Wayne Taylor Racing

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 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview

The 2017 international motorsport season begins in earnest with the 55th running of the Rolex 24 Hours from the Daytona International Speedway. This years running marks a new era for the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar championship, with wide scale changes to the premier prototype division thanks to a new combined rulebook aligning the previous LMP2 and Daytona Prototype cars.

With the new DPI regulations they should ensure greater equality between the previous LMP2 and Daytona Prototype entries. Whilst there will be inevitable balance of performance issues to iron out in the build up to the race, one thing that can be guaranteed is the overall quality and competitiveness in the prototype category. Every car in the premier class has a chance of victory, should they have a good run and be blessed with that all important luck needed to win such a prestigious 24 hour race.

Last years victors Extreme Speed Motorsport return to the IMSA series full time this year after two years in the World Endurance Championship, but they will have plenty of competition for the victory once again this time out. Let’s take a look at the entries and assess their chances of victory.

#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier-Nissan DPI: Ryan Dalziel/Scott Sharp/Pipo Derani

Tequila Patron and the Extreme Speed team have returned stateside after a mixed two years in the WEC, and despite a new range of prototype entries expect them to pick up exactly where they left off in this series. This is the crew that came out victorious in last years Rolex 24, therefore the target will be on their back all weekend as they aim to do something very difficult and retain their trophies from a year ago.

Despite being the reigning champions a lot has changed for this crew from last year. Most notably is the new Ligier-Nissan DPI package that they have chosen to use. With such a new set of regulations its currently unclear which package will prove most suitable for the Daytona track, with the Roar not giving away too much as teams don’t want to show their hands too early.

On the driving front the team also has some changes, with the team switching across Ryan Dalziel and Johannes Van Overbeek for this year. With the talented Scot Dalziel now partnering Sharp and Pipo Derani this team has a great mix of speed and experience in this lineup.  Derani in particular stole the show last year with his consistently fast driving, and if he can repeat those feats this year, backed up by Sharp and Dalziel this team has every chance of victory if their new DPI package can stay reliable.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing  Dallara Cadillac DPI: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque

The Action Express team have established themselves as one of the premier prototype teams in the IMSA series over the past three to four year, largely based on the results of this number five entry.  With back to back titles in 2014 and 2015, this entry was beaten only by its teammates in last years championship.

The team always run strongly at Daytona and last year once again challenged for the overall victory until the final hours. They have remained with General Motors, although this years new DPI is badged as a Cadillac rather than a Chevrolet. Aside from the new DPI car the team have stuck with a driver line up that has produced major success for them.

Both Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi are hugely experienced whilst retaining their speed, something Audi factory driver Filipe Albuquerque does not lack. He showed well with the team last year and this year will be hoping they can remain in the lead fight right up until the chequered flag. Along with the #2 Extreme Speed motorsport entry this is one of half a dozen cars who have a very good chance of victory. Expect to see this car at the front for large portions in the race if they can run cleanly.

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#10 Konica Minolta Dallara Cadillac DPI: Jordan Taylor/Ricky Taylor/Max Angelelli/Jeff Gordon

The battles between the Action Express and Wayne Taylor racing teams have gone down in this championships short history, with the two of them separating themselves from the rest of the full season entries in the past three years. This year their battle for victory will be renewed beginning with the Rolex 24, a race that has not been kind to this team in recent years.

The team have always found trouble late on when in contention for victory, something the team will be hoping a new set of regulations may help with. They have decided to also stick with what they know and the GM brand, and have retained three quarters of their driver line up from a year ago.

Owner Wayne Taylor’s sons Jordan and Ricky return and will be right on the pace all weekend, ably supported by the vastly experienced Max Angelelli in his final race before retirement. Angelelli has been a huge asset to this team since his days partnering Wayne and will be hoping he can end his career on a high note. For their final driver the team have caused a stir by signing retired Nascar legend Jeff Gordon. Whilst he has limited Sportscar experience, he has plenty of pace and is a good addition to this already formidable lineup. This is another entry to look out for throughout the 24 hours.

