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?

Onboard – Laurens Vanthoor’s Pole Lap at the Bathurst 12 Hour

In qualifying for last weekend’s Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, Laurens Vanthoor set a new qualifying record in a time of 2m02.5521s in his Audi R8 LMS Ultra GT3 car. Vanthoor has uploaded the onboard video of this lap to Facebook and you have to see it!

If you only count race laps for the lap record, his team-mate Markus Winkelhock set a 2m03.3091s in the race and that’s a new record for a tintop, a frankly ridiculous 4 seconds faster than the V8 Supercar record from the Bathurst 1000, and only a little off the 2m02.6701s outright race lap record set by a Formula 3 car in a much shorter race not a 12 hour enduro.

The speed and commitment at the top of the hill is incredible, I have absolutely no idea how these guys do it!

  • Driver:  Laurens Vanthoor
  • Team:  Phoenix Racing
  • Car:  Audi R8 LMS Ultra
  • Track:  Mount Panorama, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

 

 

Video – Drone Racing!

Got to love the French. They invented Grand Prix racing, practically invented endurance racing at Le Mans, made cycling big with le Tour de France, organise and run the Dakar rally. The French just like anyone else will basically race anything.

Now they are racing drones… with lights on the back to make them look like Star Wars speeders or pod racers!

Event:  NCS Challenge, NoComp Stadium, Argonay, near Annecy, France

Video:  Herve Pellarin of Airgonay / www.airgonay.com

Extra points for the Argonay/Airgonay pun!

On The Limit: Addicted To Speed

I used to run a sequence of posts featuring fun or interesting videos which I put into a category called ‘On The Limit’. I was checking the site and I realised the last was over a year ago so it is about time to bring it back. The name was supposed to refer to in-car footage but along the way it got turned into a thread for any interesting racing video. Anyway I’m not going back to change them all now, so enjoy the latest instalment of On The Limit.

This is a bit of fun. Back in 2002 someone put together this pilot for a TV magazine show based around the CART series. I’m not sure if it got turned into a series and some cursory searching suggests it didn’t get any further than this episode, but it was a long time ago now so details are hard to come by. It features upcoming drivers Townsend Bell, Tony Kanaan and Oriol Servia as well as one of the big stars of the day, the 1996 CART PPG Indy Car World Series champion Jimmy Vasser. Join them as a fly on the wall as they work through the Long Beach race weekend, round two of what was now the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series.

It was dug out and posted to Townsend Bell’s own YouTube account, and he brought it up on Twitter on Monday.

Things to look for: Great-looking and great-sounding cars. The Long Beach track hasn’t changed at all. Michael Andretti’s goatee looks as stupid now as it did then. Dario’s straight and serious haircut, you can hardly tell it’s him. Back in 2002 I didn’t think much of Kanaan other than that he should be with a big team, otherwise I wasn’t interested but looking at this now it was me that had it wrong because he hasn’t changed a bit – okay he’s more experienced and is wiser now but he’s still the same fun-loving TK we know today!

[ video via @TownsendBell99 / Townsend Bell ]

Where are they now?

Jimmy Vasser retired from driving and bought out Craig ‘BAR’ Pollock’s share of PK Racing, itself a revamp of the old PacWest team. Via a spell as PKV, that team is currently known as KV Racing Technologies and hires Tony Kanaan, Rubens Barrichello and EJ Viso as drivers.

A year after this video Tony Kanaan had switched to what was then the IRL and in 2004 became champion of that series with Andretti-Green. He’s won several races and his dream now is the big one: the Indy 500.

Oriol Servia is better than his career results would suggest. His best year was 2nd in the 2005 Champ Car season but he hasn’t been helped at having to change teams almost every season since 2001. He’s been with some good teams but never seems able to stay with any of them for longer than a season and a bit. I’d lay money that if he stayed at one team for three years we’d see magic happen. He’s currently at Dreyer & Reinbold who’s switch from Lotus to Chevy has helped immensely.

And finally to Townsend himself. 2002 wasn’t a good season – he got fired by Patrick Racing after the series placed him on probation. He spent the following year in F3000 for Arden where he scored a podium in Hungary, before heading back to the US for a part-season in the IRL. Despite regularly cropping up in the entry lists a few times a year in the IRL and then the re-invented IndyCar Series (notably well at the Indy 500), for reasons very few people understand he hasn’t yet landed a full-season ride in IndyCar. This year he switched codes to join the ALMS to develop the Lotus Evora GTE with Alex Job Racing, dovetailing it with IndyCar pit reporter work for NBC where he’s a broadcasting natural.

