Daytona International Speedway hosts the start of the 2017 racing from Jan. 26-29, as competitors from all corners of the world and a variety of racing disciplines convene for the 55th Rolex 24 At Daytona – the season-opening race of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 28 and 29 .
The Rolex 24 will see 55 competitors for the race’s 55th running. Twelve cars make up the Prototype class, with Daytona Prototype international (DPi) entrants from Cadillac, Mazda, and Nissan joined by a host of global LMP2 spec cars.
DPi cars generally replace the phased out Daytona Prototype (DP) class that was a holdover from Grand-Am competition. Each uses the same chassis, suspension, and many other components as LMP2 cars competing in championships governed by Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) technical regulations, such as the FIA WEC.
A 2017 IMSA DPi car is a standard ACO/FIA homologated 2017 LMP2 Prototype chassis from one of the four approved constructors (Dallara, Onroak Automotive, ORECA, or Riley/Multimatic) fitted with IMSA-homologated, manufacturer-designed and branded bodywork and engines. Each participating DPi manufacturer must partner with one of the four approved constructors and commit to a bodywork and engine package. IMSA has defined specific areas of the bodywork regulations to allow manufacturers design and stylistic freedom to create recognition of their specific brands.
By contrast, the standard ACO/FIA homologated 2017 LMP2 car must use each constructor’s specific bodywork with no modifications and a Gibson V8 engine with a standard-specification Cosworth electronics package controlling car systems and engine management. LMP2 cars competed in IMSA last year and will do so again this year.
The #5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPI-V.R driven by Joao Barbosa (1:36.903) will start on pole. Next to Barbosa will be defending series champion Dane Cameron, driver of the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac, just 0.070 sec back. Third will be Rebellion Racing, thanks to 2016 FIA World Endurance champion Neel Jani’s best lap of 1:37.123 and fourth the #10 Konica Minolta Cadillac of Ricky Taylor.
Barbosa, who hasn’t qualified on a WeatherTech Championship pole since 2014, was a bit surprised. “We generally race better than we qualify,” he said. “This is going to be a tremendous race with the new Prototypes.”
Other marquee drivers participating in the years race include four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, IndyCar stars James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, and Scott Dixon, Formula 1 and FIA WEC series veterans Sebastian Buemi and Nick Heidfeld, DTM regulars Robert Wickens, Mike Rockenfeller, Augusto Farfus, and Bruno Spengler, FIA WEC Porsche factory drive Brendon Hartley and Audi factory driver Marcel Fassler, former Pirelli World Challenge and current NASCAR Truck Series driver Austin Cindric, and multiple series and Rolex 24 champion Scott Pruett.
Eleven factory efforts will battle in GT Le Mans (GTLM), with reigning class champion Corvette Racing returning after a 1-2 finish in the 2016 Rolex 24. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing brings all four of its Ford GTs to the fight, as Porsche fields a pair of all-new 911 RSRs and Ferrari returns with a single entry, Risi Competitzione’s #62 488 GTE driven by Giancarlo Fisichella, James Calado, and Toni Vilander. BMW is entering a pair of cars.
The #66 Ford GT driven by 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner Joey Hand won pole. “We feel like we’re more prepared this year,” he said. And how does he feel about the fact that his central competition may be his three teammates? “Well,” he said, “you just want to be the fastest bullet in the gun!” Hand’s best lap was 1:43.473, just ahead of teammate Richard Westbrook’s 1:43.704 in the #67. Third was Olivier Pla in the #68 Ford, whose best lap was 1:43.987.
The #62 Ferrari qualified fourth with a 1:44.121 turned in by Vilander. He said he realizes the challenge the Ford contingent presents, but adds that “We have a strong lineup of drivers, and we’re looking forward to the race. We won Petit Le Mans last year,” referring to the WeatherTech Championship 10-hr season finale at Road Atlanta, “And everything we have is the same or better. We’re the lonely riders – the only Ferrari in the class.”
The largest class of the field, GT Daytona (GTD), features 27 GT3 spec race cars from nine manufacturers, including series newcomers Acura, Lexus, and Mercedes.