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#13 Rebellion Oreca 07-Gibson:  Sebastien Buemi/Nick Heidfeld/Neel Jani/Stephane Sarrazin

The Rebellion team embark on their first season in the LMP2 category after being mainstays of the LMP1 privateer class. Along with their WEC programme is a crack at the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, consisting of the premier races on the IMSA calendar.

With a stable Oreca-Gibson chassis/engine combination the highly experienced team have put together an all star line-up for the Rolex 24. LMP1 factory drivers Sebastien Buemi, Stephane Sarrazin (Toyota) and current WEC champion and Le Mans 24 Hours winner Neel Jani (Porsche) are joined by regular driver and ex-F1 mainstay Nick Heidfeld.

The team having previous experience from their 2013 successful foray into the American Sportscar scene, are will be looking for a debut victory this time out. If the team can have a clean run, this entry is a very serious contender for the overall win. With such a competitive class and the 24 hour race duration anything can happen, although if I was forced into choosing a pre-race favourite, I would likely back this Rebellion racing entry.

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#22 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier-Nissan DPI: Ed Brown/Johannes Van Overbeek/Bruno Senna/Brendon Hartley 

The other Extreme Speed motorsport entry is not going to play second fiddle to the teams other car. This entry still has a very good chance of victory, given the professionalism and quality of this team, along with a great driver line up.

Porsche LMP1 factory driver and former WEC champion Brendon Hartley is an excellent signing for this team, one of the genuinely fastest guys on the sportscar scene at the moment. Former F1 driver Bruno Senna has also joined this lineup, showing his talents with a excellent adaption to prototype racing in the LMP2 class of the WEC last season.

Full season drivers Johannes Van Overbeek and Tequila Patron CEO Ed Brown complete the lineup. Van Overbeek has a wealth of experience and speed, forming an excellent working relationship with long term co-driver Brown. The only slight question mark surrounding this entry may be Brown.

He is one of the few true amateur drivers in the class, and whilst he has excelled and improved rapidly in sportscar racing, he may struggle to match the consistent ultimate pace of the world class professional drivers he will be competing with. Do not count this entry out as you may regret it, although they may need a little extra help if they want to be wheeled into victory lane come Sunday afternoon.

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#31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Racing Dallara Cadillac DPI: Dane Cameron/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Seb Morris

The defending WeatherTech IMSA champions return for a crack at the Rolex 24. the jewel in the IMSA season crown. This entry stepped out of the shadows of their illustrious team mates last season to win the title, and will be hoping they can repeat this result this season, despite the major changes in the prototype class.

It’s unclear as to the ultimate pace of the new Cadillac DPI entries, having not topped the times at the pre-race Roar before the 24 test several weeks ago. Were they sandbagging, or are they genuinely short on pace compared to their rivals? Only the teams themselves know.

On the driving front the full season lineup of the very fast Dane Cameron and Eric Curran are joined by Brits Mike Conway and Seb Morris. Conway is a Toyota factory prototype driver and is an excellent signing for this team. Morris is a slightly different story, having won the Sunoco challenge, which rewards the best overall driver in British national racing with a drive in the Rolex 24. Such alumni of this prize include F1 driver Felipe Nasr, so do not discount Morris. He was a very quick single seater driver before switching his attention to GT racing, having shown similar pace in British GT last year.

With Conway leading the lineup this entry may lack that blistering ultimate pace of their rivals over the course of a stint, but do not think they are simply here to make up the numbers. They are the reigning champions and that alone will mean no other team counts them out.

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#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Ligier JSP2-Gibson: Tom Kimber-Smith/Jose Gutierrez/Mike Guasch/RC Enerson 

The PR1/Mathiasen have been front runners in the prototype challenge class for the past several years in the IMSA series, tasting some success with class victory in the 2015 Rolex 24. With the widespread change in the prototype class regulations, the team have made the step up for this season.

