Twenty prototypes entered for the IMSA 2018 season opener in Florida; Joest vs. Penske faceoff; 5 LMPC teams step up to top class
Firstly, this is probably the most trailed and talked about Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona there’s been. Thank you, Fernando Alonso. After years of second-rate equipment and languishing midfield in F1, Alonso’s mission for the Triple Crown continues after a successful introduction to the Indy 500, cut short by a Honda-related issue. The mass of headlines about Fernando racing beyond F1 has hidden a storm of other stories that could make the 2018 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona the race of the year.
North American powerhouse Team Penske are back, and bring stellar talent to their campaign with the Oreca-based Acura ARX-05. Pole position and a third place finish at Petit Le Mans – just to get their eye in – was a serious statement of intent.
Joest Racing return to top level endurance with a rebooted Mazda prototype effort too. The upgraded Mazda RT24-P driver and engineering teams have a distinctly Audi flavour, with former LMP1 man Oliver Jarvis, Allan McNish protegé Harry Tincknell and race engineer d’extraordinaire Justin Taylor all involved.
Last year’s champions Wayne Taylor Racing are back to defend their title, but minus a brother. Spirit of Daytona join the Cadillac ranks – all running a new 5.5L development of last year’s 6.2L naturally aspirated V8 this year. As if the Stateside interest wasn’t enough, two leading WEC LMP2 teams are gunning for a Rolex too. The chance to race at Daytona and Sebring before the European and world championships kicked off drew significant early interest, but Jackie Chan DCR JOTA and United Autosports are the only two teams that will race in Florida’s sunshine.
Usually, those would be the stories. Not in 2018 – twenty prototypes, multiple factory efforts, world-class drivers and teams, wildcards and legends make up what’s been widely recognised as the best Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona entry list ever. Here’s a car-by-car rundown of who’s going to the mandatory test – the Roar Before the 24.
#2 – Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi / Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel, Olivier Pla
Want to win Daytona? You could do a lot worse than take the team, car and two thirds of the driver lineup that won Petit Le Mans. With Brendon Hartley on F1 duty in 2018, Frenchman Olivier Pla steps into the ESM crew – his consistency and experience matched by missile-like pace in LMP2. Team owner Scott Sharp has won this race twice before – in 1996 and 2016 – and is a reliable performer. Affable Scot Ryan “Razzle Dazzle” Dalziel can go toe to toe with the best and knows Daytona inside out: he’s also won the 2010 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and the 2012 WEC LMP2 championship as well as notching up multiple podiums at the 12 Hours of Sebring. The team are relative minnows compared to the might of Joest and Penske, but an experienced team and proven car count for a lot here.
#5 – Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R / João Barbosa, Filipe Albuquerque, Christian Fittipaldi
The full season Portuguese pairing of Barbosa and Albuquerque are joined at Daytona by Christian Fittipaldi, who reduces his driving commitments in 2018. He’s still no slouch, however, being a two-time IMSA champion as well as winning here in 2004 and 2014. Former Audi hybrid man Filipe Albuquerque has been instrumental in United Autosports’ LMP2 successes and will be desperate to avenge last year, when a late clash with WTR’s Ricky Taylor saw him lose the lead in the final stages of the race. Barbosa is a known quantity – his pace and grit have seen him take two overall wins and a class win here, as well as multiple podiums. The drivers, car and team are unchanged from last year – will they be able to take on the newcomers and go one better than 2017?
#6 – Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 / Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud
Hard-charging American hero Dane Cameron joins fan favourite Montoya and Peugeot LMP1 figurehead Simon Pagenaud in the cockpit of the all-new Acura Team Penske effort. An Oreca chassis and Penske nous come together with the simply amazing twin-turbo 3.5L V6 that powered class winners at Sebring from 2011-2013, the 2012 Le Mans and WEC champions, and overall winners at Daytona, Sebring and Petit Le Mans in 2016. It might look like a new programme, and it is, but the elements are all there. As if that wasn’t enough, Montoya and Pagenaud took third at Petit Le Mans last year in a one-off appearance, racing a WEC-spec Oreca 07 with Helio Castroneves. Expect them to hit the ground running.
#7 – Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 / Ricky Taylor, Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal
Last year’s champion Ricky Taylor teaching IndyCar stalwart of two decades how to race? Yep – Helio’s new to full-time endurance racing, and has made it clear that he wants to learn, is ready to adapt and relishes the new challenge. He was a third driver for Penske when the team won multiple championships with the Porsche RS Spyder, taking a fifth place finish at Sebring in 2007 and LMP2 class win at Petit Le Mans in 2008. Ricky Taylor showed blinding speed last year, taking poles at will and closing races just as strongly. Graham Rahal has been a regular third driver in endurance races alongside his IndyCar commitments since 2006 and won overall at Daytona in 2011 driving for Chip Ganassi Racing.
#10 – Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R / Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande, Ryan Hunter-Reay
Last year’s champions are facing unprecedented competition to win back-to-back titles. The Cadillac is a proven car, and a new engine has been installed (and thoroughly looked over by IMSA) with better torque and power curves to deal with changes in Balance of Performance. Jordan Taylor is as reliable and smooth on track as he is engaging online, managing the old-school endurance tricks of conserving fuel and tyres without hurting lap times. Renger van der Zande is an old hand at endurance races now, the Dutchman jumping ship from an underperforming Visit Florida Racing that nonetheless managed a win thanks to van der Zande’s jaw-dropping move into the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca. Go and watch the video – even original act Alex Zanardi praised the tribute move. Hunter-Reay is back for another year as third driver – he’s more than up to the job, counting solid endurance results among his IndyCar successes.
