Roar before the 24

  • Interview with a Champion - Neel Jani

    Neel Jani, Porsche factory driver and FIA World Endurance Champion doubles up with Rebellion in LMP2 to contest the North American Endurance Championship in 2017 alongside his regular duties at Porsche. Jani will be making his racing debut at Daytona and the Rolex 24 in the brand new Rebellion Oreca 07. Jani already has a Le Mans win to his name and has now set his sights on another 24 hour classic, the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

    In a Speed Chills Exclusive, we sat down with Neel and discussed his return to Rebellion Racing, the Roar Before the 24 and the upcoming Rolex 24 At Daytona.

    How did you get on at the Roar Before the 24?

    It is kind of hard to say, we obviously got on really well the first two days, we topped the time sheets but teams are holding back, not wanting to show their true performance just yet, but we were not playing games. We wanted to get out and see what the car could do. The Mazda is quick but Cadillac looked slow, but I’m not paying too much attention to lap times yet. We focused on our preparation, the new Oreca 07 is great, its clearly very different to the 919 so a lot to learn. It is a new car to everyone on a new circuit, and to me, I have never driven LMP2 so it was quite an experience doing my first LMP2 laps around Daytona. The team did a great job to build the car in such a short space of time after Stephane (Sarrazin) destroyed the first one at the December test at Sebring. The team had to completely rebuild the car from a new chassis and get everything set up in just a few weeks. It was important to us to get kilometres on the car to test the reliability and performance over long distance runs and the car performed perfectly all test.

    How is it being back at Rebellion after running with Porsche for 3 years?

    It is great to be back at Rebellion, there have been a number of changes to the team since I was first here but a lot of the top guys are still around (Team Manager Bart Hayden). We have a very strong line-up for the Rolex 24 and the North American Endurance Cup with Seb (Buemi) Steph (Sarrazin) and Nick (Heidfeld) in the car. It's nice to be partnered with Nick again after this time and although we have an on track rivalry, everyone gets on well and works together well, we have all come through the development together and so know each other well. It is our first time running an LMP2 car together so it is new to us all. But it is what I wanted to do. I didn't want to race in GT, I have never done it, it is very different to my background. I wanted to race in LMP2 and fight for overall victory and I believe with this team we have a very good chance, we have arguably the strongest line up. We work well with each other, we all have a lot of experience and we trust each other, that is important.

    This year, you will also be joining Rebellion for their North American Endurance Cup Races?

    We worked hard with Porsche to agree this deal with Rebellion and I am very happy it paid off. Porsche are usually very strict with other commitments so it is nice to do. It is great to get Rebellion Racing back in to North America and see what happens. (Rebellion have taken on the Robertson Racing facility in Georgia for their American campaign this season). Two of the four races will be done by the start of the WEC season so it is easier to manage than the guys doing Formula E. I am looking forward to it, we last raced here in 2013 along with Nick (Heidfeld) so it's good to be back. We are keeping one car in the US and hoping to use the same team on WEC and the North American Endurance Cup.

    This is your first time at Daytona, how did you find it and what were your impressions?

    Wow! Daytona is an incredible place and track. My first experience of Daytona was playing an old Nascar video game when I was a child so to be there racing now it was great. Doing the track walk before the test was amazing. The banking is so steep! you wonder.. how can you drive on that? It really is a special place. Driving the first few laps were very special with the car up on the banks at speed, thinking, how steep are these banks?! You get used to it quite quickly. The car took to the circuit well and I got used to it and start to push it. The infield is tight and bumpy but the outside oval is very quick. Traffic is very different to WEC, traffic is a bit easier because we don’t gain that much lap time through corners but we are much faster than the GT along the straights, better breaking and more grip. The new Daytona Prototypes, the Mazda in particular look amazing. Balance of Performance will come in to it, but IMSA have all the data and will decide accordingly so it is perhaps too early to gauge cars performance just yet. That said, it is going to be an impressive race. The grid is like a who’s who of racing with some very talented drivers from GT, Nascar, Indy Car and Prototypes. It is going to be a very hard fought race. We haven't really stopped yet. The off season was 3 weeks between end of season testing and Roar Before. It's great that the race falls when it does as it keeps me sharp and on form and helps me train and prepare for the upcoming season. I have a little bit of time off between Sebring and The Prologue at Monza but we have two big races and testing with Porsche before that time off so were always busy.

    What are your thoughts on Audi withdrawing from the WEC?

    It will be strange with only two manufacturers in LMP1, they will be missed. We had some great battles with Audi last year and in previous years. Nurburgring last year was great, going wheel to wheel with Andre (Lotterer) to finish fourth. It was a disappointing result for us but a great race. We fought hard, we fell down and got back up again and closed the gap. I think that Toyota will come back strong this year and be competitive. Toyota are racing a brand new car (as of the start of 2016) whereas the 919 is a three year old chassis. But I am confident and I am looking forward to it. We have a lot of testing before the start of the season and it is going to be a good fight.

    How did you feel winning Le Mans 2016?

    Winning Le Mans was great! We fought hard for the whole race and always felt like we could win. However, winning it with Toyota breaking down was a shock. You don't wish that on anyone and I feel for them. But equally, I think we deserved the win. We had a lot of bad luck in that race. We had two punctures in the last six hours but we kept fighting back. The car was quick and definitely capable of winning on it's own. In the end, it was a two car race. But I want to repeat my point, you don’t wish Toyotas luck on anyone. It was a shock result that is for sure and one that will go down in history and that is something I am proud to be part of. I know my friends and family will never forget it and neither will I. I hope we have many more wins to come.