Given pre-season testing choosing the Ligier JSP2 package seems a smart move at this moment, and the team have stuck with a lot of their PC class drivers. With familiarity and experience needed with the move up this is a smart move by the team. The vastly experienced Tom Kimber-Smith will likely lead this team, having plentiful experience at this level from the past few years.

Jose Gutierrez showed himself well last season in his sportscar debut, having made the jump across from the Pro Mazda single seater series. Although he didn’t complete the entire season, a year of adapting to the series will put him in good stead for this season. Mike Guasch is a quick amateur driver for this team, and has spent a large portion of his recent career with the team. After winning the LMP3 class in the European Le Mans Series, he will be hoping his good form can continue into 2017.

Completing the lineup is the young American single seater racer RC Enerson, who makes his sportscar debut this weekend. He has progressed up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder right up to Indycar last season, although his lack of experience will sportscar may hamper him during the week. He is tremendously fast and once he adapts to the car and the level of traffic, expect him to flash some seriously fast times during the race.

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#55 SpeedSource Riley Mazda DPI: Jonathan Bomarito/Tristan Nunez/Spencer Pigot 

The works backed SpeedSource Mazda team return to the IMSA series in 2017 having shown promise throughout the 2016 season. With a new Mazda badged Riley DPI, which in my opinion is the best looking car in this class, will be hoping they can finally deliver on their long running promise.

The team is highly talented and this extends to the driver line up. Former single seater convert Jonathan Bomarito has now added experience to his speed and is well versed with the team having spent the past few years with them. He will provide the most experience, although both young team mates Tristan Nunez and Spencer Pigot have also raced this entry last year.

Nunez has adapted well having progressed through the Cooper Tyres IMSA lights series, having been nurtured by this team he gets better with every passing season and is now established as a prominent IMSA sportscar driver, despite being only 21. Pigot is a single seater who flashed promise in Indycar last season, and returns to Daytona looking to improve upon last years frustrating race where mechanical issues forced them out. If the Mazda DPI proves quick expect this team to be taking full advantage of it, and maybe they can achieve a rare and long overdue podium come Sunday afternoon.

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#70 SpeedSource Riley Mazda DPI: Tom Long/Joel Miller/James Hinchcliffe

The other Mazda factory entry is this #70 car, both of which have shown well at the pre-race Roar before the 24. Whilst it was the #55 car that set the headline times at the test, this entry has just as much a chance of victory or class podium. The SpeedSource team are highly professional and have plenty of experience in this race, plus the might of Mazda North America supporting their efforts.

The team remains largely unchanged on the driving front, with long time Mazda drivers Tom Long and Joel Miller providing a wealth of experience for this entry. Both are also capable of produce a very fast average pace across a stint, especially former single seater convert Miller. Completing the trio is Indycar star James Hinchcliffe, who reunites with the SpeedSource team for Daytona after taking last year out. He will be the star turn and if he can adapt to the new Mazda DPI car quickly, he will likely be the one setting the cars fastest times. So much in unknown going into this race, but if the testing pace proves to be an accurate reflection of outright speed, expect this car to be on the podium if it can keep clean and reliable.

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#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson: Loic Duval/Ben Hanley/Henrik Hedman/Nicolas Lapierre

The very young DragonSpeed racing team make their Rolex 24 debut with one goal in mind this weekend, to claim overall victory in this prestigious race. The team are racing their Oreca 05 from last season, updated to new 07 spec, and have impressed so far.

The team debuted at the Sebring 12 hours last season and again have returned stateside before taking on the European Le Mans Series this year. What the team lack in sportscar experience they more than make up for with their driver line up. Amateur Swedish racer Henrik Hedman has plenty of sportscar experience however he will likely to struggle to match the pace of the professional drivers simply because he is an amateur doing this for fun, do not think that will mean he is slow and he will be a very good and consistent driver for the team.

