The buildup to the Daytona 24 Hours is a long, anxious process. Starting the week before the ‘Roar’ test weekend in early January, Daytona International Speedway becomes the nucleus of international motor racing; a hub of newsflashes, speculation and comment about what is to be expected from the first race of the season.
It remains like this until the end of the month, once the chequered flag falls on the afternoon of Sunday, January 31. This busy period ensures that the Daytona 24 Hours remains one of the most anticipated and supported races of the year, not just in sportscar terms but within the entire motorsport realm.
In 2016 the race continues to sit at the top of the IMSA calendar, marking the start of the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship. 55 entries are listed this year, which is a slight increase on the 2015 edition, with Prototype and Prototype Challenge sharing 21 of the grid berths.
#0 Panoz DeltaWing Racing (DWC13 Elan) – Andy Meyrick, Katherine Legge, Sean Rayhall, Andreas Wirth
#2 Extreme Speed Motorsports (Ligier JS P2 HPD) – Pipo Derani, Scott Sharp, Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek
#5 Action Express Racing (Coyote-Corvette) – Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, Scott Pruett, Filipe Albuquerque
#10 Wayne Taylor Racing (Dallara-Corvette) – Jordan Taylor, Ricky Taylor, Max Angelelli, Rubens Barrichello
#31 Action Express Racing (Coyote-Corvette) – Eric Curran, Dane Cameron, Simon Pagenaud, Jonny Adam
#37 SMP Racing (BR01 Nissan) – Nicolas Minassian, Kirill Ladygin, Maurizio Mediani, Mikhail Aleshin
#50 Highway to Help (Riley-BMW) – Bryan DeFoor, David Hinton, Jim Pace, Dorsey Schroeder, Thomas Gruber
#55 Mazda Motorsports (Mazda Prototype) – Jonathan Bomarito, Spencer Pigot, Tristan Nunez
#60 Michael Shank Racing (Ligier JS P2 HPD) – Olivier Pla, Ozz Negri Jr, John Pew, AJ Allmendinger
#70 Mazda Motorsports (Mazda Prototype) – Ben Devlin, Joel Miller, Tom Long
#90 VisitFlorida Racing (Coyote-Corvette) – Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marc Goossens, Ryan Dalziel
#01 Chip Ganassi Racing (Riley-Ford) – Lance Stroll, Andy Priaulx, Brendon Hartley, Alex Wurz
#02 Chip Ganassi Racing (Riley-Ford) – Kyle Larson, Scott Dixon, Jamie McMurray, Tony Kanaan
Prototype doesn’t boast a capacity grid this year, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in car quality and diversity. Daytona Prototypes still make up the majority of entries, but LMP2 is also well represented as teams begin to evaluate their racing options for 2017, the year of the LMP2 regulations overhaul.
From the DP camp, defending race winners Chip Ganassi Racing will be looking to achieve another big result with their pair of Riley-Fords. The two driver lineups are full of speed, with Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray gunning for win number two in the #02 car. They will run alongside Andy Priaulx, Brendon Hartley, Alex Wurz and Lance Stroll who command the #01 machine – which gives team boss Chip Ganassi four world championships, two Le Mans victories, seven NASCAR race wins and two Indy 500s to play with.
Wayne Taylor Racing was the only DP team to lead a Roar session, and has been one of the strongest teams at the Daytona 24 Hours in recent years. The addition of former F1 race winner Rubens Barrichello to the #10 Dallara-Corvette should give Wayne Taylor’s crew a good chance of victory if they can avoid both incident and error. Last year’s agonising late race penalty will still be fresh in the minds, but any previous disappointment will have to be forgotten if WTR is to claim its first Daytona triumph.
Elsewhere in the DP camp, VisitFlorida Racing is hoping to start its 2016 season strongly after encountering a number of mechanical issues at the Roar. Action Express Racing will also be in the hunt with the two-time championship winning Coyote of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi (joined this weekend by Ganassi convert Scott Pruett and Audi’s Filipe Albuquerque) boasting one of the most experienced lineups on the grid. Eric Curran, Dane Cameron, Simon Pagenaud and Sunoco Challenge winner Jonny Adam will take the reins of the sister Action Express car. Highway to Help completes the list; the #50 Riley-BMW once again racing for the good cause of Alzheimer’s research.