    There have been some big changes at Porsche since Bahrain, how do you feel about going into the season as the only World Champion?

    Yes it is a big change for the whole team. I feel confident though, Nick (Tandy) and Earl (Bamber) have experience racing the 919 (Le Mans winners 2015 along with Nico Hulkenberg). We have done a lot of testing at Motorland Aragon and everyone is getting on well. Andre is obviously new to the car and has to adjust to it. We have a lot of testing coming up in the next few months and I feel confident that Porsche will do well this year, we have a good team and Toyota are going to be tough competition. Its going to be a great battle this season!

  • Kobayashi heads Roar second session

    Kobayashi tops rain soaked second session.

    Session two of the 2019 Roar Before the 24 was interrupted by torrential rain, giving the teams a good opportunity to test the new Michelin wets before the session was red flagged. Kobayashi posted an early time of 1:36.596, just 0.008 faster than the #55 Mazda which finished the session in second. The #77 car was just 0.242 seconds off the pace before the rain came down.

    The #50 Juncos Cadillac took third ahead of the #7 Acura which rounded out the top five. The CORE Nissan DPi managed to set its first times of the day, finishing eighth in class with a time of 1:37.522.

    Three of the four LMP2 cars took part in the second session, the #81 Dragonspeed Oreca making its first appearance taking second in class with a time of 1:39.788, 0.213 behind Matt McMurry in the #52 PR1 Mathiasen Oreca. The #18 Dragonspeed Oreca still remained in the garage.

    The sole entry Ferrari, run by Risi Competizione topped the session with a time of 1:44.718, topping the session by just a tenth of a second. Ryan Briscoe put the #67 Ford into second position ahead of Antonio Garcia in the #3 Corvette. the #912 Porsche took fourth place, meaning there were four different manufacturers all separated by less than three tenths of a second.

    The #33 Riley Motorsports Mercedes topped the times again, Jeroen Bleekemolen going fastest again with a time of 1:46.452. The #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari took second place with the #96 Turner BMW M6 GT3 of Jens Klingmann took third.

    All images courtesy of IMSA

  • Mazda top Roar Before the 24 Qualifying

    Mazda have dominated all weekend at the Roar Before the 24, threatening all day Saturday to beat the PJ Jones lap record of the Daytona infield set in 1993, Oliver Jarvis unofficially smashed the record on his third qualifying run with a time of 1:33.398, half a second faster than the 1:33.875 set by PJ Jones in the AAR Toyota Eagle MK III. Harry Tincknell was the only visible competition for the former Audi WEC driver, Tincknell 0.025 of a second further back.

    “It felt incredible, big thanks to Mazda Team Joest, Multimatic and AER,” Jarvis said. “The tyre is outperforming last year, the car has been an absolute joy to drive. We ran full qualifying spec, we pushed the car to the limit and that’s what we love as drivers, getting everything out of the car. This is confidence inspiring, we’ve got a good package, we’ve done tons of work over the winter. We’ve had a really good Roar, when you look back at how tough it was last year, but we know that our competitors will be closer when we come back later this month.”

    Ricky Taylor was eight tenths off the pace in third, the #7 Cadillac set a time of 1:34.261 taking third ahead of the #5 Action Express Cadillac of Filipe Albuquerque. Filipe Nasr completed the top five.

    Once again, Gabriel Aubry lead the LMP2 field in the PR1 Oreca leading the #81 and #18 DragonSpeed cars with a time of 1:35.930.

    The #3 Corvette qualified first in GTLM, Jan Magnussen setting a time of 1:42.651, the fastest ever GTLM lap around Daytona. Magnussen and Richard Westbrook in the #67 Ford exchanged fastest laps at the front before setting a 1:42.779 and boxing early.

    “Come Qualifying we did what we did last year, agreed who would tow who, and it was me again getting towed by the other car with Oliver in, he did a great job placing himself at Turn 6 so I could tow past him. We did the exact thing last year to get pole last year. It worked well for us” said Magnussen after the session. The #66 Ford took third ahead of the two Porsches which had performed so well on Saturday. Earl Bamber lead Nick Tandy across the line, Bamber with a time of 1:42.919, Tandy with a 1:43.051.

    All images courtesy of IMSA

  • Neel Jani on top at the Roar Before the 24 

    Neel Jani topped the time sheets in the #13 Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibson LMP2 in both sessions. The Swiss driver, who has never driven at Daytona, or on a banked circuit, posted a time of 1:39.164 in the first session ahead of Ricky Taylor in the #10 Cadillac DPI (-0.332s) and Dane Cameron in the #31 Cadillac DPI (-1.976s).

    The second session saw Jani improve his time to 1:39.160 ahead of the #85 JDC Miller Oreca 07 (-0.274s). Jani’s team mates Sarrazin, Buemi and Heidfeld were all in Las Vegas on Formula E duty giving Jani the car to himself for the day, the trio are due to make an appearance on Sunday, the final day of the test.

    The #10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac took third (-0.875s) with the #52 PR1/Mathiasen car fourth (-0.973s) and the #81 Dragon Speed Oreca fifth (-1.166s). With very limited running, VISIT FLORIDA Racing took 12th (-2.427s). The #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport Ligier JSP217 topped the speed trap at 194.3 mph with the #10 Wayne Taylor Cadillac clocking in at 191.5mph.

    The Mazda crew were busy assembling a brand new chassis for the #55 car for most of the first session but they managed to get it out on track for some installation laps. Mazda are experimenting with a new exhaust system and are using the Roar Before as a test bed before finalising the set up for the Rolex 24. Both cars had issues however, the #55 stopped on track during FP1 with electrical problems whilst the #70 car stopped in FP2 with suspension issues.

