The last American unified sports car race was back in 1997 at Laguna Seca as part of the IMSA GT championship. This weekend that will change with the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the combining of Don Panoz’s American Le Mans series and Jim France and the France family’s Grand American Road Racing Association.
Since the 2012, when this merger was announced there has been a lot of excitement of finally getting one sports car series, I am one of them. Before I get into the preview for the Rolex 24 hour race tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to give a quick synopsis of the details of the merger.
- Four Car Classes- Prototype (consisting of Grand-Am’s Daytona Prototypes and the American LeMans series LeMan Prototype 2 cars and the Delta Wing a technology based racer car formed by Don Panoz. Prototype Challenge- a spec series. All chassis are Oreca and powered by Chevrolet. This remains unchanged from the American LeMans Series. GT LeMans- ALMS’ GT class. GT Daytona- Grand Am GT class with combination of GTD, GTX and ALMS’ GTC.
- Staff- Jim France, Don Panoz, Ed Bennett, Scott Atherton, Scot Elkins and Richard Buck.
- North American Endurance Cup- Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta. Top points collector by team will be crowned NAEC champions, this mini series is sponsored by Tequila Patron.
That is just a little taste of what we will have in store for the upcoming season now to the 52nd Rolex 24 Hour race at Daytona preview
I have never been more excited for this year’s Rolex 24. We have a record of 68 cars entered.
- Wayne Taylor Racing #10 Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype driven by Ricky, Wayne and Jordan Taylor along with Max Angellili. WTR is one of the favorites because they are the reigning Grand Am champions with Max and Jordan behind the wheel from last season. They always seem to be at the front in the Rolex but something always seems to go wrong for them it seems like. The additions of Wayne Taylor (coming out of retirement) and Ricky re-joining the team for the full season after driving with Spirit of Daytona last season, makes them a team full of talent and experience, which is key to winning the Rolex 24. The only thing I fear with WTR is will clock strike midnight again and something odd happen again. It isn’t like they didn’t have the talent over the past few years when they brought in drivers such as: Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe to co-drive with them. It seems like just a matter of time with them.
- Chip Ganassi Racing #01/02 Ford EcoBoost Riley. 01 drivers: Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Jamie McMurray and Sage Karam. 02 drivers: Marino Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Kyle Larson and Tony Kanaan. Let’s start with the #01 team. This team has been one word over the past decade in the 24 hours of Daytona. Chip Ganassi seems to always bring star studded talent to the Rolex 24. The biggest change this team has brought is Sage Karam, 2013 Firestone Indy Lights champion to replace Juan Pablo Montoya as third driver. We know Pruett and Rojas will be on their game and focusing on the championship at the same time. The other slight change Ganassi has made is Jamie McMurray replacing Joey Hand/Charlie Kimball. I don’t see this as a big deal because McMurray has experience at the Rolex 24 but driving TCGRT sister car the 02. Speaking of the 02. This is the same team from last year but also very different. Scott Dixon is the only remaining driver from the “original 02 team. Dario Franchitti, who was sadly forced to retire after a horrific accident in Houston in IndyCar is replaced by his brother and sports car ace, Marino. Tony Kanaan, Ganassi’s IndyCar replacement for Franchitti jumps into the ride as he did last July at the Brickyard Grand Prix. Replacing McMurray is upcoming star and Montoya’s NASCAR replacement, Kyle Larson. There is no question both teams have what it takes to get it done. There are two things I do question though, chemistry and motor life. Motor life? Yes, Ganassi switched from BMW to Ford and the Ford EcoBoost engine faced some issues in the preseason test. If the motor holds up, I believe one of these two teams has a strong shot at victory lane.
- Michael Shank Racing #60 Ford EcoBoost Riley. Drivers: John Pew, Ozz Negri, Justin Wilson and AJ Allmendinger. This team stays unchanged from last year and if you thought that Ganassi’s team was good, this team could be better but only because of chemistry. Negri and Pew are the full time drivers for this year, again but Shank elects to bring back Wilson and Allmendinger which is a good move because they have proven to be fast and have won a 24 hour event as teammates to Negri and Pew.
The others: Bob Stallings Racing has taken pole for tomorrow afternoon, driven by Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, Darren Law and Memo Gidley. I expect them to be quick all day long. The P2 cars of Extreme Speed Motorsport and Muscle Milk Racing have a lot of work to do after sub-par qualifying efforts. For the P2 cars (plus DeltaWing) watch for them making up most of there lost time on track in the corners because of them not having much straight line speed. AEX and there two cars will be fast as well. Spirit of Daytona has topped some of the practice sessions. Will Mazda and there SkyActiv Diesel machines make up lost speed base things off of reliability instead?
To me it looks like the Chevy Corvette DPs look good on paper but will they be reliable. Will a P2 car win or podium? In Prototype, there is a lot of good stories to follow.
On the GT side of things, the new Corvette C-7s have been super quick and I expect them to dominate the GTLM side of things. GTD is a more wide open field. Magnus Racing, Risi and Level 5 all look like contenders. GTD is one of the battles I will be watching.
This pretty much wraps up my preview of the 24 Hours of Daytona.