Tooned – Episode 1: Wheel Nuts

This is a brilliant idea. If you are a team with a reputation as being staid, distant, corporate and boring, what do you do to change that external perception and let people know what thteam is really like? There’s little better than starting a cartoon!

These great little shorts are from a new division called McLaren Animation, a partnership with Framestore who I’d honestly never heard of before. They sound like one of those companies who do work you’d recognise but is branded by someone else for their promo so you never really know it is them.

Over the last couple of years we’ve learned of the dynamic between Jenson and Lewis in other videos over the last couple of years, it’s good to see the team get a bit of love too.

Here is the first episode which debuted during the British GP weekend two weeks ago:

[ McLaren Animation / Vodafone McLaren Mercedes (McLaren Racing) ]

This isn’t just a great idea, it is also well-executed. It shows the humour of the team whilst also being sponsor friendly (perhaps still a little too clean and corporate – every team ‘partner’ is clearly on show) and perhaps most importantly it gets across the message that McLaren is a high tech company… even if some of the gadgets are a bit ‘out there’!

Secondly, a quick word for the Lotus F1 Team. Keep an eye on their Twitter account (@Lotus_F1Team) during races, as for some weeks now they’ve been tweeting live drawings produced as the race progresses! Here is an example posted on lap 33 during Sunday’s German GP. Theirs is also one of the most active and funny accounts among all the F1 teams so do give them a follow.

[I’ve not been contacted by anyone from either team so this isn’t a promo piece, I just thought they were cool ideas worth sharing]

IndyCar hits Las Vegas

In the best bit of pre-race build-up I’ve seen in a long time, the IndyCar Series took their impressively large field of 34 cars entered in this week’s Las Vegas round and drove them up and down ‘the strip’ in Las Vegas, complete with the legend that is Mario Andretti leading the way in his two-seater IndyCar (with some pop star I don’t know in the passenger seat).

What a fantastic idea!

IndyCar released this great video, complete with interviews, on their official YouTube channel:

And unbelievably the Daily Mail website based here in the UK as a nice spread of big pictures on the event, as well as a video of the action which you can see here.

Kudos to the IZOD IndyCar Series for becoming the first racing series to not only do a street demo in Las Vegas but also run their entire grid at once in it, AND rope in Mario Andretti and famous non-racing names!

I have never seen IndyCar-related promo activation of this level, this beats the stuff Red Bull, Renault and McLaren get up to with their F1 demos and those are very good indeed. I am impressed. They are making the Las Vegas season finale an Event with a capital E. So many of their races have lacked Event status, the series just pitching up in a town and expecting people to show up. I am so glad to see this turning around.

Combine this with the recent Baltimore event as well as existing successes like Toronto and of course the Indy 500 itself, the series looks set for a positive future. I’m also pleased they are able to do this for an oval race outside of Indy. I hope it shows with crowds appearing in the stands on Sunday. More big events please, Mr Bernard.

On The Limit: Porsche World Cup Nordschleife Onboard

You are going to want to watch this. This takes serious skill, or balls, or maybe it is just plain stupidity I don’t know! I have no idea how these drivers do it. He can’t even see at times!

Event: Porsche World Cup
Venue: Nürburgring Nordschleife
Driver: Sean Edwards
Team: Team Abu Dhabi by tolimit
Car: Porsche 997 GT3 Cup (no ABS)
Conditions: Very very wet!

As a prelude to last week’s Nürburgring 24 Hours held on the daunting Nordschleife, Porsche brought together several of its one-make series into one six-lap World Cup event. This included the Porsche Supercup (which normally supports F1 in Europe) and national Carrera Cup championships from Germany, Britain, France, Italy and maybe more.

Supercup and Carrera Cup Germany driver Sean Edwards entered the race and his Team Abu Dhabi by tolimit team fitted an onboard camera. Here are some highlights including the start and opening lap on the GP loop and a part of the long track, before a full lap on the Nordschleife itself.

This is why I am not a racing driver, or if I was I could never race something as powerful as a GT car, I would’ve been killed several times over! The reactions and car control are just astonishing.

Thanks to @habibif1 for the tip via Twitter and to Sean Edwards for uploading the video to YouTube. I’ve not arranged this with Edwards or tolimit, but it is available under a standard YouTube Licence which allows sharing.