    Overall, it appears that the Gibson powered LMP2 cars hold an early advantage over the DPI cars, three of the French Oreca’s were in the top five overall. Early driver observations indicate that the P2 prototypes are better on the brakes whilst the DPI cars have a more torque and accelleration out of the corners. Lap times were nearly two seconds slower however than the December test, indicating that the cars have more to give and teams are unwilling to show their true potential just yet.

    2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice moves back to sports cars with BAR1 Motorsport running in the PC category, the four cars in class all running within 0.4 seconds of each other with Rice posting the fastest time of a 1:44.025. The Performance Tech Motorsport PC entry unfortunately became the first casualty of the 2017 season, IMSA Lites champion Clark Topped spun the #38 Oreca FLM09 in to the wall at the bus stop chicane, breaking the gear box and suspension system. The team are targeting a return to track in time for Saturday’s night practice session, providing they are able to replace the gearbox. In the second session, Johnny Mowlem topped the session in the #26 car by over a second posting a time of 1:42.701.

    The first GT Le Mans session was lead by Corvette Racing with Jan Magnussen posting the fastest time in the #3 Corvette C7.R (1:44.76). The Ford GT’s now in to their second season of racing looked strong with Ryan Briscoe putting the #67 Ford second just three tenths back (-0.287s) in the first session with Dirk Muller a further tenth back in third place (-0.399). In the second session of the day, Muller topped the time sheets in the #66 Ford GT with a time of 1:44.773. British driver Andy Priaulx took second place in the #69 (-0.071s) with Oliver Gavin taking third place in the #4 Corvette C7.R (-0.196s).

    Conor de Phillippi led the way in GT Daytona in the #29 Audi R8 LMS posting a 1:47.629 with the #75 Mercedes AMG GT3 just 0.078s back. The established European GT3 cars were on top again in FP2, this time with the Stevenson Motorsports #6 Audi R8 LMS posting a 1:47.553. Two Mercedes AMG GT3 cars were less than two tenths behind. The brand new Acura NSX GT3 took ninth place (-0.663) whilst the new Lexus RC F GT3 took 13th (-0.783). GTD however looks to be an incredibly close fought battle during the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the top 19 cars were separated by just 1.075s.

    Session 1 Results

    Session 2 Results

    Photograph John Dagys - Sports Car 365

  • Rebellion top on Day 2 of the Roar

    Cadillac took an early lead in the time sheets, going quickest in a damp and greasy FP3 session on Saturday Morning. Wet weather meant the top teams were running nearly 15 seconds a lap slower than Friday, Ricky Taylor posting a 1:51.854 in the #10 Cadillac DPI.

    Only four of the 12 Prototypes made their way out on to the track with two PC cars and 6 GTLM cars, it was clear that teams were being cautious, not wanting to cause any lasting damage before the main event in just three weeks time. Trent Hindman lead in the PC class setting a 1:57.107 in the #26 BAR1 whilst Billy Johnson topped the charts in GTLM in the #68 Ford GT posting a 1:54.376, just a few tenths of the slowest prototype car, the JDC Miller car which posted a time of 1:54.014. #59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3R lead the way in a 20 car strong GTD field, posting a 1:56.898.

    The fourth session of the Roar Before the 24 saw dry skies return along with a significant drop in temperatures. Neel Jani once again went quickest in the #13 Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 with a 1:39.017 with Tristan Nunez in the #55 Mazda RT24 DPI just 0.14 seconds back after completing 53 laps. The sister #70 car was just four tenths behind, a very strong performance from the team after they were hit by a number of issues on Friday. After a number of electronic and setup issues on Friday, the VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley MK30 took sixth place, the team making some big improvements on the day before. VISIT FLORIDA Racing have been working closely with Mazda Motorsport on the Riley Chassis, with both teams suffering from similar issues with the electronics and suspension system. With the issues both teams are facing impacting the safety of the car, they have put their rivalry aside and agreed to share any information and data they have and work together to solve the problems. Team Manager at VISIT FLORIDA Racing, Troy Flis, located a machine shop nearby that could manufacture some new components for both teams and get them out on track on Saturday. The VISIT FLORIDA Racing engineers are making progress with the cars electronics and set up; everyone is in the same boat though, running a brand new car with very little time to develop and set up before the first race of the season.

    After a heavy crash on Friday, the Performance Tech team had managed to repair the car and get it back out on track to top the PC field, Pato O’Ward set the fastest lap time with a 1:44.191.

    Ford are looking dominant in GT Le Mans, the team took a 1-2-3 finish on the time sheets with Scott Dixon leading the way in the #67 with a 1:44.558 followed by the #68 (-0.250s) and the #66 (-0.803s).

    The close racing we can expect in GTD was demonstrated once again in this session with the #46 EBIMOTORS Lamborghini Huracan topping the time sheets by just 0.14 seconds. Fabio Bambini posted a 1:48.484 with the #86 Michael Shank Acura NSX in second place and the #59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 in third (-0.245).

    Rebellion Racing once again topped the time sheets in the first night session at Daytona International Raceway, Jani put the Rebellion at the front of the field with a 1:38.994. The identical DragonSpeed Oreca 07 was half a second behind (-0.517) as the Oreca chassis continued to outshine the rest of the field. The #55 Mazda RT24-P was third (-0.668s) with VISIT FLORIDA Racing in fourth place (-0.959) ahead of the #31 Cadillac DPI (-1.079) and the #2 ESM Nissan (-1.411).