Joining him is Brit former single seater Ben Hanley, who like a shooting star rose to prominence very quickly before seemingly disappearing just as quickly. He is still a very quick racing driver who seems to have finally found a home with this DragonSpeed team. Completing the lineup are sportscar royalty, Audi factory driver Loic Duval and LMP2 WEC champion Nicolas Lapierre. Both have plenty of top line sportscar experience and will provide blistering pace for this car when they are at the wheel.

Having topped the pre-race test this team are looking good if they can keep this pace up consistently across the week culminating in the race. If they can be reliable this team has every chance of a class podium, despite the seeming disadvantage of an amateur driver, such is the overall quality of the team and the rest of the lineup.

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#85 JDC/Miller Motorsport Oreca 07-Gibson: Mikhail Goikhberg/Stephen Simpson/Chris Miller/Mathias Beche 

The second team to step up from the Prototype Challenge class is this JDC/Miller motorsport entry, and they will have fond memories of this race from last year. They survived a race of attrition in this class to secure an unexpected victory, something that carried across to the rest of the season as they finished third in class.

The team have chosen the Oreca 07-Gibson as their weapon of choice, with the DragonSpeed team showing the potential of the car in the re-race test. If this team can get to grips with the car and extract similar pace they will definitely be contenders for yet another upset victory this year.

The team has gone with familiarity for this year, having retained Stephen Simpson and Mikhail Goikhberg for this year. Both excelled last year and a resurgent Simpson reminded people why he was a formerly highly rated A1GP and Indy Lights driver. He has not lost any of his previous pace, he has simply now added experience to his sportscar armory. Goikhberg adapted well after winning the 2014 Mazda Prototype Lights series, he has found a home with the JDC/Miller team and rewarded them with an excellent season last year.

Chris Miller also returns this year after partial IMSA seasons with the team over the past several years. He has struggled with attaining a full season drive for several years now, which only makes his performances for this team even more impressive, considering his lack of experience. He is an underrated driver deserving of a full season IMSA drive, and so far he will be joining the team for the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events. Completing the lineup is Swiss racer Mathias Beche, a driver who has firmly established himself as a promising sportscar talent. He has impressed in recent years with the Thiriet by TDS and Rebellion racing teams, and is currently being rumoured to be joining the Toyota factory LMP1 programme this year. He will be hotshoe in this car and will lead the team as far as they can go in this race.

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#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Riley Mk30-Gibson: Renger Van Der Zande/Marc Goossens/Rene Rast

Long time IMSA entrants VisitFlorida.com racing return having gone a slightly different route to their traditional rivals. Whilst the likes of Action Express and Wayne Taylor racing have gone with the DPI route, this team have instead gone for a more European twist with their new LMP2 spec Riley Mk30. The team have made no secret of their desire to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours in the coming years, with their’s the only traditional Riley on the grid this year.

After an overhaul with their previous driver line up this year seems more stability, with the vastly experienced and very quick Belgian Marc Goossens remaining with the team for this year. He will have a new team mate in Dutchman Renger van der Zande, with Ryan Dalziel returning to the Tequila Patron ESM team. Van der Zande has long been one of the fastest drivers in the PC class, and is long overdue this promotion to the Prototype class.

This lineup is completed with Audi factory driver Rene Rast, someone who has solidified his success at this race in the GTD class in years prior. With plenty of Audi LMP1 experience he should find the adjustment to the Riley relatively easy, and he will be very fast throughout the week no doubt. This locally based team have never had much luck in this race, and could a new car bring a change in their fortunes? Based on testing times they may struggle, but many expect the order to have significantly change come the race.

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That wraps up my preview of the Prototype class for this years 2017 Rolex 24. The class seems rejuvenated this year with plenty of intrigue as genuinely you could not call a winner for this race. I will be one of the many sportscar eagerly glued to the race this weekend, excited to see the outcome. I have to say thank you for reading this and I hoped you liked it, any comments would be greatly appreciated. I have to also give a final thanks to Motorsport.com for their high quality photos which grace this page, I urge everyone to visit their site for the latest news and high quality pictures from across the motorsport world. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

 

 

2016 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is always the traditional starting point for the international motorsport season. The grueling 24 hour sprint has been noted to be a bigger challenge than the Le Mans 24 hours, and is this year is the curtain raiser for the renamed WeatherTech Sportscar Championship. This year also is the first of the newly GT3 spec GTD class, along with the high profile debut for the Ford GT programme in the GTLM class.

