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With a full week to digest what occurred during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the picture seems to be getting a little more clearer entering the main course and the twice around the clock battle itself, which starts in just over ten days from now. While most of the 53 teams present over the three days of available track time did what was expected of them, others certainly caught yours truly by surprise with superior pace while some floundered to levels that I did not forecast occurring. So following up on my pre-Roar ranking lists for the four divisions in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, why don’t I provide a few things to consider as far as each class goes as we draw closer to the 2016 edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
ON THE RISE: Well there are were teams that I certainly did not expect to generate buzz at Daytona, yet Dr. Don Panoz’s DeltaWing squad and the revamped SpeedSource Mazda Motorsports group managed to both do just that. It is clear that in their last full season of competition in the marquee division of IMSA that DeltaWing wants to send out their Elan-powered DWC13 coupe as a winner if not at Daytona, for at least in one event in 2016. The gearbox woes that parked their impressive early flurry at Daytona last year appear to have been solved, while Katherine Legge vaulted forward to be the fastest of the Panoz quartet of drivers even outperforming the talented Sean Rayhall and Andy Meyrick.
Clearly, there were no expectations as to what Mazda could achieve at the Roar tests. After two frustrating seasons of running the under-powered SkyActiv-diesel power plant, the switch to MZR V-6 gasoline turbo engines has quickly elevated the Sylvain Tremblay-run squad from the also ran list to the dark horse list in just three days of action. Although there are lingering reliability questions still on the table, the test also showed that Mazda is more than just about Jonathan Bomarito in the driving department. Tom Long posted the fastest lap of all for the two-car team, while third driver Spencer Pigot was also among the fastest runners despite limited prototype experience.
As for a little further down the line, it appears based on the fastest time posted during the test that Tequila Patron ESM has figured out the Ligier-Honda coupe’s key to speed. New recruit Pipo Derani has suddenly elevated himself to team leader prowess and even team CEO Ed Brown was posting competitive times throughout the weekend. While the Florida-based team has been snake bit in its previous outings at the “World Center of Racing,” they could show a much better account for themselves in 2016 as they continue their preparations for year number two in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
ON THE FALL: It was expected to potentially be a slow break from the starting gate, but it was hard to fathom how Visitflorida.com Racing’s Chevrolet Corvette DP was well off its sister entries from Action Express Racing and Wayne Taylor Racing respectively at the Roar. Sure, the Corvette DP is a new foray for both Ryan Dalziel and Marc Goossens, but with their past glories at Daytona International Speedway, the transition should have been faster than it has been to date. The lackluster effort apparently convinced the team to go private testing last week at another circuit in Florida, where early returns indicate that positive steps were made. Based on that bit of trivial information, maybe this stock market slump for the former Spirit of Daytona team might be a temporary one, but we’ll see when the teams return to Daytona.
I also honestly expected more pace from Chip Ganassi Racing’s pair of Ford EcoBoost-Riley DPs at the Roar. While the performance from the two-car squad does not disqualify them from a potential repeat overall win, the lack of pace against the Corvette DPs and the LMP-2 eligible cars such as the Ligier has to be a concern. Granted, the day one accident involving young prospect Lance Stroll set the No. 01 machine back, yet the team still had plenty of driving talent behind them to quickly bounce back. While performance improvements occurred with every testing session, their place on the timing charts remained stuck near the bottom. The No. 02 machine, last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona overall winners, were consistently in the mid 1:40 range throughout the weekend, a sign that perhaps one-lap pace is not a high priority. Scott Dixon and even NASCAR regular Kyle Larson, could yet still challenge for a high spot on the grid when the qualifying period begins during race week.
ON THE RISE: Tbe Roar Before the Rolex 24 showed that Starworks Motorsport should make a return to their 2014 form as the best of the rest behind the dominant CORE autosport squad. Its now two-car attack were right on pace with CORE’s lead pilot Colin Braun and even managed to outpace him on the overall speed chart as Jack Hawksworth posted the fastest PC effort of the weekend on Sunday. The test also revealed another potential threat in the sister No. 88 entry as Felix Rosenqvist showed he was a very fast learner in his first runs at Daytona International Speedway.