    The newly rebuilt Performance Tech PC #38 car topped the PC class again posting a 1:43.119, nearly 1.4 seconds ahead of the identical Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09.

    Ford once again dominated in GTLM, this time Andy Priaulx lead the 1-2-3 finish with the #69 car posting a 1:44.785 ahead of the #68 (-0.056s) and the #67 (-0.122s). The Corvettes were close behind them however, Oliver Gavin posting a time just 0.044 off the pace of the #67 car.

    GTD was lead by the #29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 with Christopher Mies setting the quickest time of the night session, a 1:47.723. The night session was hit by two red flags as Joao Barbosa lost drive in the #5 Action Express Cadillac. The second stop was caused by contact between the #911 Porsche of Patrick Pilet and the #98 Aston Martin GT3 which broke the front left suspension on the Porsche and forced the car to retire for the night. Marco Sorensen will join the #98 Aston Martin alongside Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy, making his Rolex 24 debut.

  • Roar Before the 24 2019

    Its 2019, IMSA’s 50th anniversary and the action kicked off once again this weekend at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

    2019 promises to be a fantastic season in the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship with an unprecedented number of manufacturers set to take part throughout the season. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dirk Mueller, 2017 GTLM category winner at the Rolex 24 was ecstatic ahead of the first test day, “It’s just amazing. I don’t know how long we’ve been saying ‘It’s the best championship, it’s the best championship, it’s the best championship.’ It is the best championship, that’s for sure. It keeps on getting better and better. All the ingredients are in here: fantastic cars, really, really good teams, good manufacturers, good drivers and it keeps getting better. It makes me somewhat proud to be part of it. It’s like a huge community and people outside it, they’re getting jealous.”

    “You see great names coming already for this race,” said Helio Castroneves, who is returning for his second full season of WeatherTech Championship competition as co-driver of the No. 7 Acura Team Penske DPi with 2017 Prototype co-champion Ricky Taylor. “It sounds like we’re going to have a lot of cars with DPi, but also in GTD and GTLM. You have factories, there are so many in the series. When you have that kind of scenario, it shows that everybody is interested. I see no reason for it going down. It’s actually just going to continue going up.”

    The Rolex 24 At Daytona will again see some of the biggest names in motorsport. Fernando Alonso made his debut in 2018 and returns in 2019 with Wayne Taylor Racing, piloting the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi alongside Jordan Taylor, Renger van de Zande and his Toyota team mate Kamui Kobayashi.

    Alex Zanardi, the legendary Paralympics gold medallist makes his Daytona debut driving for BMW using a specially modified steering wheel with hand controls. Zanardi lost both of his legs in a high-speed Champ Car crash back in 2001.

    This year, the championship winning Prototype, the #31 Whelen Cadillac DPi-V.R with Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran at the wheel will be joined by Pipo Derani for the full season. Curran will take part in the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup rounds only.

    In GT Daytona, more commonly known as GT3 in Europe, the #48 Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan will have Ryan Hardwick joining returning champion Bryan Sellers. Hardwick is no stranger to Lamborghini however, having won the Super Trofeo North American AM championship in 2018.

    The 2018 GTLM championship winning car, the #3 Corvette Racing car will be driven once again by Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia. The pair never won a race in 2018, it was their consistency across the season that saw them eventually crowned 2018 champions.

    The Daytona Prototype international category is going from strength to strength, with the 11 entries across four manufacturers for the Roar Before the 24. There are six entries from Cadillac, two Acura DPi’s 2 Mazda’s run by Team Joest and one Nissan. The #5 Mustang Sampling DPi-V.R won the Rolex 24 in 2018 and will return once again with Joao Barbosa, Feilipe Albuquerque Christian Fittipaldi and Mike Conway at the wheel. Fittipaldi announced his retirement from motorsport this week and will step down from racing at the end of January.

    LMP2 numbers have fallen this year with a number of prototype teams switching to DPi cars over the LMP2 spec chassis options with JDC Miller for one, having switched to the Cadillac DPi chassis. All four LMP2 entries are Oreca chassis combined with Gibson V8 engines.

    There are five manufacturers taking part in GT Le Mans with two cars each from Chevrolet, BMW, Ford and Porsche with Ferrari represented with just one entry. The 2018 GTLM championship winning car, the #3 Corvette Racing car will be driven once again by Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia. The pair never won a race in 2018, it was their consistency across the season that saw them eventually crowned 2018 champions.

    And in GTD, the class has grown once again with 23 GT3 cars on the entry list for the Roar Before. The class will be made up of five Lamborghini’s four Audi’s four Porsche’s three Ferrari’s, two Lexus, two Mercedes’s two Acura’s and one BMW. The #48 Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan will have Ryan Hardwick joining returning champion Bryan Sellers. Hardwick is no stranger to Lamborghini however, having won the Super Trofeo North American AM championship in 2018.

    All images courtesy of IMSA

  • Round up from Daytona

    DragonSpeed dominated the final days testing at Daytona International Speedway, topping the time sheets in FP6 and FP7.

    Ex GP2 Driver Ben Hanley put the #81 Oreca 07 Gibson on top of the time sheets by just 0.02 seconds from the #55 Mazda RT24 DPI, both times were set during the first session of the day on Sunday morning. Hanley will share the car with Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval and Henrik Hedman for the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

    Despite early dominance, the #13 Rebellion Oreca Gibson finished third overall after leading the test early on. Sebastien Buemi took the teams quickest time on Sunday Afternoon posting a time of 1:38.408. The #52 PR1/Mathiasen Ligier took fourth place ahead of the #5 Action Express Cadillac DPI after the trio of cars showed an improved pace in the final session of the weekend. Joao Barbosa was within four tenths of the leading DragonSpeed car. The final time sheet of the day showed that all 12 prototypes, both LMP2 and DPI, were split by just 1.3 seconds, a result that is full of promise of things to come at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 3 weeks time. There was good improvements from the team at VISIT FLORIDA Racing, the car was classified seventh at the end of the day, however, Marc Goossens, Renger van der Zande and Rene Rast were just 0.57 off the pace of the #81 DragonSpeed car.

