Watch: 2017 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

The US is now firmly into a new era of sportscar racing.

Three complete seasons have now elapsed since the ‘merger’ between the American Le Mans Series and the Grand-Am Series and at last the unified IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship has a new top class to call its own, rather than one with cars inherited from the old era.

Three weeks ago the 2017 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona saw the debut of the brand new LMP2 cars which we will also see in the World Endurance Championship (and European & Asian Le Mans Series). In addition and more interestingly, the new ‘Daytona Prototype international’ cars were seen and it is those that are most exciting. DPi takes the LMP2 as a base and adds in manufacturer support, including engines and bespoke bodywork.

Watch The Race

You can watch the 2017 edition of the race, complete with full IMSA Radio commentary, via the official IMSA YouTube channel below. All rights belong to their respective owners. These only appear embedded because that’s what WordPress does with YouTube links, no copyright infringement is intended.

Below the video are some of my thoughts.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Prototype

The Prototype class really was a combination of a traditional sportscar endurance race mixed with the excitement of recent Rolex 24 Hours! For most of the race the goal was just to get the car to the end. Few did. ‘New car blues’ hit a lot of teams, you never knew who would be next to fall. And yet, Daytona being Daytona, it still contrived to boil down to a fistfight right to the end!

The new DPi Cadillac cars held an advantage in both pace and reliability, but this was no surprise as they had tested far more than anyone else. But you never really knew how it would pan out, and when one of the seemingly indestructible cars, the Whelen Action Express entry, fell away late in the race, it felt as though any car could still win with the Riley P2 car and the Nissan DPi chasing just a lap or two behind. A multi-lap advantage is meaningless if the car breaks down.

As it turned out Cadillac took 1st and 2nd, but Nissan in particular and Mazda both look to have a lot of potential. Once everyone gets their stuff sorted out, it’ll be fantastic.

The WEC-spec LMP2s didn’t fare well. I thought they would do a lot better. Only one car had a near-flawless run, the largely unfancied Riley Multimatic entered by VisitFlorida (formerly Spirit of Daytona). It was only unfancied compared to the Liger and Oreca because the Riley carries higher downforce, it was ‘meant’ to be slower at Daytona and better at twisty tracks, yet proved itself remarkably well. The Ligier and ORECA examples really struggled but I am sure will be on-song by the time we hit the bulk of the season, both in the US and elsewhere.

Prototype Challenge is best left unmentioned, a single car running well while the others fell apart. One had mechanical problems to do with fuel feed. Others looked as though they just didn’t get on with the setups on the cars – whether these were enforced by the BoP or by the tyres or conditions I do not know, but they looked tough to drive. PC has never covered itself in glory at Daytona, or at many other places since roughly around the time they were made to change tyre supplier.. Coincidence?

GT

GTLM, the Le Mans GTE class, was again the highlight of the race as it so often is in the IMSA series. GT in IMSA is almost always better than the WEC equivalent both in strength and depth and again it was true here – a flat out war from start to finish! It also had a fistfight with a near-identical incident in turn 1 as in the P class.

It was no surprise to see Ford and Ferrari up front, but then the rain fell and brought Porsche into the picture, with Corvette playing their trick of the GT1 era of not necessarily being the fastest but always being there at the end.

It was clear from the ability of the GTLM cars in mixed conditions, pulling away from top Prototypes under acceleration before P’s repassed them with higher top end, that Michelins are still the best things to have in the wet.

That is not to underplay the huge GTD class (for GT3 cars) which twisted and turned all race long as different cars and drivers struggled with the cold, changeable conditions. Some teams managed this better than others. Continental laid down instructions which some followed successfully, others ignored them and then complained about it.

It was great to see Mercedes GT3s on the high banks and those new Acuras look stunning. The racing in GTD was really very good and with a big field. I hope it gets the attention it deserves this season.

Result

Class winners:

Prototype
#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing – Cadillac DPi-V.R
Ricky Taylor / Jordan Taylor / Jeff Gordon / Max Angelelli

GTLM
#66 Ford Chip Ganassi – Ford GT
Joey Hand / Dirk Mueller / Sebastien Bourdais

GTD
#28 Alegra Motorsports – Porsche 911 GT3 R
Daniel Morad / Michael Christensen / Jesse Lazarre / Carlos de Quesada / Michael de Quesada

PC
#38 Performance Tech Motorsports – Oreca FLM09
James French / Patricio O’Ward / Kyle Masson / Nicholas Boulle

Next Race

The next IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship race is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, on Saturday 18th March 2017.

The race is half as long but the bumps are bone-shaking and really test a car and driver, how will the new Prototypes hold up there?

What To Look Forward To In 2017

There is a lot to look for in the 2017 motorsport season.

I felt something was missing in 2016. I don’t know what it was. Some sort of spark. Maybe it was me, maybe it was other events away from racing, or maybe motorsport just didn’t grab me as much as before – with the exception of IndyCar and MotoGP which were excellent. I didn’t invest as much time in keeping up with WEC and IMSA, something I’m doing over the winter break.

I think that should change this year.

Formula 1

New cars! Better looking cars. No more silly rear wings. Faster over a lap, faster through the corners. Hopefully they’ll look as fast and dramatic as the last time we had high downforce F1 cars, about a decade ago. The drivers are going to have to work hard.

With luck this will shake up the order. Some teams will get it wrong and will spend the year catching up. We’ll see them do it, much like we’ve seen McLaren-Honda get faster through the year over the last two years.

The downside? More downforce usually reduces overtaking opportunities. I wonder whether the larger rear wing will increase the effectiveness of the DRS. I would rather have no DRS – or have it and allow a driver to use it wherever he likes, no zones, no limits.

