After sailing through the SPEED EuroSeries with 10 wins from 12 races to take the title, and with it run away with the 2013 Sunoco Rolex 24 at Daytona Challenge victory the ‘Roar Before The 24’ test at Daytona International Speedway proved the first major hiccup on Ivan Bellarosa’s progress to the Rolex 24.
Such was Bellarosa’s domination of the European championship that he had secured the title with two races remaining, and only failed to make it 11 wins from 12 due to a battery problem in second race at Dijon. His dominance also eased to the Sunoco Challenge title ahead of his SPEED EuroSeries rivals and competitors in the Britcar MSA British Endurance Championship.
The Italian had shown well in tests with Action Express Racing at the end of 2012, but only at the three days at the start of January did Bellarosa join the Starworks Motorsport team he will race for in the Rolex 24, climbing aboard the third generation Ford-Riley Daytona Prototype for the first time.
However, Bellarosa was limited to just a dozen or so laps over the three days because of a combination of a Scott Mayer crash on a greasy track on the opening day of the test and teething problems with the new car – Peter Baron’s Starworks outfit debuting a new third generation car alongside the chassis that took Ryan Dalziel to second in last year’s Rolex Series points.
Speaking to www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk at last weekend Autosport International show Bellarosa conceded; “14 laps in three days is a problem but the car is good and the circuit is fantastic.”
The lack of track time also cut into the running off the other drivers testing the #8 car – Alex Tagliani, Jan Charouz and Brendon Hartley. It is the latter two – young stars turning to sportscars after single-seater options dried up – who Bellarosa feels will be part of the team alongside he and Mayer. “I think – I hope – the drivers are me Brendan Hartley and Jan Charouz and Scott Mayer but I’m not sure,” he says. “That’s my impression.”
Though Bellarosa arrives at Daytona successful in the CN Prototypes of the SPEED EuroSeries, he the Rolex Series interpretation of a prototype in a completely different proposition from behind the wheel to the Wolf he won with in Europe – something that suggests that he will only get quicker around Daytona with more laps in the car.
“The DP is much heavier and more powerful so the driving technique is very different,” he explains. The two cars require approaches that seem to be polar opposites, he continues. “In the Wolf it is important to keep good speed in the corner but in the Daytona Prototype you brake harder, later and then turn the car before you get on the throttle – avoiding high speeds in the corner.”
However, he adds; “There’s a big, big difference but a car is a car and a fast driver is a fast driver”.
With the drivers who will join him in the car for the Rolex still to be officially announced a week before the race, their and Ivan’s next time on the Daytona road course will be for the first of two 60 minute practice sessions on Thursday morning, for Ivan to gain more time behind the wheel of the car.
The benchmark for the Sunoco Challenge winners was set last year when Felipe Nasr completed the race in third place. Such was the Brazilian’s impact on the Rolex Series teams that he returns to Daytona for a second Rolex 24. With him sharing a paddock with his predecessor on the Sunoco roll of honour does Bellarosa already have an American return on his mind? To some extent, yes.
He admits that a lack of budget keeps him from progressing further up the sportscar prototype ladder in Europe, but seems willing to consider a role as a professional driver in the Rolex Series, which he believes is possible.
“I hope this opportunity works out – I love American motorsport, I love the Daytona Prototypes.”