    Performance Tech once again led the way in the PC Category, they were the first of just five cars on the grid.

    Ford topped the time sheets in GTLM once again finishing 1-2 overall. The #67 car with Ryan Briscoe at the wheel posted a time of 1:44.38 during the morning session, beating Scott Dixon’s quickest lap of Saturday by nearly two tenths in the same car. Brazilian Indy car driver put the #69 Ford GT second quickest in his first outing in the new Ford GT.

    The #59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R lead the way in GT Daytona in their first appearance at the event in nearly 20 years. Sven Mueller put the car at the head of the field with a 1:46.810 on Sunday Morning ahead of the #33 Riley Motorsports Team Mercedes AMG GT3.

    The morning session was red flagged with a big fire for the #4 Corvette. Marcel Fassler escaped unharmed but the car was heavily damaged. The fire was caused by a fuel leak when a fuel injector line split. The fire burned through the bodywork of the front of the car, damaging key components under the front bonnet panel. The team are confident in getting the car repaired and back out for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, after all, it is nearly a year since the team experienced a fire in 2016 before going on to finish and incredible race with a dramatic 1-2 finish.

    Photograph motorsport.com

  • Round up from the Roar Before the 24

    It was an incredibly busy weekend at the Roar Before the 24 2 weeks ago with some big stories across the whole of the weekend. It was Ben Hanley who took the fastest overall lap time of the weekend after early dominance from Swiss driver Neel Jani in the brand new Rebellion Racing Oreca 07. Hanley topped the time sheets on Sunday in the Dragon speed Oreca in the cars first competition outing.

    With such big regulations changes over the 2016/2017 winter break in the prototype class, there were bound to be some big headlines with the new Daytona Prototype International cars arguably the biggest talking point. 2017 see’s three manufacturer backed DPI cars run by Mazda, Nissan and Cadillac in the highly competitive Prototype Class, they will also be joined by the next generation of  Le Mans/WEC spec LMP2 cars, the Oreca 07, the Ligier JSP2-17 and the Gibson powered Riley Mk30.

    Oreca led the way over the course of the weekend, the 07 out performing the competition in 5 out of 7 practice sessions. All the teams have clearly been doing a lot of development work over the winter break. Rebellion in particular have had to rebuild the car from a brand new chassis after Stephane Sarrazin wrote the car off in a private test at Sebring. The star performance of the weekend came from Ben Hanley, the British driver posting an overall quickest time of 1:38.343 on Sunday Morning. Hanley was a silver rated driver throughout 2016 but his early performance at The Roar clearly justifying his promotion to an FIA Gold rating.

    Ben Hanley is effectively an unknown driver in the United States. He has been racing with Dragon Speed in the 2016 ELMS season and was paramount to their great performances  which included four podiums and a lights to flag victory at the four hours of Spa Francorchamps back in September 2016. Luis Felipe Derani was relatively unknown on the American Motorsport Scene at the beginning of 2016. He was still relatively new to sports cars and prototypes at this point having spent just 1 and half seasons in LMP2 after making the switch from Formula Renault and Formula 3 in Europe. On his first WEC race, Pipo put his LMP2 car on pole at Silverstone, he went on to take six podium finishes in just eight races with G-Drive. Derani made his debut at the Rolex 24 in 2016, setting fastest lap and helping Tequilla Patron Extreme Speed Motorsport to victory. If Hanley can emulate the South American driver in any way, and his early performance indicates that he will, Hanley has a great future ahead of him in which ever route he decides to pursue. One thing is for certain, Ben Hanley is one to look out for at the upcoming Rolex 24 At Daytona, it will be  great to see how the young Brit performs on his first US outing.

    Neel Jani also made his Daytona debut at the Roar Before but it wasn't his first time racing in the US, Jani raced with Rebellion in America back in 2013 under the American Le Mans Series banner. Jani performed great in the opening first few days of the test, the sole driver in the #13 Rebellion as his team mates were on Formula E duty in Las Vegas. It is an incredibly tough call to make between Rebellion and Dragon Speed. Both teams are running the Oreca 07; Rebellion arguably have the better line up with Jani, Sarrazin, Heidfeld and Buemi but Dragon Speed have experience running at the Rolex 24. However, last time out they were driving a Ferrari F430 GT car. They do however have experience running in the American Le Mans Series Prototype Challenge category so that will give them a good grounding. It is clear that team manager Elton Julien has a lot of ambition and confidence in his team. He has relocated the team to France to allow them to focus on their ELMS campaign and to set the overall fastest time at The Roar after only just two laps of shakedown around Paul Ricard is an incredible feat. DragonSpeed are certainly going to be one of the teams to watch this coming weekend.

