Wednesday, January 25, 2017

2017 24 Hours of Daytona Preview

This year's 24 Hours of Daytona not only marks the first round of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship but the first race of the DPi-era. Fifty-five cars are entered for the 55th 24 Hours of Daytona across four classes.

The Prototype class features a dozen entries, seven of which are DPis while five follow the new LMP2 regulations. 

Dane Cameron and Eric Curran are defending Prototype champions and will drive the #31 Cadillac DPi. Toyota factory driver Mike Conway and British GT Championship regular Seb Morris will join Cameron and Curran in Daytona. João Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi returning in the #5 Cadillac DPi with Felipe Albuquerque being the #5 Cadillac's third driver. Ricky Taylor and Jordan Taylor finished third behind the two Action Express Racing in the championship last year. The Taylor brothers will drive the #10 Cadillac DPi with Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon. This is Gordon's first 24 Hours of Daytona appearance since 2007 when he finished third with Wayne Taylor Racing. Angelelli will retire after this year's race. 

The top car in the Roar Before the 24 test earlier this month was the #81 DragonSpeed Oreca-Gibson of Henrik Hedman, Nicolas Lapierre, Ben Hanley and Loïc Duval. DragonSpeed competed in the European Le Mans Series and won at Spa-Franchorchmaps. Second in the test was the #55 Mazda RT24-P of Tristan Nunez, Jonathan Bomarito and Spencer Pigot. Driving the #70 Mazda RT24-P will be the Tom Long, Joel Miller and James Hinchcliffe. Also coming over from Europe will be Rebellion Racing as the team transitions from LMP1 to LMP2 competition. The Swiss team has entered the #13 Oreca-Gibson for Neel Jani, Sébastien Buemi, Nick Heidfeld and Stéphane Sarrazin. 

Extreme Speed Motorsports returns to IMSA after contesting the last two seasons in the FIA World Endurance Championship. In a partnership with Nissan, ESM will contest two Nissan Onroak DPis with Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel in the #2 and Johannes an Overbeek and Ed Brown in the #22. Pipo Derani, Bruno Senna and Porsche factory driver Brendon Hartley join ESM for Daytona with Derani in the #2, Senna in the #22 and Hartley listed for both. 

Marc Goossens and Renger van der Zande will drive the #90 Multimatic/Riley-Gibson with two-time 24 Hours of Daytona class winner René Rast joining the Belgian and Dutchman for Daytona. PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and JDC-Miller Motorsports both move up from the Prototype Challenge class to Prototypes in 2017. Tom Kimber-Smith and José Gutiérrez will be full-time in the #52 Ligier-Gibson for PR1/Mathiasen with Mike Guasch and RC Enerson joining the team for Daytona. Misha Goikhberg, Chris Miller, Stephen Simpson and Mathias Beche will drive the #85 Oreca-Gibson for JDC-Miller.

Prototype Challenge
While this year's race marks the beginning for the DPi-era, it marks the final time the Prototype Challenge class will compete in the 24 Hours of Daytona and five cars are entered. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of Pato O'Ward, James French, Kyle Masson and Nicolas Boulle was the fastest in class at the test. Starworks Motorsport has entered two cars. The #8 Oreca will be a Canadian-American line up featuring Robert Wickens, Chris Cumming, Ben Keating, Jon Falb and Remo Ruscitti with the #88 Oreca featuring Sean Rayhall, Scott Mayer, James Dayson, Conor Daly and Alex Popow. Daly is a late replacement for Sebastián Saavedra. BAR1 Motorsports has entered two cars as well. Buddy Rice returns to full-time competition in the #20 Oreca with Don Yount, Chapman Ducote, Mark Kvamme and Gustavo Yacamán. Despite announcing his retirement, Johnny Mowlem returns to Daytona in the #26 Oreca with Tom Papadopoulos, Adam Merzon, Trent Hindman and David Cheng. 

GT Le Mans
Eleven cars are entered in the GT Le Mans class and Ford led the way at the test. The #67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon led the way with the #69 Ford featuring Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Tony Kanaan was second. Dirk Müller and Joey Hand drive the other full-time IMSA Ford and Sébastien Bourdais reunites the Le Mans-winning trio in the #66 Ford for Daytona. Stefan Mücke, Olivier Pla and Billy Johnson will drive the #68 Ford. 

While Ford led the way in testing, Corvette has won the last two years at Daytona, including a 1-2 photo finish last year with the #4 of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fässler nipping the #3 of Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and Mike Rockenfeller. Gavin and Milner are defending GTLM drivers' champions after beating Briscoe and Westbrook by 17 points.

BMW trailed Ford in the test with the #24 BMW of John Edwards, Kuno Wittmer, Martin Tomczyk and Nicky Catsburg third fastest. Bill Auberlen will have a new co-driver this season as Alexander Smis replaces Dirk Werner, who has moved to Porsche, in the #19 BMW. DTM drivers Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler join the #19 BMW for Daytona. 

Werner moves to the #911 Porsche where he will be full-time with Patrick Pilet. Frédéric Makowiecki joins the #911 Porsche for Daytona. Laurens Vanthoor makes his Porsche debut at Daytona and he will run the full IMSA season in the #912 Porsche with Kevin Éstre. Richard Leitz completes the #912's driver line up for Daytona. 

The lone Ferrari entered in GTLM is the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari for Toni Vilander, Giancarlo Fisichella and James Calado. This trio won at Petit Le Mans to close out the 2016 season. It was Risi's first victory in just over a season. 

GT Daytona
The largest class at Daytona will be the GT Daytona class, which features 27 cars from nine manufactures. 