All four classes are very hotly contested, and based on the times from the recent pre-race Roar before the 24 test, this race to set to be a thrilling encounter across all classes for the entirety of the 24 hours. The opening race preview looks at the contenders in the top Prototype class.

#0 DeltaWing Racing DeltaWing DWC13 Elan: Sean Rayhall/Katherine Legge/Andreas Wirth/Andy Meyrick

After being the subject of much speculation this winter, the unique DeltaWing returns for another full season in the Prototype class. After a up and down year in 2015 the team returns with Sean Rayhall now replacing Andy Meyrick as the full season partner for the returning Katherine Legge.

For the longer North American Endurance Cup events Meyrick returns, with the line up completed for Daytona by the German Andreas Wirth. With both Legge and Meyrick they will bring consistently quick times and experience with this unique car.

Wirth is an established name and has shown his pace in his domestic ADAC GT Masters series. The only question mark surrounding him will be the length of time it will take him to adapt to both Prototypes and the DeltaWing.

Sean Rayhall has shown his pace both in this series and Indy Lights in the past few years, and is now being rewarded with a full time step up to the Prototype class. He will likely be the teams young charger in the race, and despite the late announcement of this programme he will likely be up to speed with the car by the time of the race.

Reliability has always been a crucial factor in endurance racing, and this entry will be looking to improve on their retirement last year after only 90 minutes thanks to transmission problems. The car showed impressive pace in the recent Roar before the 24, and if they can finally match reliability with the car’s pace this car could be in the hunt for a podium come the final hours of the race.

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#2 Tequila Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier JS P2-Honda: Scott Sharp/Ed Brown/Johannes Van Overbeek/Pipo Derani

The Extreme Speed Motorsport team are using these early season WeatherTech Sportscar Championship as a precursor for their 2016 World Endurance Championship campaign. They return to the Rolex 24 with a tweaked driver line up this year. Team sponsor Tequila Patron CEO Ed Brown is the team’s amateur driver, and long term team mates Scott Sharp and Johannes Van Overbeek returning. Both are very experienced and quick prototype racers, and are well bedded into the team helping amateur driver Ed Brown.  For this season the team have been joined by the very quick young Brazilian Pipo Derani.

He made the transition to sportscars last year, and has joined the ESM team after they switched to Ligier chassis for this year. In his debut at Daytona Derani posted the fastest time in the pre-race roar before the 24 test. His 1m39.249 time is a big statement of intent from him and the ESM team that they are looking to win this Rolex 24 race.

The Ligier JS P2 has fast become one of the premier LMP2 chassis, and as such with a hugely competitive field such as the Prototype the deciding factor will be down to unreliability and the ability to stay out of any drama’s and accidents over the first 20 hours. From there any subtle differences in car set up could be the deciding factor between victory and a place outside the top three.

Whilst the ESM team will be primarily focusing on the WEC this year, the freedom of not racing for a championship can allow them to take some chances in this race that some of the other championship contenders may not wish to do. This is a strong team  with a high quality driver line up. Whilst predicting the favorites is an impossible task across all four classes, this entry is one of many who can challenge for victory come the end of the 24 hour sprint that this race undoubtedly will be.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi/Filipe Albuquerque/Scott Pruett

The Action Express team return in 2016 with a largely similar line up that has yielded two championship years in 2014 and 2015. The team have established themselves as the team to beat in American sportscar racing, and have only grown stronger this year.

The full season line up of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi remains, and for this Rolex 24 they have signed two very quick drivers. Audi Sport driver Filipe Albuquerque joins the team and is a good addition, as any Audi sport prototype driver will be both very quick and consistent throughout the race. The headline signing for this team was American sportscar racing legend Scott Pruett.