    The speed of the cars and the lap times achieved never quite reached the same level as the December Daytona test which was a big talking point around the paddock. A number of Balance of Performance changes have limited the top speed and acceleration of the cars, however there is, as always, an element of sand bagging with no one wanting to reveal their true potential this early in the season. Most notably, the Cadillacs have been slowed since the December Test through Aerodynamic changes, other cars came out a little quicker. IMSA released a number of BOP changes recently, altering aerodynamics, and set ups for a number of cars, however it is hard to establish exactly what affects this will have just yet. Whatever the reason for the differing performances, the debut of the Daytona Prototype International cars generated mixed results. Cadillac were fastest at the December Test however, with the exception of Jeff Gordon signing for the team, their weekend went mostly under the radar. Gordon’s return to sports cars after his last appearance in 2007 and the media and fans have been all over it. Gordon isn't treating his appearance at the Rolex 24 lightly however, he wants the win and has been working hard with the team to get the car developed and set up as best as possible. The second biggest news to come out of the Cadillac portion of the paddock is the announcement after the Rolex 24, Max Angelleli will retire from professional competition. He will be hunting down one final win, a win that has proved elusive to Cadillac over the years. If Cadillac pull it off, this could be one of the stories of the weekend.

    Cadillac were notably slower than some of the other prototypes however, drivers commenting on how quickly there were closing in on the three Cadillacs. A big change from the early pace shown in December. The Roar was the first appearance of the new Nissan DPI, as such the ESM team were using the weekend as a bit of a shake down and development weekend with one of the cars having a full engine change over night. Mazda also had a number of issues early on in the weekend with a number of electrical and set up issues. Mazda ended up working together with VISIT FLORIDA Racing to get the three cars up and running again. Troy Flis even went out late one night to find a local machine shop to manufacture some key components to help get the cars back on track. As a result, Mazda found some pace on the final day of the test, setting a time of 1:38.363 and hitting a speed of 197mph through the speed traps. Initial impressions show that Mazda could possibly be the best of the new DPI cars, but it is still early days. Everyone will have a better idea of true pace and performance by the end of this coming week before the race begins on Saturday.

    Whilst VISIT FLORIDA Racing did not quite have the pace of the Oreca 07’s and struggled early on with technical issues and electrical gremlins, the Gibson Riley LMP2 was only half a second or so off the leaders by the end of the weekend. Troy Flis admits that the team need a bit of work before the main event to bring the team completely up to speed, the team need some long mileage runs to understand the cars performance better over long stints. With the experienced line up of Renger van der Zande, Rene Rast and Marc Goossens, the team could be in with a great chance of winning the Rolex 24. Each of the three drivers has a lot of experience behind them in both GT cars and Prototypes so will be a forced to be reckoned with if the team can get all the mechanical and electrical issues ironed out. That being said, VISIT FLORIDA Racing are by no means on their own when it comes to issues, as already stated; Mazda had suspension and electrical issues, Nissan had to do a full engine rebuild and Cadillac have some pace to find. Even the front running Oreca’s had electronic issues and steering issues relating to the Cosworth steering system.

    PR1/Mathiasen and JDC Miller also suffered from electrical gremlins as they tried to shake out the kinks across the course of the weekend. The Prototype class is a new level of competition for them, both teams having made the step up from the outgoing Prototype Challenge category. It will certainly be interesting to see how the teams handle the step up, racing the next generation Ligier JSP2-17 and Oreca 07 respectively. The teams may not challenge for the overall win at this early stage based on speed however, if reliability comes in to the equation and they can race cleanly and keep the car on track, they may be in with a chance, particularly this year with everyone running brand new machinery. 2017 was a good year for the two teams to make the step up in to Prototype with the new set of regulations coming in to effect but with only five cars left in the final year of the Prototype Challenge it was a good call to make. Whilst there are five Prototype Challenge cars entered for the Rolex 24, there are only two full season confirmed entries so far.

    James French topped the five car field over the three days of running. Despite only being five cars, there could still be some great competition between the 5 identical Oreca FLM09 cars, notably between Starworks and BAR1, both teams are fielding two cars for the Rolex 24 with one car from Performance Tech. However previous years have often shown that the PC class goes down to a race of attrition, who is the last team standing after 24 hours? The teams will be focusing on getting the car through to the final stint rather than going for outright pace. Notable drivers in the category include Buddy Rice (Indy500 2004 Rolex 24 2009) who is making his return to the Rolex 24. Patricio O'Ward joins the grid after finishing second in the Pro Mazda Championship in 2016.

    The GT categories also feature a star studded line up of some of the best GT drivers on the planet.  Ford were pulling out all the stops, once again running both their IMSA and WEC cars in a four car line up with three of the cars running in the top four. Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon topped the time sheets with the #67 car, the #69 car was third. BMW were also running strongly with Alexander Sims, Bruno Spengler, Nicky Catsburg and Martin Tomczyk split between the two cars. Ferrari also have a strong line up, the Rizi Competition entry running Giancarlo Fisichela, Toni Vilander and James Calado. Porsche are also running a world class line up with Dirk Werner, Patrick Pilet, Frederic Makowiecki, Kevin Estre Richard Lietz and ex Audi factory drive Laurens Vanthoor. Corvette were of course the race winners in 2016 after a dramatic race to the flag. The big story of the Roar Before in GTLM however, was the fire in the #4 Corvette caused by a fuel leak. Marcel Fassler escaped the car unharmed and set about looking for a fire extinguisher before the safety truck arrived to put the fire out. Corvette GT cars are renowned for being practically bullet proof. In 10 years of racing, there has only been one full write off. Its going to be an incredibly close race in GTLM. Ford clearly have the strength in numbers and with 6 victories under their belts in 2016 across the four cars they have the performance as well. Arguably however, BMW, with the line up they have, could be in contention for victory. After all, BMW already have one 24 hour victory to their name in 2016 at the Total 24 Hours of Spa Francorchamps. Alexander Sims was one of their standout drivers of that event so expect strong performances all round from the German two car line up. Corvette have dominated the American GT scene in recent years, winning last years race in some style with a last minute sprint to the flag. They are arguably most peoples favourites to take the win.

