hoping for a more reliable run this time out, although Sebring is renowned as a car breaker of a circuit.For this time they have retained their impressive driver line up from Daytona, with the only change being the teenager Matt McMurry has been replaced with Indycar racer Justin Wilson for this race. John Pew only started racing in his early 40’s yet has quickly developed into one of the fastest amateur Prototype drivers in the Tudor United Sportscar Championship. Ozz Negri is a very rapid driver with over thirty years worth of racing experience, and teamed with the rapid Brit Justin Wilson this team will be a contender for victory if the car stays reliable. Whilst this is a big if for the team at this stage it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

#70 Mazda SpeedSource Lola B12/80-Mazda: Tristan Nunez/Jonathan Bomarito/Sylvain Tremblay

The SpeedSource Mazda team will be hoping to capitalise on the improvements they have made to their Lola chassis and works Mazda engine during the off-season, after a difficult debut campaign in the Prototype class last year. Their Mazda SkyActiv diesel engine proved troublesome all year, and whilst it once again proved problematic, the team did have a chance to show their pace whilst the car was running at least. The team led it’s first lap at the Rolex 24, something the team would like to achieve again at Sebring.

After oil pump problems put this car out at Daytona, the team will be looking for a somewhat reliable run this time out. In terms of driving talent this car has a good line up with the very quick young driver Tristan Nunez complemented by former works SRT Viper GTLM driver Jonathan Bomarito and the quick, solid amateur Sylvain Tremblay. All three drivers have the ability to perform very quick laps consistently over a stint, something the team and drivers will be itching to show during the 12 Hours. If the SpeedSource team can keep the car reliable,expect this team to surprise with it’s pace.

#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Racing Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype: Richard Westbrook/Michael Valiante/Mike Rockenfeller

After a strong podium last time out at the Rolex 24 Hours, the Spirit of Daytona team will be looking for a repeat podium next weekend in the Sebring 12 Hours. This well run, professional team were not entirely trouble free last time out but were there when it counted to take advantage of the miscalculation at Wayne Taylor Racing, promoting themselves to a distant third overall.

This time out the team will be looking to challenge the leaders throughout the race, and with the driver line up they have this should be no problem. Michael Valiante is a very quick former single seater and sportscar driver, with the sensational former Le Mans 24 Hours winner and DTM champion Mike Rockenfeller alongside him. Completing the trio is factory Chevrolet Corvette driver Richard Wesbrook. This line up is a match for any one else in the Prototype class and with their experience expect this car to stay out of trouble, ensuring the team are in the right place when it comes to the crucial final hour of the race, expect this team to be challenging for the serious positions. A definite car to watch for victory.

#01 Target Chip Ganassi/Felix Sabates Racing Riley-Ford Daytona Prototype: Scott Pruett/Joey Hand/Scott Dixon

The pre-season favourites going into the 2015 season, this entry almost lived up to expectations at the opening Rolex 24 Hours in late January. Whilst the car ran at the front for most of the race, heartbreakingly, in the last few hours on the race the car was forced into retirement with a severe clutch problem. The fact the other Chip Ganassi Prototype entry ended up winning the race shows the pace of the Chip Ganassi Riley-Ford package, something the team will want to prove at Sebring.

The team’s driver line up is of the highest quality with the prodigious experience of Scott Pruett teamed with the blinding pace of Joey Hand and Indycar front runner Scott Dixon. This line combines the ultimate of countless years of sportscar experience along prodigious pace from all three drivers. Whilst it’s hard to predict favourites in a class as competitive as the Prototype class in the TUSC, this Chip Ganassi entry is one of the leading trio of contenders. Never discount or underestimate a powerhouse team like Chip Ganassi Racing, this car will be right at the front for the entire 12 Hours barring mechanical or other issues for the team.

#07 SpeedSource Lola B12/80-Mazda: Tom Long/Joel Miller/Ben Devlin/Sylvain Tremblay

The second of the SpeedSource Lola-Mazda entries is this #07 car, which will be hoping to build on a character building Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. The car was once again plagued with similar issues which hampered the car throughout the 2014 season, eventually the car being forced to retire with overheating problems. Whilst the works Skyactiv diesel engine is revolutionary for an LMP2 Prototype car, the continual problems will be a source of major frustration to both the SpeedSource and Mazda teams.

The team will therefore be looking for a reliable run at Sebring, hoping to run trouble free throughout the 12 Hours and push themselves up the Prototype order. The car has shown pace when running reliably which is a bonus for the team, and shows the progress the team has made over the winter off-season. The driver line up is a solid one, with plenty of experience amongst the line up of Sylvain Tremblay,and Ben Devlin complementing the youthful speed of Joel Miller and Tom Long. Much like the other SpeedSource entry, if this car can remain reliable throughout the 12 Hours, this car can be a contender for a top six finish come the end of the race.

That wraps up part 2 of my Prototype preview for the upcoming Sebring 12 Hours, the second round of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship. In terms of overall predictions, I would predict that the overall winner will come from either the #01 Chip Ganassi car,#10 Wayne Taylor entry or the #5 Action Express car. On the other hand, the unpredictability of the Tudor series means any number of six to eight cars are realistic contenders for victory, ensuring making a firm prediction of the winner almost impossible. As a final note I just wanted to add a huge thank you to Motorsport.com for their superb photos which accompany this article. Please go and visit their website http://www.Motorsport.com , which provides the latest motorsport news and an absurd amount of high quality photos. Please feel free to read and comment on this article, all comments both good and bad are appreciated!