The very experienced Pruett is a legend of this race and jointly holds the record for most victories with five. At age 55 he is still a very fast and experienced racer, and his decades of knowledge of this race will be invaluable to the Action Express team. The team has a habit of always being in the running for victory late on, and will hope they this year they can avenge their defeat by  the tiny margin of 1.3 seconds and repeat their 2014 victory.

This team has all the tools and capability to win this race, only misfortune or unreliability will see them out of contention in the final hours.

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#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP: Ricky Taylor/Jordan Taylor/Max Angelelli

The Wayne Taylor racing team return for yet another crack at the Rolex 24, after near misses in the last few years. The team is unchanged last year with South African team boss Taylor retaining the dynamic partnership of his long time team mate “Max the Ax” Angelelli and his two sons Ricky and Jordan Taylor.

This partnership has been unlucky multiple times and arguably should have a Rolex 24 victory of their CV if luck had gone their way. The team is one of the most competitive in the new WeatherTech Sportscar series, and much like Action Express can be counted on to be at the front in the final hours barring any misfortune.

The Corvette Daytona Prototype is a proven package that is both reliable and fast, and with former winner Wayne Taylor running the team they have every chance of securing a very popular and long overdue victory in this Rolex 24 event at Daytona.

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#31 Whelen Action Express Racing Corvette DP: Eric Curran/Dane Cameron/Simon Pagenaud/Jonny Adam

The second Action Express entry is yet another contender for victory, with a very good driver line up and one of the best teams in the class. Full season drivers Eric Curran and Dane Cameron return after a breakthrough 2015 season. The duo combined for two wins and finished the year in third, only five points behind their team mates in the championship battle.

Whilst this entry hasn’t had the attention it’s sister entry has, the #31 crew appear to be stepping out of the shadow of the #5 entry and will want another championship run this year. The best way to do this is to start the season well and the team have secured a very good lineup to help with this.

Alongside  quick amateur Curran and Cameron are Penske Indycar racer Simon Pagenaud and the Sunoco Whelen Challenge victor Jonny Adam. Pagenaud is a very quick sportscar driver and will provide both blistering pace and experience for this car, whilst Adam is a very quick British GT driver who will look to show his talents in the step up to prototype machinery.

With the Action Express crew running the car this car has every chance of victory come Sunday afternoon, although it will face very tough competition if this car wants to secure victory, the perfect car set up will be one of the key’s to victory. Do not overlook this car as it’s a contender.

#37 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan: Maurizio Mediani/Nicolas Minassian/Mikhail Aleshin/Kirill Ladygin

The Russian SMP Racing team make their debut at the Rolex 24 this year, with their newly designed BRO1 car now looking to be a fully reliable and quick car after it’s introduction halfway through last season.

The team are novices at Daytona and will therefore have a lot to learn during the race week, although with the LMP2 entries having an apparent slight edge on the Daytona Prototypes based on the pre-race roar before the 24, this team could be an outside shout for a podium if it can have a relatively clean run in the race.

On the driving front the team has a very good line up consisting of their usual WEC roster. Ferrari backed driver Maurizio Mediani is a quick driver, with Nicolas Minassian and Mikhail Aleshin they have two very quick racers who will likely post the fastest times for this car. Completing the line up is the Russian amateur Kirill Ladygin, although he surprised everyone by posting the car’s fastest time in the pre-race test.

This entry has plenty of potential to spring a surprise in the race, although the lack of experience from both the team and driver line up in this race will surely count against them as the race progresses. If the team can have a good run a podium is on the cards, but it will all depend on staying out of trouble and how their amateur rated drivers does.

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#50 Highway to Help Riley-BMW DP: Jim Pace/Bryon DeFoor,David Hinton/Dorsey Schroeder/Thomas Gruber

The #50 entry returns for an expanded 2016 calendar comprising the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events. This is typically a Daytona only entry, with the charitable cause benefiting is typically the primary goal for this team.