    GT Daytona is going to be a fantastic battle this year. 27 cars, withe some of the best GT drivers in the world spread across a variety of cars, some European stalwarts mixed with some brand new cars from both Acura and Lexus with the NSX and RC-F. Manthey Racing posted the best time of the weekend but we had four manufacturers making up the top four, all of them separated by just tenths. Its going to be one of the most competitive GTD line ups in years with nine manufacturers represented; Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lexus, Mercedes, Porsche; all with factory support. The Rolex 24 will by the competitive debut of the Acura NSX, the 24 hour debut of the Lexus RCF and the American debut of the Mercedes AMG GT3 which has performed incredibly well across Europe so far. The strength of the driver line ups across the field is almost second to none, it is effectively a professional line up with a couple of Silver drivers thrown in for good measure. This in itself is both a good and bad thing. It is great for the competition of course, however it also draws similar controversy to the WEC LMP2 debate that has been going on for a couple of years with regards to driver grading's. The GTD category is supposed to be a Pro-Am race, however in most cases, it is almost impossible to class any of the drivers as an Am. That being said, its a 24 hour race that really is impossible to call in GTD.

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  • The 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona Grid

    The 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona gets closer everyday, with the event taking place on the 28/29th of January. 49 entrants have already been confirmed for the Daytona 24, with more expected to join the grid before the event. Last year, 54 cars participated and classified for the 54th running of the prestigious event. It was Scott Sharp, Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek, and Pipo Derani who took the overall win in a Tequila Patrón ESM Ligier JS P2. They return to try and defend their title for the 55th Rolex 24 At Daytona.

    Below is the confirmed grid, so far, to start off Speed Chill's Roar before the 24.

    Daytona Prototype Internationals

    The end of 2016 saw the end of an era for the Daytona Prototype, the class has been merged with LMP2 in the hope of expanding the grid and attracting factory-backed entries across North America. Petit Le Mans 2016 saw the final race in the category as we knew it, where the Daytona Prototype cars raced alongside the LMP2 specification of prototypes since 2014. The new legislation means that the Daytona Prototype of 2017 is a re-engined LMP2 chassis with custom body work. 2017 sees seven next generation cars on the grid run by four different teams with 3 different manufacturers, Nissan, Mazda and General Motors.

    The next generation Nissan DPI will be run using the new Ligier chassis, the JS-P217. The car turned its wheels for the first time in a private test at Sebring late 2016. The car will be run by Extreme Speed Motorsport who return to IMSA after their 2016 success at Daytona and will contest the full season after several years in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Scott Sharp will race alongside Ryan Dalziel in the #2 car with Pipo Derani stepping in as the third driver for Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta as part of the North American Endurance Cup. The #22 car will have Johannes van Overbeek and Ed Brown as the full season pairing along side Bruno Senna for the North American Endurance Rounds and Porsche factory driver Brendon Hartley at Daytona.

    Mazda brings the new RT24-P to the 2017 championship in partnership with Riley Multimatic. Speedsource is running two cars in 2017 with Jonathan Bomarito, Tom Long, Tristan Nunez, Spencer Pigot and Joel Miller on board for the full season. The car has a four cylinder 2.0L turbo charged engine developing nearly 600 horse power.

    General Motors have three cars lined up for the championship running the Chevrolet 6.2 Litre V8, two cars will run under the Action Express banner with a third car entered by Wayne Taylor Racing, all three are running the Dallara chassis. The Action Express team have retained their 2016 line up, the #5 car will be run by Filipe Albuquerque, Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa for Daytona with the 2016 championship winning #31 car of Eric Curran and Dane Cameron joined by Toyota factory star Mike Conway and the 2016 Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner Seb Morris, who in 2016 drove alongside Rick Parfitt Junior for Team Parker Bentley in the British GT Championship.

    Wayne Taylor Racing once again, sign on for the full season with their 2016 line up of Ricky Taylor and Jordan Taylor. Max Angelleli joins the pair for the endurance races along side Nascar super star, Jeff Gordon.

    LMP2

    There are a number of teams who have confirmed to be running the next generation of LMP2 cars in IMSA Competion alongside the factory backed Daytona LMP2 cars.

    Visit Florida Racing will be running a Riley Multimatic Gibson with Marc Goossens and Renge van der Zande on board for the full season. Team Manager Troy Flis is also targeting a run at Le Mans in 2017.

    After announcing their switch to LMP2 for the World Endurance Championship, Rebellion Racing also announced they would be mounting a challenge on the North American Endurance Cup with Nick Heidfeld, Neel Jani, Sebastien Buemi and Stephane Sarrazin at the wheel of the next generation Oreca 07 Gibson LMP2.

    JDC Miller will be running a full season campaign in the Oreca 07 but the driver line up is as yet un-announced.

    PR1 Mathiasen will be running the next generation Ligier JSP217 Gibson with Tom Kimber-Smith and Jose Gutierrez the full season contenders. Mike Guasch will join the duo for the four NAEC rounds.

    Dragonspeed will also compete at Daytona in their upgraded Oreca 05 with the ELMS trio of Nicolas Lapierre, Ben Hanley, and Henrik Hedman. The trio will be joined by Loic Duval.

    GT Le Mans

    Corvette Racing return to the IMSA championship with a two car line up and an unchanged driver line up. Tommy Milner/Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia are on board for the full season, looking to defend the championship. Audi stars Mike Rockefeller and Marcel Fassler also return for Daytona and Sebring.

