Welcome 2016! As a fan, I have been waiting all year for this! (I know, it’s only 10 day in, but I do go there!) The next two years are going to be interesting, and with the Roar Before Daytona finishing today, I see we’ve come a long way.
The most obviously new thing here is Daytona International Speedway’s new grandstands. I was up at the top of the turn 1 stands last year and was amazed by the view! At the very top, you’re almost too far from the track. I did have to have a friend help me because my vertigo kicked in and I was shaking my beer flat…. Oops! The aluminum stands have that stadium seating where you get a great view sitting while the guy in front of you stands up. It’s almost like floating in the air, 15 stories high!!! It is truly awesome. This year I aim to get pictures from the start/finish line from as high up as I can get. The fan concourses inside are big and roomy. While I can’t speak for the Daytona 500, the Rolex will be fun to watch from up there!
But the action is always in the infield!!! The Speedway enlarged the Sprint Fan Zone, almost doubling it’s size. They also will have 2 giant Jumbotrons being built for the main grandstands, however I doubt they will be ready for the Rolex!
Infrastructure aside,the important thing for IMSA is the new for this year GT3 cars in GTD! My quick count has 7 makes: Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Dodge, Ferrari, Lamborhgini and Porsche. Mercedes-Benz came to the November test with both their AMG-SLS and AMG-GT, but the AMG-GT won’t be ready until Sebring in 3 months. Also, the 3 pointed star won’t pay the $1 million IMSA buy-in, which will be used to market the sport and pay for the television coverage. (The IMSA coverage is a point for a future blog)
That said, looking at the times from the Roar and the times between all the marques, in all the classes, they are very competitive. Lamborghini consistently topped the practice times in GTD, with Ferrari and Dodge just off the pace set by the brand of the bull. The race should be exciting.
Again, looking at the overall lap times, the Prototype class will be a battle! The Michael Shank Racing Honda/Ligier topped 3 of 5 practices. The other two were Wayne Taylor’s Corvette DP and the DeltaWing! And that’s not all! Throughout the test, I saw both the DeltaWing and the re-engined Mazda prototyped sons instantly towards the top of the scoring pylon. Also, the Russian built (and driven) BR Engineering BR01/Nissan was quick at times.
I also welcome Mazda back after 3 years in the doldrums of racing. While they tried mightly with their diesel motor, the new LMP2 rules required a change. It’s amazing what their new AER built, direct injection, 2.0T motor can do! It was near the top of the scoring pylon all weekend.
That brings the list of prototype motors to 7; Chevy, Ford, BMW (yes, them too!), Honda, Nissan, Mazda and the Elan motor in the DeltaWing. More interestingly is the 7 different chassis running; Coyote (Action Express/SDR Racing), Dallara (WTR), Riley (Starworks/Ganassi), Ligier (Shank/ESM), Lola (Mazda), DeltaWing and the BR01(SMP).
I can’t leave out GTLM. It seems like all the cars are new this year, with little carryover from last season, leaving the Corvette team with what is essentially the same car as last year. However they did have to heavily modify the car to meet new FIA requirements including, among other things, a roof mounted escape hatch which allows for a back board to be used in driver extraction. (I hope NOT to see that in use, ever!)
Rahal/Letterman/Lannigan Racing has the new M6 GTLM replacing their Z4. CORE motor sports has the new Porsche 911RS as well. GTLM stalwart Risi Ferrari is waiting (as patiently as possible) for Michelotto to finish their new 488 Turbo in time for Daytona. The plan is to have it flown to Orlando in time for qualifying. Talk about cutting it close. In the meantime they are working with GTD Scuderia Corsa with their new Ferrari 488 Turbo in order to get a feel for it.
But the big news is the ALL new Ford GT! OMG, it is beautiful! Team Ganassi has 2 of the new cars and a Ford factory effort to back it up. This is the high profile roll out for an effort in both IMSA and the WEC! Ganassi is running a total of 4 cars at the Rolex, 2 Ford EcoBooste DP’s and 2 new Ford GT’s. After Sebring, Ganassi will have the 2 Ford GT’s here in the US and, in conjunction with Multimatic Racing, will run 2 additional cars in the European series! WOW! Talk about busy!
The Golden Age Of Racing Returns
I really feel that we are entering the next Golden Age of sports car racing!! People are excited. I am excited! With all the teams and the close times I saw in testing, I see a great year ahead! I feel much better about the future. Seeing the LMP2 cars from Ligier and BR, knowing that the Riley/Multimatic effort is well along the way, 2017 looks to be good for the prototypes.
The numbers look like this: 7 cars and 7 different engines in prototype, 5 different cars in GTLM, and 7 different cars in GTD! That is variety, and variety is the spice of life! So it goes for sportswear racing in the US!!! Good stuff!
Now What Really Stinks
I am totally disappointed and disheartened to see defending GTD Rolex24 and NEAC Championship winning drivers unable to defend their titles! Cameron Lawrence and Al Carter are without rides, as of the Roar. There are many good to great drivers who are unable to get good rides this year, and that always happens. However, it is very rare to see drivers unable to defend their titles due to a lack of a ride.
Scott Pruett, after a 2 race guest spot with Action Express to beat Hurley Haywoods record 5 Rolex 24 wins, will be moving to the new Lexus Factory GTD effort, run by Paul Gentilozzi’s Rocketsport Racing (RSR) group and under the Lexus F-Sport banner. Scott Pruett will be the team’s AMATEUR driver, with former Ganassi Indycar driver (FIA Gold rated) Sage Karam as the teams professional driver. You heard that right, Pruett is the Amateur on the only GTD FACTORY team! So the team actually has two professional drivers. That, as a whole, simply sucks!
The factory efforts should be in GTLM and a driver like Scott Pruett should never have been labeled a Silver by the FIA! With GTD as the Gentlemens class, Paul Gentilozzi should have been THE gentleman himself and not hired Scott Pruett as the amateur, but should have recognized that Pruett is the consummate professional and built his team that way, hiring a true amateur to work with Scott Pruett. That sucks! I want to see Lexus race, but not like this! I feel the whole thing is a cheat. But that’s just me!
I mean, REALLY?!?! This is the reason that there is so much angst with the driver ratings and this is why championship winning drivers will be watching from the sidelines, unable to defend last years efforts! When a 5 time Rolex winner and 4 time series champion is listed as an amateur, how do true amateurs expect to get rides?!? Winning the Rolex and a Championship is SUPPOSED to be the springboard for an amateur to get a good ride, maybe becoming the professional. But instead they get a seat in the stands. So Jim France and Scott Atherton, YOU have some work to do!!! I hope you actually see this problem with this and work on a solution! There is the appearance of impropriety here, which you can never win. So, step to it!