This year they have the highly professional Starworks Motorsport providing technical assistance to the team, although with a car that is now several years old and a largely amateur driver line up a good result for this team will be very tough to achieve.

For this team however, attaining a good result is simply an added bonus and instead will simply enjoy driving in the race. The line up will be led once again by Fox Sports TV commentator and long term racer Dorsey Schroeder. Racing is now a hobby for the experienced American, although expect him to still be driving quickly and leading this entry in the race.

Of the rest Jim Pace is one to look out for, as the experienced racer is a former winner of this race back in 1996 and can still turn fast times at this track despite his age. Bryan DeFoor, David Hinton and Thomas Gruber will be a solid pair of hands for this car, although don’t expect them to be setting the pace of the leaders in their stints. For this team finishing the race will be an achievement, with a top ten in class an added bonus for this team.

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#55 SpeedSource Mazda-AER Prototype: Jonathan Bomarito/Tristan Nunez/Spencer Pigot

The SpeedSource factory supported Mazda team return in 2016 with a petrol powered AER entries, after suffering with constant reliability issues with their previous Skyactiv diesel technology.

The team appear to be back in contention based on their times at the pre-race roar before the 24, although testing times are hard to gauge as the real representative times won’t be set until qualifying.

The team is experienced now in the series, and has a very good young driver line up in this #55 entry. Jonathan Bomarito provides years of sportscar experience a long with quick times in a car he is very comfortable with. His full season partner will be the young Tristan Nunez and he is a very quick up and coming sportscar driver. Whilst completing the line up the team completed a coup by signing Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot. He appeared to have adjusted well to sportscars and was setting quick times in the pre-race test, so his stints in the race will be well worth watching.

This team is somewhat of an unknown quantity going into the race thanks to it’s new petrol engine, therefore making a prediction on it’s form is very tough. If this team can remain trouble free with the new engine they will likely be in the hunt for a podium, although it’s not yet known if they have the last few tenths that will required to secure a podium placing in this race.

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#60 CURB Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2-Honda HPD: John Pew/Ozz Negri Jr/AJ Allmendinger/Olivier Pla

Michael Shank returns with his Ligier JS P2 for another crack at the race they won in 2012. The team were the first Daytona Prototype team to switch to the LMP2 spec Ligier, and with a year of running under their belts should come into this year’s race with a much better chance of victory.

The team have been working on the lack of torque and drive ability that they suffered with last year. This will be crucial especially for the experienced amateur rated driver John Pew, and could he could be the difference between victory and a podium place come the final hours of the race.

Full season partner Ozz Negri Jr returns once again as does Nascar race AJ Allmendinger, and this year are joined by on-loan factory Ford driver Olivier Pla. The very quick Frenchman spent last year with the Nissan LMP1 programme, and has extensive experience with the Ligier JS P2 prototype.

With a high quality driver line up like this and a quick car underneath them, only misfortune will likely stop this team fighting for victory. This entry is right up there with any other in the class for victory and don’t be surprised to see this car driving into victory lane immediately after the race.

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#70 SpeedSource Mazda-AER Prototype: Joel Miller/Tom Long/Ben Devlin

The second SpeedSource Mazda entry is this #70 car, which was also looking very quick in the pre-race test. The team’s issues appear to have been solved thanks to the new petrol powered AER 2.0 litre engine.

The SpeedSource team has plenty of experience and factory Mazda assistance so therefore will be strong with pit stops and strategy in the race. On the driving front the team has a good, solid line up that will be able to get them to the finish in a good position.

Ben Devlin will likely take on the role of the experienced driver thanks to almost 15 years of prototype experience across Europe and America. Tom Long has been associated with Mazda for most of his career and also brings plenty of experience to this entry. Completing the trio is Joel Miller, who has adapted well in the past few years since switching from single seaters to sportscar racing.