There should be good news with the tyres. Pirelli are charged with making tyres that allow a driver to push and not conserve so we might see some flat out racing again. Let’s hope they get it right.

How will Valterri Bottas fare at Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton? I’m excited to find out. I don’t think he’ll be a pushover. And Hamilton will want to fight after being defeated last year – I think he’ll win another title, but may again trip over himself in doing so.

How will Max Verstappen get on at his second season at the big Red Bull team and how will Dan Ricciardo react? Will Ferrari sink or swim, will Seb Vettel get fed up and move on? Will McLaren be back?

MotoGP

MotoGP is always fun at the front of the field. Even a dominant lead can be lost with a momentary lapse of concentration sending a rider to the floor.

Jorge Lorenzo moves to that hard-to-tame Ducati. Maverick Vinales replaces him at Yamaha alongside Valentino Rossi. Iannone across to Suzuki. I reckon the title fight will be between Marquez and Vinales. I’d love to see Pedrosa up front more often.

How will KTM get on in their first season? Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, Tech3 teammates last year, both move there.

Formula E

I’m excited to see the races at New York and Montreal. I hope to see Jaguar improving through the year. Adam Carroll is vastly underrated and ought to have had a top works drive years ago.

I would like to see a greater energy allocation, more harvesting, as the cars are too energy-restricted. They did grant more allocation this season but they also lengthened the races which offset the benefit. If they’d given more energy for the same distance, everyone could’ve pushed harder in the race. It feels like the series is wasting the opportunity for good races while everyone is cruising around saving energy.

Sebastien Buemi leads after the two rounds held so far, but my tip is to keep watching Felix Rosenqvist.

IndyCar

Some of the best racing in the world will continue to be found in IndyCar. I fully expect the Indy 500 to be a highlight again.

Aero Kit competition is now frozen. In theory this means Honda are at a disadvantage, at least on road and street courses. A spec kit will appear in 2018.

Chip Ganassi Racing are moving back to Honda. With the might of CGR’s resources, joining Andretti’s, I suspect the Honda vs Chevy competition may become more equal.

AJ Foyt’s team go the other way to Chevy. Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly join. I’m starting to think Foyt will have a very good season! Takuma Sato goes the other way, to Andretti.

Josef Newgarden will have the most attention. His was the biggest move in the driver market, joining Team Penske to replace Juan Montoya. (JPM will still contest Indy). It took someone with the talent of Simon Pagenaud a full season to ‘bed in’ at Penske so I think we should go easy on Joe-New, at least this year.

As in 2016 I expect Pagenaud versus Power over the season, too close to call, but you must watch all of the races because really anything can happen from race to race!

World Endurance Championship

It’ll be very strange without Audi competing. Only five LMP1 cars:  2 x Porsche, 2 x Toyota, 1 x ByKolles CLM. We may see another Toyota at Le Mans and surely this is their year for the 24 Hours?

We saw great battles between two manufacturers in the past, Audi vs Peugeot, then Audi vs Toyota, so there’s every reason to think Toyota vs Porsche will be just as good.

All-new cars in LMP2. Which will be quickest? I’m sad they felt the need to restrict it to four chassis makers but I understand the budgetary reasons for it. Hopefully the cost savings will attract more entrants. Rebellion Racing step down from LMP1 with a hell of a driver line-up.

GTE Pro is a balance of performance (BoP) nightmare. Ford and Ferrari ahead last year but Porsche have a new car – and it is a mid-engined 911. Heresy! This could be the best fight in the field. And in 2018 we’ll see the brand new BMW.

GTE Am. Early yet but I’m not seeing a lot of takers. Perhaps it is time to replace it with GT3?

IMSA Sportscars

The story in the US is very different, IMSA is having a resurgence. The Prototype class will use the same brand new LMP2 cars as the WEC. In addition are the new Daytona Prototype international “DPi” cars, which take those LMP2 cars and add manufacturer engines and bespoke bodywork. It is a cost-effective way to bring in manufacturers and it has attracted Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan. It should be a fantastic year in the top class and it stars next week with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

The GTLM class in IMSA, just like the ALMS before it, is top drawer. Often it is the best race among the 4 classes and it is usually better than the WEC equivalent (which runs to the same rules).

GTD will be numerically dominant with a lot of GT3 cars, no slouches themselves, including the new Acura (Honda) and Lexus. Worth checking out the entry list.

And the much-maligned PC class will finally be put out of its misery at the end of the year! It worked well when it started, but really ought to have been killed off a couple of years ago.

European Le Mans Series

The top class will have those new LMP2 cars which seem to be attracting a lot of attention in this series. LMP3 is also proving popular so there should be a lot of Prototypes in the ELMS again this year. I’d like to see a bigger GT field.

The supporting Michelin Le Mans Cup, featuring LMP3 and GT3 cars in a series of 2-hour races (1 hour at Le Mans before the big race), is also booming. This should be one of the hidden gems of 2017 so do look out for it, especially the LM24 support race.

World Rally Championship

New cars. Faster cars. Okay, some people are heralding them as the second coming of Group B – they are decidedly not that. They aren’t that extreme, with much less power than Gp.B, but with modern suspension, tyres, electronics and all the rest they will be very fast. It is good to see the WRC return to more advanced tech.

Citroen are back, Toyota are back, Hyundai continue and the M-Sport Fords look competitive.

My TV

One more reason this year will be good? I’ve upgraded from a 30″ standard definition TV to a 50″ Ultra HD TV. Wow what an upgrade! Even the size difference is remarkable, let alone the quality.

Okay there’s not much content in UHD, for motorsport basically it is only MotoGP, but I bet it’ll look damn good! (I think F1 is in UHD this year – but I don’t have Sky Sports). Certainly I will be enjoying a lot of stuff in ‘normal’ 1080 HD – and I can’t wait!