There are five entries in LMP2, which may seem thin but judging by the pace of the cars at the Roar there is a fair chance that we will see the overall race winner come from this tight group. Michael Shank Racing and Extreme Speed Motorsports were dominant in testing, sharing five session-topping laps between them.
Their tried and tested Ligier JS P2s are complemented by the newer but equally quick BR01, entered by Russian globetrotters SMP Racing. Mazda could also spring a surprise with its LMP2 coupe, which now runs with a petrol rig as opposed to the diesel engine that caused all sorts of problems during the 2015 season.
Completing the Prototype entry is the Panoz DeltaWing. The Elan-powered car has shown considerable pace in preseason and could run comfortably at the sharp end of the field if it can match known speed with reliability. The lineup is a strong one, as regular DeltaWing drivers Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge join forces with German GT racer Andreas Wirth and young American Sean Rayhall, previously of the PC ranks.
*All Oreca FLM09-Chevrolet*
#8 Starworks Motorsport – Alex Popow, Chris Cumming, Renger van der Zande, Jack Hawksworth
#20 BAR1 Motorsports – Tomy Drissi, Marc Drumwright, Johnny Mowlem
#26 BAR1 Motorsports – Adam Merzon, Ryan Eversley, Don Yount, Ryan Lewis, John Falb
#38 Performance Tech Motorsports – James French, Jim Norman, Brandon Gdovic, Josh Norman
#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports – Robert Alon, Tom Kimber-Smith, José Gutierrez, Nicholas Boulle
#54 Core Autosport – Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, Mark Wilkins, Martin Plowman
#85 JDC-Miller Motorsports – Chris Miller, Misha Goikhberg, Stephen Simpson, Kenton Koch
#88 Starworks Motorsport – Mark Kvamme, Maro Engel, Felix Rosenqvist, Sean Johnston
Eight entries make this year’s Prototype Challenge class the smallest of the four, although the spec rules never fail to produce close, exciting racing despite the less-than-ideal numbers.
At the Roar the teams were evenly spaced throughout the weekend, with Starworks and BAR1 Motorsports setting the pace. However, the even lap time patterns of the Oreca FLM09s at Daytona makes this by far the hardest class to call.
Core Autosport heads into the race as one of the favourites with Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, Mark Wilkins and Martin Plowman back in the lineup.
The Core squad came agonisingly close to victory last year, with the win eventually going to rivals PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports. There are other strong entries that will be doing their utmost to disrupt the Core and PR1 outfits, however, including Starworks Motorsport which brings two PC cars to Daytona – one featuring IndyCar racer Jack Hawksworth and the other including European Formula 3 champion Felix Rosenqvist.
Three words that have split opinion within the Prototype field the last two years are Balance of Performance. This year’s BoP changes have been carefully thought through by IMSA, and are designed to create the most equal platform for the DPs and LMP2s to race on.
Unsurprisingly, the Honda-powered Ligier JS P2s have been given restrictions for the Daytona 24 Hours after their impressive showing at the Roar. Both the Michael Shank and ESM cars will carry an extra 10kg, bringing the total weight up to 950kg. The DeltaWing will also become heavier with a 5kg weight increase imposed by IMSA.
Meanwhile the BR01 Nissan is set to benefit from a 10kg weight reduction and a confirmed fuel tank capacity of 76 litres.
The Corvette-powered DPs that make up the majority of the Prototype field will be left unchanged, while there are minor increases to the restrictor and fuel tank of the Highway to Help Riley.
Free practice is shared between all four classes, while each group will be split for qualifying on Thursday afternoon (January 28). Full session times (all ET) are posted below.
Thursday, January 28
Practice 1 – 09:25-10:25
Practice 2 – 13:20-13:50
Prototype Challenge qualifying – 16:50-17:05
Prototype qualifying – 17:15-17:30
Practice 3 – 18:30-20:00
Friday, January 29
Practice 4 – 10:25-11:25
Saturday, January 30
Race – 14:40-14:40 (Sun)