Front row in the class will feature the #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3, courtesy of Alessandro Pier Guidi, whose best lap was 1:47.099. “Ferrari and the team did a great job for me,” said Pier Guidi. “I’m here for them.” He was not able to make pre-season testing at Daytona, so the pole win was impressive.
Close behind was the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 driven by Alessandro Balzan who, with co-driver Christina Nielsen, won the 2016 WeatherTech Championship season GTD title. The veteran Balzan’s best lap was 1:47.117, which he set in a Hail Mary last lap that nearly earned him the top spot. “Scuderia Corsa gave me a really good car for qualifying, Balzan said. “There’s a good energy here for the team.”
Prototype Challenge (PC) kicks off its final season in the WeatherTech Championship with five ORECA FLM09s taking the track. James French qualifed fastest in the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA FLM09, with a lap of 1:42.559. Second was veteran Johnny Mowlem in the #26 BAR1 entry with a best lap of 1:43.396
#2 Extreme Speed Motorsports Nissan DPi; Scott Sharp (USA), Ryan Dalziel (Scotland), Pipo Derani (Brazil), Brendon Hartley (New Zealand); replaces LMP2 from 2016, ran full FIA WEC season last year
#5 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi; Joao Barbosa (Portugal), Christian Fittipaldi (Brazil), Felipe Albuquerque (Portugal)
#10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi; Ricky Taylor (USA), Jordan Taylor (USA), Max Angelelli (Monaco), Jeff Gordon (USA)
#13 Rebellion Racing ORECA 07-Gibson; Sebastian Buemi (Switzerland), Nick Heidfeld (Germany), Neel Jani (Switzerland), Stephane Sarrazin (France); all-FIA WEC driver lineup
#22 ESM Nissan DPi; Ed Brown (USA), Johannes van Overbeek (USA), Bruno Senna (Brazil), Brendon Hartley (New Zealand)
#31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi; Dane Cameron (USA), Eric Curran (USA)(defending series champions in a Corvette DP last year), Michael Conway (Great Britain, ex-IndyCar, current FIA WEC)
#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217-Gibson; Michael Guasch (USA), Tom Kimber-Smith (Great Britain); first year in Prototype competition after racing PC.
#55 Mazda Motorsports DPi; Tristan Nunez (USA), Jonathan Bomarito (USA), Spencer Pigot (USA)(IndyCar)
#70 Mazda Motorsports DPi; Tom Long (USA), Joel Miller (USA), James Hinchcliffe (Canada)
#81 DragonSpeed ORECA 07-Gibson; Nicolas Lapierre (France), Loic Duval (Switzerland); both FIA WEC
#85 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA 07-Gibson; Misha Goikhberg (Canada), Mathias Beche (France)
#90 VisitFlorida Racing Multimatic/Riley-Gibson; Marc Goossens (Belgium), Renger van der Zande (Netherlands), Rene Rast (Austria)(Blancpain GT); only remaining 2016 Corvette DP competitor to not migrate to Cadillac DPi.
