The first of the major motorsport even of the year is nearly upon us. This year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona marks the inaugural race of the newly formed Tudor United SportsCar Championship. As I have mentioned in previous posts the TUSC was formed when Grand Am merged with The American Le Mans Series. The merger has created massive interest in the new series from fans and competitors alike. A massive international grid of sixty-seven cars spread across four classes is set to take the green early Saturday Afternoon. In this post I have decided not to outline each and every teams chances of winning their perspective classes but instead to point out some of the teams I will be keeping an eye on.
Probably the biggest challenge for the new series was balancing the performance of Daytona Prototypes and the Le Mans spec LMP2s. The cars are very different. The Daytona Prototypes are fast in a straight line and have little in the way of down force when compared to the LMP2s. IMSA has done a good job adjusting the aero for both classes of cars. While the Daytona Prototypes should have the advantage at Daytona the LMP2 cars shouldn’t be counted out.
– Ford Powered Daytona Prototypes from Michael Shank Racing (#60) and Chip Ganassi. (#01 & #02)
Both teams have won overall at Daytona with Ganassi setting the gold standard of late winning six of the last nine races. For the first time in a Daytona Prototype, Ford will be using a turbocharged powerplant, an “Ecoboost” 3.5 Liter V6 to be exact. As to be expected there have been some teething issues with the motor the most notable issue being with the headers over heating during pre-season testing. That said I’m always a fan of new engines and if they can keep it together the Fords have to be considered among the favorites for overall victory.
Muscle Milk Pickett Racing is fielding an Oreca 03 Nissan (#6). The Muscle Milk team has seen success winning the last 2 ALMS LMP1 class championships. In addition, the Oreca 03 chassis with Nissan Power has enjoyed success all over the globe. Once the team comes to grips with the new car and tires, the combination should be highly competitive.
WEC (World Endurance Championship) LMP2 Team Champions, Oak Racing (#42) has entered one of its Morgan/Nissan’s . Oak has enjoyed success in Europe and Asia, including capturing class victory at Le Mans in 2013.
Extreme Speed has entered two Honda ARX-03b’s (#1 & #2). While the team is only in its second year with the car the Honda has enjoyed success globally, winning the LMP2 series championship in the WEC in 2012. Like the other two, Extreme Speed features a strong driver lineup.
Unfortunately like Muscle Milk and Oak, Extreme Speed’s Hondas seem to lack the straight line punch of the Daytona Prototypes. However, one should not count these guys out. All three teams are world class outfits and if the top Daytona Prototypes have even the slightest issue these guys will be there to pounce.
– Corvette Daytona Prototypes
In pre-season testing as well as practice the Corvette DPs appear to be the teams to beat this year. Spirit of Daytona (#90), Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR #10) and Action Express (#5 & #9) have routinely been at the top of the time charts. In addition to being the defending Grand Am Series Champions WTR has a unique driver line up. For the first time, Wayne will be sharing the car with his two sons, Ricky and Jordan. Max Angelelli rounds out WTR’s driver lineup.
To be honest, I have never been a big fan of spec class racing. The idea of everyone in the same car with the same engine is a bit boring. That said teams from CORE Autosport (#54), Starworks (#7 & #8) and RSR Racing (#08 & #09)should be the teams to beat.
GT Le Mans
The GT racing in the TUSC promises to be some of, if not the best, GT racing in the world. In GTLM alone you have full season factory efforts from Corvette (#3 & #4), SRT Viper (#91 & #93), Porsche (#911 & #912) and BMW (#55 & #56). In addition, for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Aston Martin is sending over one of its factory supported Vantage V8s (#97). Not to be left out Risi Competizione (#62)will be fielding a highly competitive Ferrari 458 Italia. In this sea of GT awesomeness it is difficult to pick one or two teams to watch.
– Corvette Racing
I have always loved Corvettes and what can I say the new C7.R looks and sounds mean. It’s proving to be fast too. The new Corvettes have paced the GTLM field in both testing and early practice sessions. Barring a crash or mechanical failure the two C7.Rs should be the car to beat in the GTLM class.
– CORE/Porsche North America
The Porsche factory effort has seen them team up with Core Autosport. In addition to their PC car CORE ran a 997 spec 911 last season. This season sees Porsche roll out its 911 RSR Evo. A updated version of the car that won GT at Le Mans last year. With a strong list of factory supported drivers Porsche is ready to take the fight directly to Corvette.
The slower cousins to GTLM, GTD sees a grid of 29 (highest car count of any class). Porsche, Ferrari, BMW, Viper, Audi and Aston Martin all poised to do battle on the high banks of Daytona. In early testing Audi R8s and Porsche’s new 911 GT America set the pace.
TRG-AMR (The Racers Group-Aston Martin Racing) (#007 & #009)
TRG is no stranger to Daytona with class victories in 2011, 2009, 2006 and 2003. In 2003 they won over all, the only GT class car to win overall in Grand Am’s history. This year sees TRG make the switch to Aston Martin from longtime partner Porsche. A factory backed effort; TRG will be running two V12 Vantage GT3s. I for one cannot wait to hear the wail of a V12 back at Daytona. Whether the Astons have the pace to keep up with Audi and Porsche remains to be seen but based solely on beauty and noise the TRG Astons are a must watch.
– Flying Lizard Motorsports (#35 & #45)
Another team famous for running Porsches has left the German manufacturer this time in favor of Audi’s R8. Audi is synonymous with its endurance racing success. In addition to its LMP1 domination at Le Mans Audi won the GT class at Daytona in 2013. The Flying Lizard R8s have been at or near the top of the time charts in testing. If Director of Audi Sport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich (Seriously that’s his name, and not a Bond Villain) has his way Audi will repeat its Daytona success. Audi and Flying Lizard should be a difficult combination to beat.
– Porsche GT America
Alex Job Racing (#22 & #23) leads the 911 GT America contingent. One of the strongest Porsche Privateer teams the two Alex Job Porsches are among the race favorites. Led by McDreamy himself, crowd favorite Dempsey Racing (#27 & #28) is in with a chance of taking class honors at Daytona. With 12 entrants in total, Porsche is definitely the favored mark in GTD.
With three entrants, Defending Grand Am GT champions, Scuderia Corsa (#63, #64 & #65) leads the Ferrari brigade. While Riley Motorsports (#33) fields the lone Viper in GTD. North American GT Racing stalwarts Turner Motorsports (#94) will field one BMW Z4 GT3.
So there you have it, a basic rundown of this year’s contenders. Coverage starts on Fox at 2 PM Saturday.