There will be almost nothing this team and driver line up will not have seen before with this race, and this experience could prove crucial in a race that will be likely decided by the smallest of margins. If the new AER engines can remain reliable this team has the chance of a overall podium, which would be a huge result for the SpeedSource team.

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#90 VisitFlorida.com Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP: Ryan Dalziel/Marc Goossens/Ryan Hunter-Reay 

The Spirit of Daytona squad came within a whisker of winning last years championship after leading it for most of the season, yet has decided to change their driver line up for 2016. Gone are the previous long term pairing of Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante, with Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens replacing them.

Both Dalziel and Goossens are very quick and experienced sportscar racers, with Dalziel winning the race in 2010 whereas Goossens brings over twenty years of racing experience. The new full season line up is joined for Daytona by former Indycar and Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter Reay. He will bring pace along with years of experience from competing in this race.

With a team that was arguably the best in the class last year, along with a driver line up containing this much experience and pace this entry is one of half dozen that are serious contenders for overall victory. For the local Spirit of Daytona team this would be a huge achievement and no one could begrudge this entry victory.

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#01 Claritin Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford DP: Alex Wurz/Andy Priaulx/Brendon Hartley/Lance Stroll

The fabled Chip Ganassi Racing team return for another season in the prototype class, despite also taking on the race debut for the works Ford GTLM programme this year also.The team once again brings two Riley-Ford’s to Daytona and will be looking to repeat their win from last year.

In recent years the Chip Ganassi team have dominated this race, winning three of the last six. This year the #01 has an all star driver line up of long term F1 and sportscar driver Alex Wurz, touring car and GT fast man Andy Priaulx, current WEC champion Brendon Hartley and up and coming F3 racer Lance Stroll.

This line up is likely the best in the class in my opinion, with Wurz and Priaulx providing years of experience along with plenty of pace to boot. It’s likely Hartley and Stroll will be the all out attack racers of this entry, although for Stroll he is still adjusting to the Riley Daytona Prototype. He suffered an accident in the pre-race test which hampered them, although his experience will only improve during race week.

With such an all star team and line up, only mechanical misfortune or a mistake from one of the drivers will likely stop this team. Amongst a potential half dozen serious contenders a lot of people would likely bet on this car if they were forced to. It will be interesting seeing how this car gets on throughout the race, don’t expect it to be far from the top of the timing screens all race.

#02 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford DP: Scott Dixon/Tony Kanaan/Kyle Larson/Jamie McMurray

The second Chip Ganassi racing entry comes into the race as defending champions from last year. Whilst the #01 has taken a lot of the pre-race press attention, do not ever discount this #02 entry as they are more than capable of repeating their victory from last year.

Team boss Chip Ganassi has smartly retained his mixed roster of Indycar and Nascar racers this year, after their big success last year. Indycar duo Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are both very quick along with experience. It was the uncanny fuel saving ability of Dixon last year that played a part in their close fought victory, with Nascar racers Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray swapping their stock cars for another crack at the Rolex 24.

The #02 slightly edged the #01 in the pre-race test, although choosing between the two will be very difficult to do until the early hours of the race have passed. Both entries have an equal chance of victory, and if any team will win this race it’s hard to look past the Chip Ganassi outfit. This entry in particular has a winning pedigree, one that it will want to continue this year.

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That concludes my preview of the prototype class for this year’s eagerly anticipated Rolex 24 hours at Daytona. As I’ve mentioned above there are half a dozen very serious contenders for victory, with a further half dozen likely to be in the hunt for victory if any of these teams slip up or suffer from misfortune in the race. Predicting a winner before the race is impossible, it will be thrilling to watch the race unfold and see who is in the right position to claim victory.

Coming up in the next few days will be my preview of the prototype challenge class, so stay tuned for that. I have to give huge credit to Motorsport.com for their incredibly high quality photos used in this preview and I encourage everyone to visit their website at Motorsport.com for all the latest news and high quality pictures from around the motorsport world. Finally I wanted to say thank you for making it this far and reading the article, I would greatly appreciate any feedback both positive or negative I want to hear your thoughts on this article.