Endurance racing headlines are usually written by the quickest cars, but in the case of this weekend’s Daytona 24 Hours the majority of the talk so far has been focused on the two grand tourer classes, and for good reason.
GT Le Mans and GT Daytona have emerged from the winter break readjusted and rejuvenated after a raft of planned changes imposed by sanctioning body IMSA.
This includes the introduction of turbocharged GTLM cars, plus the adoption of FIA GT3 regulations to the GTD field. A brief look down the entry list verifies the impact that these changes have made. The arrival of brand new cars and even two new manufacturers has helped ramp up the anticipation to an unprecedented level.
GT Le Mans
#3 Corvette Racing (Chevrolet Corvette C7.R) – Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, Mike Rockenfeller
#4 Corvette Racing (Chevrolet Corvette C7.R) – Oliver Gavin, Marcel Fassler, Tommy Milner
#25 BMW Team RLL (BMW M6 GTLM) – Bill Auberlen, Dirk Werner, Augusto Farfus, Bruno Spengler
#62 Risi Competizione (Ferrari 488 GTE) – Giancarlo Fisichella, Davide Rigon, Olivier Beretta, Toni Vilander
#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing (Ford GT) – Joey Hand, Dirk Muller, Sebastien Bourdais
#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing (Ford GT) – Richard Westbrook, Ryan Briscoe, Stefan Mucke
#68 Scuderia Corsa (Ferrari 488 GTE) – Alessandro Pier Guidi, Alexandre Premat, Daniel Serra, Memo Rojas
#72 SMP Racing (Ferrari 488 GTE) – Victor Shaytar, Andrea Bertolini, Gianmaria Bruni, James Calado
#100 BMW Team RLL (BMW M6 GTLM) – Lucas Luhr, Kuno Wittmer, John Edwards, Graham Rahal
#911 Porsche Team North America (Porsche 911 RSR) – Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy, Kevin Estre
#912 Porsche Team North America (Porsche 911 RSR) – Michael Christensen, Earl Bamber, Fred Makowiecki
The two GT classes boast a combined total of 33 entries; over half the total grid.
Eleven of these are racing in GTLM, which features the ‘factory’ engines from some of the world’s most renowned manufacturers. Ford is arguably the star of the show, as the American marque makes its awaited return to international sportscar racing with two Chip Ganassi/Multimatic-run Ford GTs. Both cars feature strong lineups worthy of winning any major endurance race. Three drivers – Sebastien Bourdais, Richard Westbrook and Joey Hand – drove in the top-tier Prototype class at Daytona last year, demonstrating the immense pull factor of this exciting new project.
Ford ran well but not spectacularly at the Roar pre-season test, but the main observation was that the turbocharged GT is consistently quick, and has as good a chance as any other manufacturer of taking the class win. Porsche, by contrast, struggled for outright lap pace during the Roar and was the only team not to lead one of the seven sessions. However the Core Autosport-run 911 RSRs dominated the tail end of last season, even winning Petit Le Mans outright, so the preliminary pace exhibited earlier in January should not be taken too literally.
Like Porsche, Corvette is also using its 2015 car and should be one of the favourites this weekend. In 2015 the C7.Rs brought plenty of thunder and speed, winning the class after a close battle with the BMWs. This year Corvette will once again be in the mix, especially after recruiting the services of Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler as third drivers who have four Le Mans wins between them.
Then come the other two new entries, courtesy of GTLM stalwarts Ferrari and BMW. Ferrari’s 488 GTE will be run in three guises at Daytona, with class regulars Risi Competizione being joined by 2015 GTD champions Scuderia Corsa and GTE-Am World Endurance champions SMP Racing. The Risi prancing horse did not make it to the Roar test as the car was still in build at the factory, but it has since completed several practice miles and will be ready to race this weekend.
BMW completes the class field with its two new M6 GTLMs that impressed many at the Roar. Although bulkier than the preceding Z4, the M6 has shown plenty of pace around the 3.5 mile Daytona course, recording the fastest GTLM lap during testing. Comparatively, though, the GTLM field is once again virtually inseparable. Each manufacturer is undoubtedly ready for the opening race of the season, and pace does not appear to be an issue for any of the cars…….unpredictability is therefore the only predictable element!