Scuderia Corsa won the GTD title last year with Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan. Both return in the #63 Ferrari with AF Corse's Sam Bird and Matteo Cressoni. Nielsen and Balzan won at Sebring and Watkins Glen last year on their way to the title. Spirit of Race have entered the only other Ferrari in the GTD class with Peter Mann, Maurizio Mediani, 2014 24 Hours of Daytona GTD class winner Alessandro Pier Guidi and Davide Rigon. 

Lamborghini is the most represented manufacture in the GTD class with eight cars. GRT Grasser Racing Team has entered two Lamborghini Huracán GT3s. Christian Engelhart and Rolf Ineichen are entered both in the #11 and #61 Lamborghinis. Ezequiel Pérez Companc and Mirko Bortolotti will drive the #11 Lamborghini with Roberto Pampanini, Christopher Lenz, Michele Beretta and Miloš Pavlović in the #61 Lamborghini. Konrad Motorsport is another Austrian team entering a Lamborghini with Marco Mapelli, Marco Basseng, Luca Stolz, Lance Willsey and Franz Konrad int he #21 Lamborghini. Defending FIA WEC GTE-Am champion Emmanuel Collard will be in the #46 Lamborghini with EBIMOTORS and co-drivers Fabio Babini and Emanuele Busnelli.

Change Racing has entered the #16 Lamborghini for Corey Dewis, Jeroen Mul, NASCAR Truck series driver Kaz Grala and Pirelli World Challenge GTS champion Brett Sandberg. DAC Motorsports' #18 Lamborghini features Lamborghini Super Trofeo regulars Emmanuel Anassis and Anthony Massari with Indy Lights driver Zach Claman DeMelo. Lawrence DeGeorge, Cedric Sbirrazzuoli, Paolo Ruberti, Luca Persiani and Raffaele Giammaria will drive the #27 Dream Racing Lamborghini. Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow finished third in the GTD championship last year and both return in the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini. Bryce Miller, Andrea Caldarelli and Dion von Moltke round out the line up in the #48 Lamborghini.

Daytona marks the debut of both the Lexuc RCF GT3 and Acura NSX GT3. The Lexus arrives a year later than announced but 3GT Racing will have Scott Pruett and Sage Karam in the #14 Lexus with Jack Hawksworth and Robert Alon full-time in the #15 Lexus. Defending LMP2 driver champion Gustavo Menezes and Ian James join Pruett and Karam in the #14 Lexus with NASCAR Truck driver Austin Cindric and Dominik Farnbacher in the #15 Lexus. Michael Shank Racing moves from Prototypes to GTD as the factory-supported Acura team. Oswaldo Negri, Jr. remains with the team and will have Jeff Segal as his co-driver in the #86 Acura with Tom Dyer and Ryan Hunter-Reay joining the effort at Daytona. Andy Lally and Katherine Legge will drive the #93 Acura with Mark Wilkins and Graham Rahal as the extra drivers for Daytona.

Riley Motorsports finished second in the GTD championship last year with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating. Both return but the team has switched from the Dodge Viper to the Mercedes AMG GT3. Bleekemolen and Keating, who will be doing double duty in the race as he is also entered in the PC class with the #8 Starworks Oreca, are joined by Mario Farnbacher and Adam Christodoulou in the #33 Mercedes. After an unceremonious and premature exit last year, Cooper MacNeil returns in the #50 Riley Motorsports - WeatherTech Racing Mercedes. Gunnar Jeannette will be MacNeil's full-time co-driver. Defending Supercars champion Shane Van Gisbergen and Thomas Jäger round out the #50 Mercedes at Daytona. The newly formed SunEnergy1 Racing entered the #75 Mercedes for Tristan Vautier, Boris Said, Kenny Habul, Paul Morris and Maro Engel.

Five Porsches are entered in the GTD class. CORE Autosport moves to GTD from PC with Colin Braun and Jon Bennett contesting the #54 Porsche full-time with Patrick Long and Nic Jönsson in the car for Daytona. Park Place Motorsports retain Patrick Lindsey and Jörg Bergmeister in the #73 Porsche with Matt McMurry as the third driver for Daytona. TRG returns to Porsche after a few seasons with Aston Martin. Wolf Henzler will be full-time in the #991 Porsche and will be joined at Daytona by Santiago Creel, Mike Hedlund, Jan Heylen and Timothy Pappas.

Carlos de Quesada leads the #28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche with Michael de Quesada, Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare and Porsche factory driver Micahel Christensen in the car for Daytona. Manthey Racing has entered the #59 Porsche with defending Porsche Supercup champion Sven Müller, Reinhold Renger, Harald Proczyk, Matteo Cairoli and Steve Smith.

Three Audis are on the entry list. Alex Job Racing will contest the #23 Audi at Daytona and the other three North American Endurance Cup races for Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Frank Montecalvo with Pierre Kaffer joining the squad for Daytona. Montaplast by Land-Motorsport comes to Daytona fresh off winning the ADAC GT Masters championship with Christopher Mies and Connor De Phillippi. Mies and De Phillippi will be in the #29 Audi with Jules Gounon and Jeffery Schmidt rounding out the line up. Stevenson Motorsports returns with the #57 Audi for Robin Liddell, Andrew Davis, Lawson Aschenbach and Matt Bell.

Turner Motorsport has entered the #96 BMW for Daytona with DTM driver Maxime Martin leading the line-up with fellow BMW factory drivers Jens Klingmann and Jesse Krohn and NASCAR driver Justin Marks. Aston Martin Racing has entered the #98 Aston Martin for Daytona-only with its lead GTE-Am team of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda being joined by defending GTE-Pro champion Marco Sørensen rounding out the line up.

The 55th 24 Hours of Daytona will start at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday January 28th.