Including the famous Bathurst 1000.
Power, speed, money, sponsorship. What’s not to like?
For more championships click here.
Including the famous Bathurst 1000.
Power, speed, money, sponsorship. What’s not to like?
For more championships click here.
Well that was eventful!
The first four hours were so intense I needed to take a break for a bit. Completely unlike last year’s relatively quiet race, this year incidents happened thick and fast. Whether it was close, tight racing or incidents of minor contact delaying cars or sending them into spins. Thankfully nothing major in the early stages and the race was able to stay green flag for much of the time. It settled into a rhythm after that.
The evening and overnight racing was fantastic. The top DPi cars were passing and repassing. Alonso (Cadillac) passing Castroneves (Acura) about 8 hours in was a particular highlight. The GT classes were having their usual fights. Even the sparse LMP2 was eventful.
At one stage quite deep into the race was a train of 7 DPi cars running 4 seconds apart, all for position, with Alonso taking over 7th. After a yellow he restarted 5th and in the next half hour raced his way to the class lead against the likes of Helio Castroneves (Acura), Rene Rast (Mazda) and Alexander Rossi (Acura).
Nick Tandy (Porsche) was similarly impressive in GTLM. He overtook Oliver Gavin (Corvette) and James Calado (Ferrari) in quick succession.
GTD is always hard to follow because there are so many cars and so many position changes, either by on track passes or by pit strategy. The purple 33 Mercedes was up front quite a lot, so was the green Grasser Lamborghini.
Sadly the quick Mazda DPis expired, as I said in my preview I feared they might. I had hoped to be wrong. The pole-sitting 77 car of Oliver Jarvis had an engine problem originally reported has a turbo failure, not sure if that’s the final diagnosis. This was about 2 laps after the sister 55 car went to the pits with electrical gremlins which cost 15 minutes or more. Then while I was sleeping the 55 had some other problem which caused it to retire.
I had a sleep break from around 4am UK time, about 16 hours to go. I’d been trying to go earlier but so much was happening and I’d eaten a lot of Haribo, that sugar rush kept me up! I wound up sleeping an hour longer than planned, but on rejoining at 9:30am UK the rain had started falling at the track. Still dark over in Florida of course where it was 4:30am.
And rain would be the story from here. When the rain started it mixed things up but didn’t cause many problems that I saw, everyone got across to the wet tyres and they were all cautious in the conditions, We continued to see great racing in every class.
In the wet, Fernando Alonso was 2 or 3 seconds per lap faster than anybody else in class! Absolutely remarkable performance.
Jordan Taylor got into the no.10 and picked up where Alonso left off earlier. He again was several seconds per lap faster than the competition. This proved to me firstly that Jordan continues to be an under-rated driver and secondly that it wasn’t an accident. It looked like drivers and team had deliberately dialled it in well for the wet. Kobayashi overnight put up a real stout defence against Juan Pablo Montoya of all people! Even had Juan on the apron in avoidance. Somehow I missed most of Renger van der Zande’s driving but he’s perfectly at home in this company. There’s no doubt the driving crew of the no.10 had the edge in this race.
Not to say the other teams weren’t on it, because they were, but the no.10 met everything head on. The Mazdas were quicker when they ran, the Penske Acuras were up there all race, but the Taylor car seemed able to drive away in damp conditions, even from the other Cadillacs.
Once the rain started it never really let up. That lead to more Safety Car periods and red flags.
Tommy Milner suffered a terrifying aquaplaning spin into the tyre wall at turn 1. He was cleared OK but the response crews weren’t with him for at least 5 minutes while the race director let the pit sequence play itself out. I get the sporting imperative and usually agree with it, but Milner’s hit was pretty hard and I’d have liked to have seen someone there considerably more quickly.
The rain intensified so we stayed yellow for an hour, which turned into a red flag which in turn lasted 1 hour 45 minutes.
We got a restart which lasted half a lap, at the back of the field cars went spinning into the tri-oval and turn 1. At this point Twitter erupted. Half the people wanted it stopped, half the people considered it a test.
For as long as it was wet-but-driveable, I was in the latter camp. Racing in the rain is an under-rated skill in modern racing where the emphasis is to mash the gas at all times. Endurance racing is just that, a test of endurance, backing off when necessary to get the car home. But the line is thin when rain intensifies. It quickly flips into dangerous territory.
The moment it became clear drivers were aquaplaning into spins at low speed, after allowing plenty of room for braking and a gap to the car ahead, it was unsafe to continue and the race should be stopped. Arguably they left it a little too long but they made the right call in the end.
Still, for a time it looked raceable and it looked like some guys did a ‘Spa ’98’, kept their right foot in as they entered a wall of spray. I think in an endurance race perhaps it is prudent, if you are at the back at the restart, to lift off the right foot? Maybe that’s just me.
The ensuing Safety Car period lasted 1 hour 45 minutes or so because during the yellow the rain had intensified again, the track was getting deep puddles on the racing line and the grass was saturated. It was obviously not in a condition to race. And I thought that would be it.
Yet at nearly 4pm UK time we were green again, but again only for a lap or so. Cars were aquaplaning across turn 1 if they got even slightly off line. Personally again they could’ve backed off, but the rain was harder now and the track was waterlogged, so the margin was much more difficult to judge than it was earlier.