#6 Stevenson Motorsports (Audi R8 LMS GT3) – Robin Liddell, Andrew Davis, Lawson Aschenbach, Matt Bell
#9 Stevenson Motorsports (Audi R8 LMS GT3) – Kenny Habul, Boris Said, Dion von Moltke, Tristan Vautier
#11 O’Gara Motorsport (Lamborghini Huracan GT3) – Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, Edoardo Piscopo, Richard Antinucci
#16 Change Racing (Lamborghini Huracan GT3) – Spencer Pumpelly, Corey Lewis, Justin Marks, Kaz Grala
#21 Konrad Motorsport (Lamborghini Huracan GT3) – Emanuele Busnelli, Jim Michaelian
#22 Alex Job Racing (Porsche 911 GT3R) – David MacNeil, Cooper MacNeil, Leh Keen, Gunnar Jeannette, Shane van Gisbergen
#23 Alex Job Racing (Porsche 911 GT3R) – Ian James, Alex Riberas, Wolf Henzler, Mario Farnbacher
#28 Konrad Motorsport (Lamborghini Huracan GT3) – Rolf Ineichen, Marc Basseng, Franz Konrad, Fabio Babini, Lance Willsey
#30 Frikadelli Racing (Porsche 911 GT3R) – Klaus Abbelen, Patrick Huisman, Sabine Schmitz, Sven Mueller, Frank Stippler
#33 Riley Motorsports (Dodge Viper GT3R) – Ben Keating, Dominik Farnbacher, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Marc Miller
#44 Magnus Racing (Audi R8 LMS GT3) – John Potter, Marco Seefried, Andy Lally, Rene Rast
#45 Flying Lizard Motorsports (Audi R8) – Tracy Krohn, Pierre Kaffer, Nic Jonsson, Christopher Haase
#48 Paul Miller Racing (Lamborghini Huracan GT3) – Bryce Miller, Madison Snow, Mirko Bortolotti, Bryan Sellers
#51 Spirit of Race (Ferrari 458 GT3) – Raffaele Gianmaria, Marco Cioci, Peter Mann, Matteo Cressoni
#63 Scuderia Corsa (Ferrari 458 GT3) – Christina Nielsen, Robert Renauer, Alessandro Balzan, Jeff Segal
#73 Park Place Motorsports (Porsche 911 GT3R) – Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey, Matt McMurray, Norbert Siedler
#93 Riley Motorsports (Dodge Viper GT3R) – Ben Keating, Jeff Mosing, Damien Faulkner, Eric Foss, Gar Robinson
#96 Turner Motorsport (BMW M6 GT3) – Bret Curtis, Ashley Freiburg, Marco Wittmann, Jens Klingmann
#97 Turner Motorsport (BMW M6 GT3) – Michael Marsal, Maxime Martin, Jesse Krohn, Markus Palttala
#98 Aston Martin Racing (Aston Martin Vantage GT3) – Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda, Richie Stanaway
#007 TRG AMR (Aston Martin Vantage GT3) – Santiago Creel, Ricardo Perez de Lara, Antonio Perez, Lars Viljoen
#540 Black Swan Racing (Porsche 911 GT3R) Tim Pappas, Patrick Long, Nick Catsburg, Andy Pilgrim
Moving on to the most diverse class at this year’s Daytona 24 Hours, there are 22 entries to pick a winner from in GTD coming from seven different marques.
One major change for 2016 is the introduction of FIA GT3 regulation, a ruling that has proven very attractive with teams and constructors alike. Additional driver aids are now available to the amateur competitors, which should create more clean, close racing this year.
Looking down the entry list and the first thing (apart from its length) that stands out is the number of double entries. Five teams – all with different cars – will bring a brace of machinery to Daytona, indicating further the appeal of racing under GT3 sanctioning.
Lamborghini is the only new manufacturer, but its five private Huracan GT3s already have a season of development behind them. The raging bulls were noticeably high up the order during the Roar and should still provide a challenge during the race even with a significant Balance of Performance restriction.
Two existing manufacturers have brought new cars to the table for 2016 – Porsche with its 911 GT3R and BMW with the GT3 derivative of its beastly M6. Porsche had the final say at the Roar as the 911 topped the class outright, but the margins were too tight for any concrete assumptions to be made. Audi should be in the mix with its one year old R8 GT3 model that recently won the Dubai 24 Hours, while the ever-popular Dodge Vipers ended the test weekend a mere tenth behind the fastest Porsche as they prepare to defend their 2015 success.
Aston Martin will also provide a challenge in the form of a works GTD squad, featuring a WEC-infused roster. Private Aston Martin squad TRG AMR is the only other Vantage entrant; expect to see current Force India F1 driver Sergio Perez in the garage over the course of the weekend supporting the team thathe has recently formed a partnership with.
As with Prototype, the Balance of Performance in GTLM is a hot topic within the IMSA paddock. Last season BoP could be held partly responsible for the outcome of the championship, as Porsche dominated the second half of the season following an IMSA ruling.
For Daytona 2016, the most notable changes come in the fuel allocation department. Each car will receive an increase in fuel space, with the exception of the Ferrari 488 which has had its set at 78 litres. The Ferrari will carry a much smaller load compared to the other manufacturers, with Corvette moving up to 92L, Porsche to 91L, BMW to 104L and Ford to 98L. Adjustments have also been made to the turbocharged machines of BMW, Ferrari and Ford: each car will lose some of its original boost from the Roar sessions.
BoP for the GTD class is similarly interesting, and possibly the most challenging of the classes to get right with so many different cars involved. There have been some significant weight reductions, with the Dodge Vipers and Ferrari 458 Italias receiving 20kg breaks. Half that weight will be shed from the Aston Martins and the older edition Audi R8s. Mass increases have also been carried out on the Lamborghinis and newer Audi R8s (both +20kg).
Fuel flow has also been tinkered by IMSA, with the most prominent increases coming the way of Aston Martin (+13 L to 103L) and BMW (+9L to 104L). Audi’s new R8 moves up a notch (+4L to 90L), Dodge Viper has been granted +4L to 107L, Lamborghini is up one to 90L, and Porsche moves down a litre from 85 to 84L.
All four classes will take part in the four free practice sessions that take place on Thursday and Friday. GT qualification will take place on Thursday afternoon, preceding the P and PC categories. Full times for GTLM and GTD are listed below (all ET).
Thursday, January 28
Free Practice 1 – 9:25-10:25
Free Practice 2 – 13:20 – 13:50
GTD qualifying – 16:00-16:15
GTLM qualifying – 16:25-16:40
Free Practice 3 – 18:30-20:00
Friday, January 29
Free Practice 4 – 10:25-11:25
Saturday, January 30
Race – 14:40-14:40 (Sun)