Preview: 2019 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

Excited for this race? I am!

The 2018 race was the fastest in history, a new distance record by some considerable margin, helped in no small part by having very few safety car periods. Not even very many local yellows.

2019 will be even faster. The entire field has switched to Michelins. Prototypes and GTD have seen laptimes speed up, traction and braking have improved, drive-ability too. Drivers report being able to turn and brake at the same time, on the Continentals they had to do one then the other. GTLM were always on Michelin but now don’t have to interact with a rival brand, so they too are faster than before.

And most importantly the DPi class has been unleashed. Shackled as they were with a Balance of Performance tying them to the speed of the LMP2 cars. This has now been removed. I expect the distance record to fall once again even if we see a little more yellow this year.

The Cadillacs, Acuras, Mazdas and Nissans can now push at full gas.

GTLM is a bunfight, it has been for a decade plus, we always know this.

GTD is probably even more so. 26 cars. Probably 5 can win the race in a straight fight, make it 10 when you factor in tactical nous and race knowledge, make it 15 vying for a podium. Even “lesser” quality teams can only be described as such in relative terms because the depth of quality has increased throughout the entry list.

Watch

USA:  NBCSN and the NBC App.

Elsewhere:  www.imsa.tv   live web stream with IMSA Radio commentary

IMSA App – check your app store

IMSA Radio audio channel available to everybody, globally, free with no blocks.

Andy Blackmore’s Spotter Guides – spot the cars and liveries

Live timing:
Official
AlKamel
71wytham
livescoring.us

Follow me on Twitter:  @toomuchracing

Race hashtags:  #rolex24, #imsa, #imsa50 for the 50th anniversary.

The Field

This is the 50th year of IMSA competition so many teams are running throwback liveries.

This year there are 4 classes.

DPi:  Daytona Prototype international

The top class features first class teams and drivers running engines from different manufacturers in modified LMP2 chassis.

Nissan: The cars bought by CORE Autosport, a top, quick team (who also run the GTLM Porsches). But they’re only running one of them and are still learning it. Once Jon Bennett’s stints are over expect Braun, Dumas and Duval to be competitive, especially if they can make up time under any yellows. Running a 1980s GTP throwback livery which looks great on this car.

Cadillac:  The once-dominant Cadillacs seem a smidge off the pace. Not a lot, they’ll be on the podium for sure, but it could be enough to cost a win. Or are they playing the safe game aiming to just keep running? There is a lot new among other teams while both Action Express cars and the Taylor car have familiarity.

The no.10 Taylor car has Kamui Kobayashi and that man Fernando Alonso. That could be a distraction, but if not, could be a contender.

I expect the no.5 and no.31 of AXR to lead the Caddy charge. News early Friday that Mike Conway didn’t get his visa through in time to race the no.5 is a complication but thankfully they already had 3 other drivers listed so it shouldn’t pose a problem.

Cadillac are supporting two new customer teams which may be distracting:  JDC-Miller moved up from LMP2 with two cars and very decent line-up including Rubens Barrichello, Stephen Simpson, Simon Trummer and Tristan Vautier.
The other is Juncos Racing, who moved up to IndyCar from Indy Lights just a year ago. Good team but I have feeling they may be biting off a little much at once.

Mazda:  They’ve come far since Joest took over. They set the pace throughout testing and set a new all-time lap record in qualifying. They have the one-lap pace and with Jarvis, Nunez, Bernhard and Rast in one car and Bomarito, Pla and Tincknell in the other it’ll always be fast when it runs. But these cars have had all sorts of problems over the years, what might befall them this time?

Acura:  The Penske Acuras. Starting 2nd and 3rd and running well in last year’s race as well as most of last season, this is my pick for the race win. I just can’t decide which car! Montoya and Cameron are joined by Pagenaud, this car would be my pick if Montoya can help himself and he seems a bit calmer these days. I’m just not sure.
Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor, along with standout Alexander Rossi, could be the pick for the race.

Pick:  7 Acura Team Penske – Castroneves / R.Taylor / Rossi.

LMP2:  Le Mans Prototype 2

Identical cars to those raced in LMP2 at Le Mans, in the World Endurance Championship and in the European Le Mans Series. Pro/Am class. Only 4 cars are entered and they are all the ORECA 07 Gibson.

IMSA stalwarts no.38 Performance Tech and no.52 PR1-Mathiason are full-season entrants. Both have solid line-ups. The 38 has Kyle Masson. The 52 has Matt McMurry, Gabriel Aubry and Enzo Guibbert, at least for Daytona.

But my pick has to be DragonSpeed. Long-time LMP2 entrant bring both their WEC car, no.18 in red with Mexican tricolor touches, Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Saavedra, Roberto Gonzalez. And their ELMS car, no.81 now in black but still with the Evel Knievel stars, with Ben Hanley, Nico Lapierre, James Allen, but much depends on Henrik Hedman.

Pick:  18 DragonSpeed ORECA 07 Gibson – Maldonado / Saavedra / Gonzalez / Cullen.

GTLM: GT Le Mans

Identical specs to the GTE cars that race at Le Mans and in the WEC and ELMS.

How do you pick from this bunch? Just 9 cars yet every team is world class, every driver is top drawer, no seat-filler here.

BMW:  The year-old M8 GTE isn’t quite up to speed yet. They keep blaming BoP in IMSA and in WEC but I’m not sure, I think it’s hard to balance it against what seem to be inherently faster cars.