40 minutes later at another restart Toni Vilander piles into the back of a Porsche he couldn’t see. Again, would you drive into a wall of spray? Did he have a choice? Maybe he didn’t, maybe someone would’ve driven into the back of him if he had slowed earlier. After all, the Porsche had backed off because another car was slowing ahead.
And it was sketchy. Drivers in all classes were spinning out when they hit puddles that were deeper than the lap before, because they couldn’t see them through the spray. And that was going too far, trying to restart in those conditions, the track was getting worse all the time.
I do appreciate the series and the track crews kept trying, they never gave up, but it was too heavy.
So with barely 3 green flag laps in some 5 hours, I did feel like I was robbed of a great run to the flag. Not the fault of the series or the drivers just a consequence of the weather. It happens.
And what of my picks to win?
Winner: No.10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Cadillac – Fernando Alonso, Kamui Kobayashi, Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande.
My Pick: No.7 Acura Team Penske – Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi.
Incredible race from the start and right through the night. After some 8 hours the top 7 cars were still just 5 seconds apart, okay after a yellow, but still impressive after long green flag running not to have gaps of laps. Shame to see the quick Mazdas go. The Nissan caught up a bit and was fast with Duval and Dumas aboard, but I still think Bennett should stand down from driving.
Rubens Barrichello was a star for JDC-Miller. The team still new to the Cadillac and generally a little off the pace, Rubens in the wet was a master just as he always was.
Winner: No.18 DragonSpeed ORECA 07 Gibson – Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Saavedra, Ryan Cullen, Roberto Gonzalez.
My Pick: Won!
Class was close in the first half of the race but imploded in the rain. No.18 closed down an 4 lap deficit when the sister DragonSpeed car crashed, to then hold a 4 lap lead over Performance Tech. Then 18 was crashed with a lap to go in seriously heavy rain and limped to the pits at the last red flag.
Winner: No.25 Rahal LL BMW M8 GTE – Colton Herta, Ausgusto Farfus, Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng.
My Pick: No.67 Ganassi Ford GT – Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon.
Finished 4th after falling to the back early on, recovered all the lost laps to lead until they pitted under yellow, 2 laps before the final red flag. Eventful.
A fortuitous win for BMW, but a heartening one after the death of Schnitzer’s Charly Lamm on Thursday. Excellent overnight performances from Nick Tandy (Porsche) and James Calado (Risi Ferrari) left me assuming one of those would win.
And the fantastic Alex Zanardi. What a legend. Their car was delayed by some 20 laps but they never gave up.
Winner: No.11 GRT Grasser Lamborghini Huracan – Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart, Rik Breukers, Rolf Ineichen.
My Pick: No.48 Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan – Bryan Sellers, Corey Lewis, Ryan Hardwick, Andrea Calderelli.
Finished 17th, 70 laps down to the class leader, after being involved in a startline accident in heavy spray along with at least three other cars. Also sent to the back at the start of the race for not getting enough night laps for one driver.
Another slightly fortunate win. The 33 Riley Mercedes of Bleekemolen etc. was in control much of the race and was leading until a pitstop late on. They were caught out when IMSA announced the race was going green, so they pitted for strategy, then half a lap later the series threw the first red flag. 7th wasn’t representative.
That’s not to say GRT Grasser are undeserving – they were Riley’s main rival all race long. They battled back from early delays. It was a very good job from them and they earned it. It’s very possible GRT could’ve beaten Riley on pace if the race had stayed dry.
Good performances in the field included the AIM Vasser Lexus (3rd), the Audis slow on the straights in the dry but with extra downforce quickly regained ground in the wet, the Shank Acura cars including the all-female drivers who were one of many cars to fall back due to accident damage suffered in heavy rain but before that were solidly inside the top 10 in a class of 23 cars.
EDIT: 4 days after the race the 2nd-placed Land Motorsport Audi was demoted to the back with a drive time infringement of just 15 minutes, which seems draconian to me. This promotes one of the Lexusususus to 2nd.
Like last year the rest of the IMSA season will be well worth watching. It is surprising to me how many general motorsports fans don’t watch it, especially outside the US when it has free streaming. Do give it a chance.
Coming up next is another iconic event, the 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday March 16th.
Interestingly, for the first time the FIA WEC will run a 1000 mile or 8 hour race on the Friday night. It’ll be fascinating to find out how logistically this will work – and who will “do the double”!
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.
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
Follow me on Twitter: @toomuchracing
Race hashtags: #rolex24, #imsa, #imsa50 for the 50th anniversary.
This is the 50th year of IMSA competition so many teams are running throwback liveries.
This year there are 4 classes.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
The highest level of endurance sports car racing in North America is the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.
For more championships including IMSA support series click here.
For more championships click here.
For more championships click here.
FIM Superbike World Championship (World SBK).
The important change for 2019 is the move from 2 races per weekend to 3 races, with the opening race on Saturday followed by 2 races on Sunday. As far as I can make out this is the same format at every meeting.
Support races include World Supersport and Supersport 300 at selected meetings. I haven’t broken them into separate calendars but I can do so if there’s a demand!
For more championships click here.