#8 Starworks Motorsport; Ben Keating (USA), Robert Wickens (Canada)(DTM), Chris Cumming (Canada)
#20 BAR1 Motorsports; Buddy Rice (USA), Gustavo Yacaman (Colombia)
#26 BAR1 Motorsports; Johnny Mowlen (Great Britain), Trent Hindman (USA)(CTSCC), David Cheng (China)
#38 Performance Tech Motorsports; James French (USA)
#88 Starworks Motorsport; Alex Popow (Venezuela), Sebastian Saavedra (Colombia)(IndyCar)
#3 Corvette Racing C7.R; Antonio Garcia (Spain), Jan Magnussen (Denmark), Mike Rockenfeller (Germany)(DTM)
#4 Corvette Racing C7.R; Oliver Gavin (Great Britain), Tommy Milner (USA), Marcel Fassler (Switzerland)
#19 BMW Team RLL M6 GTLM; Bill Auberlen (USA), Augusto Farfus (Brazil), Bruno Spengler (Switzerland)
#24 BMW Team RLL M6 GTLM; John Edwards (USA), Martin Tomczyk (Germany)(DTM), Nicky Catsburg (Netherlands)(Blancpain GT Series, World Touring Car Championship), Kuno Wittmer (Canada)
#62 Risi Competitzione Ferrari 488 GTE; Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy), James Calado (Great Britain), Toni Vilander (Finland)
#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT; Dirk Mueller (Germany), Joey Hand (USA), Sebastien Bourdais (France)
#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing GT; Ryan Briscoe (Australia), Richard Westbrook (Great Britain), Scott Dixon (New Zealand)
#68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK GT; Stefan Mucke (Germany), Olivier Pla (France), Billy Johnson (USA)(CTSCC Champion)(all drivers FIA WEC)
#69 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK GT; Harry Tincknell (Great Britain), Andy Priaulx (Great Britain)(both FIA WEC), Tony Kanaan (Brazil)
#911 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR; Patrick Pilet (France), Dirk Werner (Germany)(previously with BMW), Frederic Makowiecki (France)
#912 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR; Kevin Estre (France)(previously with McLaren in both PWC and Blancpain), Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium)(Blancpain), Richard Lietz (Austria)
#14 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3; Scott Pruett (USA), Sage Karam (USA), Gustavo Menezes (USA)
#15 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3; Jack Hawksworth (Great Britain)(IndyCar), Robert Alon (USA), Austin Cindric (USA), Dominik Farnbacher (Germany)
#16 Change Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3; Cory Lewis (USA)(PWC); Brett Sandberg (USA)(PWC)
#23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3; Bill Sweedler (USA), Townsend Bell (USA)(Sweedler and Bell are former class champions and class winners of last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans), Frank Montecalvo (USA)(PWC), Pierre Kaffer (Switzerland)
#28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R; Michael Christensen (Denmark)
#33 Riley Motorsports Team AMG Mercedes GT3; Ben Keating (USA), Jeroen Bleekemolen (Netherlands), Mario Farnbacher (Germany)
#46 EBIMOTORS Lamborghini Huracan GT3; Emmanuel Collard (France)
#48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3; Bryan Sellers (USA), Madison Snow (USA), Bryce Miller (USA), Dion von Moltke (USA)
#50 Riley Motorsports WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG GT3; Cooper MacNeil (USA), Gunnar Jeanette (USA), Shane van Gisbergen (New Zealand)(Blancpain champion, V8 Supercars)
#51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3; Alessandro Per Guidi (Italy), Davide Rigon (Italy)
#54 CORE autosport Porsche 911 GT3; Jonathan Bennett (USA), Colin Braun (USA), Patrick Long (USA), Nic Jonsson (Sweden)
#57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS GT3; Lawson Aschenbach (USA)(PWC champion), Andrew Davis (USA), Matt Bell (USA), Robin Liddell (Scotland)
#63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3; Christina Nielsen (Denmark), Alessandro Balzan (Italy)(Nielsen and Balzan are defending GTD champions), Sam Bird (Great Britain)(WEC)
#73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R; Patrick Lindsey (USA), Jorg Bergmeister (Germany), Matthew McMurry (USA)
#75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes AMG GT3; Boris Said (USA), Tristan Vautier (France)(IndyCar)
#86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3; Jeff Segal (USA), Ozwaldo Negri Jr. (Brazil), Ryan Hunter-Reay (USA)
#93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3; Andy Lally (USA), Katherine Legge (Great Britain), Mike Wilkens (Canada), Graham Rahal (USA)
#96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3; Jens Klingmann (Germany), Maxime Martin (Belgium)(DTM)
#98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage; Paul Dalla Lana (Canada), Pedro Lamy (Portugal), Matthias Lauda (Austria), Marco Sorensen (Denmark)(all FIA WEC)
#991 TRG Porsche 911 GT3 R; Mike Hedlund (USA), Wolf Henzler (Germany), Jan Heylen (USA), Tim Pappas (USA)