Another challenger looking to reassert themselves in 2016 is Brian Adler’s BAR 1 Motorsports club, with good form shown by veterans Johnny Mowlem and Gustavo Yacaman, plus similar accolades from another Daytona newbie Lucas Auer. Don’t forget BAR1 won the pole in PC last year at Daytona, only to have a post race disqualification thwart their effort and essentially send them on the wrong path for the remainder of the 2015 campaign. The start appears similar for them in 2016, but hopefully for their sake, the result is much more positive.
ON THE FALL: After having by far their best season to date in 2015, Brent O’Neill’s Performance Tech Motorsports team almost seemed stuck in reverse at the Roar tests. Unfortunately, the squad was unable to remove itself from the lower part of the PC timing chart all weekend as even 2015 returnee James French struggled to post comparable efforts with the rest of their rivals. Second generation pilot Josh Norman did show a glimmer of hope on the final day of action, however the team has a long way to go to rejoin the major contenders list looking ahead to race weekend.
GT LE MANS
ON THE RISE: Team Rahal’s persistence in wanting a GTLM-eligible BMW M6 built by the German factory was rewarded immediately at the Roar tests as Lucas Luhr fired off a low 1:45 lap in the opening session that no one managed to top. While the pair of twin-turbo V-8 propelled challengers were unable to match the fast pass over the final two days, the team appears to have found a balance so far between single lap muscle and consistent full fuel-run race pace. Despite that, the car still has several questions to answer in the 24 hours of racing to come.
It also appears that the early summer of 2015 preparations for the new for 2016 class regulations by Corvette Racing are already paying dividends for Doug Fehan’s pair of C7.Rs. The new supercharged V-8s were on pace all three days and despite an exhaust fire temporary sidelining one of the Chevys on Friday, they still seemed to be unfazed and remained consistently near the top of the charts through the final efforts on Sunday.
The biggest success story in GTLM however, had to come from Chip Ganassi’s new Ford GT project. The anticipated growing pains were impressively absent throughout the three days at Daytona and although the race itself could still throw a few knuckle balls at them, the early returns certainly exceeded all expectations.
ON THE FALL: The late confirmation of the Porsche North America GT program for 2016 may have set the CORE autosport-run squad up for a little letdown at the Roar. Outside of the three expected Ferrari runners, the updated 911 RSRs were a few steps behind the big three from Chevrolet, BMW, and Fords from start to finish. While this effort also does not diminish their potential challenge in the race itself, the start was certainly not the hoped for one. Despite that, I still expect Porsche to be the team to beat for the IMSA championship as they should improve greatly in performance as the year continues to roll along, so their current price drop will not be a permanent one.
ON THE RISE: Lamborghini’s new Huracan GT3 was well represented during the first two days of action at Daytona and perhaps could have topped the charts on Sunday had Konrad Motorsport not elected to park their primary entry in order to try to get more pace from their second entry. Despite that, Lamborghini’s first outing like Ford in GT Le Mans was a strong one.
Porsche also appears keen to bounce back from a rather quiet 2015 season as my preseason number one Alex Job Racing topped the overall GTD time charts and even my lowest rated team Frikadelli Racing showed massive potential on each of the three days of on track action. Audi’s new R8 also appears to be a top of the podium threat in the race to come as both Magnus Racing and Stevenson Motorsports were each quick to come to grips with the new for 2016 vehicle.
ON THE FALL: Will Turner’s BMW squad, like ESM in Prototype has yet to find the magic potion for success at the Daytona mix of high speed oval and tight, challenging infield road course. The new M6 certainly will be heard from as the year progresses, but that breakthrough does not appear likely to happen in the Rolex 24.
Aston Martin’s Vantage V-12 challenge was also a bit muted during the Roar, but expect at least an outside challenge from the Prodrive factory entry as Pedro Lamy, Richie Stanaway, and company can never be counted out at any sports car race.
Stay tuned on OnPitRoad.com for further IMSA commentary from Matt Embury on the road to Daytona and throughout the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.