    Porsche North America run by CORE Autosport will debut the new 911 RSR with Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre, Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner piloting the new mid engined 911 for the season. Richard Lietz and Fred Makowiecki join the team for Daytona.

    BMW have gone under a substantial reshuffle with Martin Tomczyk and Alexander Sims joining the squad alongside John Edwards and Bill Auberlen. Nicky Catsburg and Kuno Wittmer will join BMW for the North American Endurance Cup rounds with Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler also onboard for Daytona.

    Ford returns to IMSA with the 2017 GT without any major changes. Joey Hand/Dirk Mueller and Richard Westbrook/Ryan Briscoe will take on the full season with the FIA WEC cars also joining the squad for Daytona. The first time all four cars have run together since Le Mans 2016.

    GT Daytona

    GT Daytona, the IMSA equivalent of GT3, will see Scuderia Corsa, the class champions of 2016 return with the Ferrari 488 GT3 for 2017 with Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen at the wheel. Matteo Cressoni will join the duo for the NAEC races. Michael Shank will contest the season with the new Acura (Honda) NSX GT3 with Jeff Segal, Ozz Negri, Katherine Legge and Andy Lally on for the whole season, Mark Wilkins and Tom Dyer for the NAEC races and Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay in for Daytona.

    3GT Racing will bring out the Lexus RC F GT3 with two cars featuring FIA WEC driver Gustavo Menezes for the endurance rounds. Riley Motorsport makes the jump from Dodge to Mercedes with the new AMG GT3, they field two cars in a season long campaign with Thomas Jaeger and Shane van Gisbergen on board for Daytona. Sun Energy1 Racing, a new team to the IMSA paddock are also running the AMG GT with a full season entry, the driver line up is not yet complete at time of writing.

    Core Autosport, Park Place, and TRG are all set to run the Porsche 911 GT3R program for season long campaigns in GT-D with a number of Porsche factory drivers spread throughout the lineup and a number of drivers still to be confirmed.

    Lamborghini returns to the grid with one car entered by Paul Miller Racing and one under the banner of Change Racing, both for full season campaigns. The two season entry Lamborghinis are also set to be joined by Dream Racing for the endurance races as part of the NAEC and Grasser Racing Team, the highly successful European team making its debut in the United States at Daytona. Grasser will be bringing with them their highly successful lineup of Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen and Ezequiel Perez Companc with them to Daytona. Future plans are yet to be confirmed. Ebimotors will field an additional Lamborghini at Daytona and Sebring with Fabio Babini and Emanuele Busnelli confirmed so far.Sole Daytona entries include Aston Martin Racing with a Vantage GT3 run by Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Laura and Pedro Lammy with Niicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen both possibilities for the 24. Konrad Motorsport will return to Daytona with a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 with potential for further appearances later in the year. Manthey Racing will field a customer entered Porsche 911 GT3 R; Land Motorsport Audi fresh from claiming the ADAC GT Championship will make a one off appearance at Daytona and AF Corse Ferrari will enter one 488 GT3 with an unannounced lineup.

  • VISIT FLORIDA Racing Tests Riley-Gibson

    VISIT FLORIDA Racing turned its first official laps of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship over the weekend as Daytona International Speedway hosted the annual Roar Before the 24 test ahead of 55th Rolex 24 At Daytona.

    Marc Goossens, Renger van der Zande, and Rene Rast all participated in the three-day test which also saw a busy schedule of media activities in addition to the on track action.

    With the all-new Riley-Gibson platform for 2017, The VISIT FLORIDA Racing squad worked through its test plan and ran times among the top-five throughout many of the seven test sessions.

    "The test went well and I am happy we were able to get some time on the car," said Team Owner Troy Flis. "Some of the issues we saw at the December test were vastly improved and we were glad to see the progress there. There is a lot of positives that came out of the Roar. With this being such a brand new car, we just didn’t have enough time to run through our whole test plan. Even if we ran every lap on offer, it wouldn’t have been enough time. We just have to do the best that we can and go back and prepare the best that we can for the race here at the end of the month."

    "It’s been great having Marc (Goossens), Renger (van der Zande), and Rene (Rast) driving together at the test. They all want the same thing and are communicating well so I think that is a strong point for us. I think some of our off-season testing with pit stops will be another positive for us. There is just a lot of work on the car to be done, but we are optimistic about where things are going."

    The Rolex 24 At Daytona takes place January 28-29 and will go green at 2:30 PM ET with LIVE coverage on FOX.

    DRIVER QUOTES:

    MARC GOOSSENS: "We still have some work to do but I think that we have come along with from when we tested a month ago. The car is still fairly new and there is still some things we need to fix. We were able to try a couple of things and I think that they showed us where we needed to be setup wise. Now it is just about making the car more reliable."

    RENGER VAN DER ZANDE: "The laps that I did I enjoyed a lot and it is a great car to be in. We had some technical issues that needed to be solved but I think we got through most of that. I think that we have a little bit of work on the reliability and I think that we can do a good job. I am sure we can be well prepared for the 24 hours. I think speed-wise we have some top speed issues which is a bit of a regulation thing. I hope that we can work on that nicely and be competitive."

    RENE RAST: "It was quite an interesting test since everyone was new with their cars. Every session that we went out we made steps forward but we still have a lot of work to do. That pace itself is not too bad, we are only about one second to the leaders which is nice. The pace and potential is there and the car feels good to us drivers. Now we just need to work on all of the small details."

    For Additional Information:
    Julie Conlin, Sunday Group Management
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    www.sdr-motorsports.com
    twitter.com/visitfloridarac

    Images Brian Cleary/VISIT FLORIDA Racing