BMW have the story of the race:  Alex Zanardi racing with hand controls alone. He used to his his prosthetic to brake but this is fully hand-controlled. Remarkably his driver-changes seem faster than anyone else’s! Keep watching the 24 BMW.

Ferrari:  The no.62 Risi car should be right up there and features a WEC driving crew of Ferrari factory-affiliated drivers.

Corvette:  The two C7.Rs are remarkably the oldest in the field despite looking brand new. The replacement C8.R is apparently mid-engined. Heresy! So enjoy the front-engined V8 glory while you can. It is still a quick car, of course, and should be right in the mix throughout. The team likes a steady approach yet just the other year they let the 3 and 4 race to a near photo-finish for the class win. Racers. Fan favourites for a reason.

Porsche:  The loudest cars! Amazing sound. And fast after a couple of years development. They start on pole and I have at least one car on the podium if not two. Running a Brumos-style throwback livery.

Ford:  I can’t overlook the GT. I think something will need to happen for them to not win. But I do think the race will be closer this year. Running Castrol and Motorcraft throwback liveries which are vastly better than the blue and red of before. Love that Castrol car so I’m picking it, but also because it has Scott Dixon in it.

Pick:  no.67 Ford Chip Ganassi Ford GT – Briscoe / Westbrook / Dixon

GTD:  GT Daytona

GT3 cars identical to those at the Spa 24 Hours and countless other races globally. Pro/Am class. At 26 cars this is the biggest class by far, so I can’t mention every car and still make this a one-piece all-class preview.

Don’t be fooled into ignoring the class at the back. This is going to be mega.

BMW:  The lone Turner Motorsport car may struggle even with Bill Auberlen and Jens Klingmann. Like the M8, the M6 GT3 doesn’t seem to ever have the legs at Daytona.

Audi:  I think all the Audi teams are running a new Evo-spec on the R8 GT3 but there must be a reason the best only qualified 15th. The benchmark of the four-rings is the no.29 Montaplast by Land car of Morad/Mies/D.Vanthoor/Feller.

Lexus:  AIM Vasser Sullivan bought the RC-Fs and painted them luminous yellow, gone are the metallic blues and reds. Not sure how fast they’ll be but you won’t miss them.

Ferrari:  Hard to place the three 488s in the field. I’d say the Scuderia Corsa no.63 Weathertech car ought to have the edge, particularly when Toni Vilander is aboard. The no.51 Spirit of Race (AF Corse) entry has the experienced Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda combo who are often competitive but has been known to hit trouble, I think the level of competition may be too high for them this year though.
And the Brazilian-coloured Via Italia car scored pole, I’m not sure anyone would’ve predicted it, could they be the dark horse of the race?

Porsche:  Again not sure where to put the 911s. I like the no.73 Park Place with Pat Long and Matt Campbell, could be the fastest Porsche.
The no.540 Black Swan car ought to be right in contention as well and you’ve got to respect a team that’ll also be at Bathurst 12 Hour next week.
Some good names in the no.99 too.
And there’s a car racing in plaid/tartan. Bonus points for you.

Mercedes:  The no.33 Team Riley AMG runs a great throwback purple Wynn’s livery. Top team, top drivers (Bleekemolen/Keating/Stolz), car qualified 2nd. Could be a good shout.
The no.71 P1 car has Maxi Buhk but I’m not sure the full rotation will keep up with the 33 or the other top cars, mainly because of my lack of knowledge.

Acura:  The two MSR cars look split between the fan favourite and the quicker car.

The no.86 is a race contender. Farnbacher/Hindman/Marks/Allmendinger is as good as you’ll get in this class and the team has developed this car well.

The no.71 Caterpillar car is the all-female driving crew with no makeweights. Legge/Figuerido/de Silvestro/Nielsen is another top line-up, Nielsen a multiple GTD class title winner and Legge a title contender last year, but the times haven’t necessarily been on par with the 86. Bia Figuerido a.k.a Ana Beatriz has the least experience in GT racing and could be the weak link. Simona de Silvestro is another adapting though has the benefit of Supercars experience. Everyone’s willing this effort along. Possible top 5.

Lamborghini:  The fastest car last year and with a new Evo spec it should retain that honour, however there is talk the Evo has better handling at the expense of more drag which will hurt on the banking and long straights here. Five Huracans in this race.

The now-blue no.48 Paul Miller team won the championship last year.  The bright green no.11 GRT Grasser, a team racing all over the world with these cars, is always quick. I expect these two to battle for the win all race long.
You can never count out no.44 Magnus but they’re learning this car and that may cost the final 2%-3% you need.
Ebimotors race in ELMS with a Porsche. Fun fact: they’ve brought a driver called Taylor Proto, shouldn’t he be in the no.10 DPi?

I think the win will be down to:
48 Miller Lambo
11 GRT Grasser Lambo
86 MSR Acura
29 Montaplast Land Audi
33 Mercedes
maybe 63 Ferrari

Add another 5 or 6 with a shot at a podium result. This is going to be one fraught race. You want to pay attention to GTD even when the broadcast doesn’t.

Pick:  48 Paul Miller Lamborghini – Bryan Sellers / Ryan Hardwick / Corey Lewis / Andrea Caldarelli. But I’ll probably change my mind about six times before the race starts.

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