#20 – BAR1 Motorsports Riley Mk30 / Joel Miller, TBC, TBC
BAR1 step up to the top class from LMPC in 2018, with Joel Miller moving across from the factory Mazda programme to anchor the driving effort. He brings extensive knowledge of the Riley-Multimatic chassis to the team; BAR1 are running the only WEC-spec Riley-Multimatic for 2018, although ties cut between those two mean Multimatic and Joest developed the Evo version of the car. All new elements under the skin of the Mazda have been made available as a no-cost upgrade to cars running the base chassis with the Gibson engine too – much happier sounds coming from the Mazda camp bode well for BAR1’s chances. This entry is likely to feature clients from BAR1’s previous LMPC entries in the remaining seats. It’ll be a learning year, but there’s potential speed with Miller aboard.
#22 – Tequila Patron ESM Nissan DPi / Johannes van Overbeek, Pipo Derani, Nicolas Lapierre
Since parting ways with Toyota’s LMP1 team, Nicolas Lapierre has gone about making a name for himself as weapon of choice in LMP2 cockpits. His undoubted speed and consistency were matched by Pipo Derani’s explosion into endurance racing – the diminutive Brazilian worked miracles and heroics to take Tequila Patron ESM Ligiers to back-to-back victories at Daytona and Sebring in 2016. Johannes van Overbeek is part of the furniture at ESM, a vastly experienced and very safe pair of hands. These three are more than capable of pounding around and around for hours at speed, and will be desperate to show their mettle against the new powerhouse entries.
#23 – United Autosports Ligier JS P217 / Fernando Alonso, Lando Norris, Phil Hanson
Fernando Alonso coming to Daytona has given endurance racing headlines, clicks and column inches beyond belief, but serious other talents join the crew. He’s joined by McLaren reserve driver Lando Norris, the rocket-powered prodigy some are calling Britain’s most promising young driver since Lewis Hamilton making his endurance and prototype debut here. Phil Hanson isn’t as well known as ‘Ferlando Noronso’, but the 2017 Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 champion showed well in a Tockwith-run Ligier at Le Mans and has been coached by Ginetta favourite Nigel Moore. United Autosport knows the car, too, having run it to two wins en route to second place in the in the 2017 European Le Mans Series championship.
#31 – Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R / Eric Curran, Felipe Nasr, Mike Conway, Stuart Middleton
Eric Curran stays at the team he won the 2016 championship with, joined this year by ex-F1 man Felipe Nasr in place of Dane Cameron. Former Williams and Sauber man Nasr didn’t impress in F1, but solid junior results included titles in Formula BMW and Formula 3, as well as winning the Sunoco Whelen Challenge which resulted in a drive to third at the 2012 Rolex 24 Hours. Recruited by Action Express Racing for 2013, this full-season drive is earned and has been a long time coming. Regular third driver Mike Conway needs no introduction, forever impressive in Toyota LMP1 equipment. Stuart Middleton joins the team for Daytona after winning this year’s Sunoco Whelen Challenge, edging British GT teammate Will Tregurtha. Watch to see how the young Brit adapts to a Cadillac DPi from his usual Ginetta GT4.
#32 – United Autosports Ligier JS P217 / Paul di Resta, Will Owen, Hugo de Sadeleer, Bruno Senna
United’s other entry – which could also run as the #23 – is an intriguing entry. Paul di Resta makes his prototype and endurance debut alongside United’s European Le Mans Series LMP2 regular Will Owen, the young Texan helping the DTM champion and ex-F1 Scot in his first crack at Daytona. They’re joined by Owen’s Swiss ELMS teammate Hugo de Sadeleer. In for Daytona is 2017 WEC LMP2 champion and WEC ‘Super Season’ Rebellion LMP1 man Bruno Senna. The Brazilian is n established world-class talent in prototypes, mixing sheer speed with consistency and an ability to drive a car that’s well below its optimum mechanical condition. United know how to do well here too – team principal Zak Brown took fourth overall at Daytona in 2011 alongside Mark Blundell, Martin Brundle and gentleman racer Mark Patterson. Look for this lineup to gel more quickly than the Alonso-Norris-Hanson car, and watch out for di Resta’s baptism of fire alongside two rising stars and an established great.
#37 – Jackie Chan DCR JOTA Oreca 07 / Lance Stroll, Felix Rosenqvist, Daniel Juncadella, Robin Frijns
The team that came so close to winning the WEC LMP2 title have put together a who’s who of young racing talent. Lance Stroll’s middling F1 performances aside, he came fifth at Daytona in 2016 for Chip Ganassi Racing, co-driving with Alex Wurz, Brendon Hartley and Andy Priaulx. Endlessly adaptable Swede Felix Rosenqvist already has experience of the Oreca 07 from Le Mans 2017 with DragonSpeed. Daniel Juncadella successfully moved from single seaters to a works Mercedes-Benz drive, dovetailing DTM with customer GT racing in Blancpain GT, Intercontinental GT Challenge and British GT. Robin Frijns took a similar route, joining Belgian Audi WRT after two seasons of F1 test driving. More recently, Frijns won the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup and was announced as an Audi Sport customer racing factory driver. Although both Juncadella and Frijns are used to endurance racing and high downforce, this will be their first prototype race and first time at Daytona.
#38 – Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca 07 / James French, Kyle Masson
Performance Tech swept all before them in LMPC’s swansong year, being only one race win short of a clean sweep in 2017. Pato O’Ward goes back to open wheel racing this year, leaving Silver drivers James French and Kyle Masson to it. Although their name recognition and driver ranking aren’t on par with some of the prototype stars, they’ve both got a lot of prototype experience and know the team well. Testing mileage should get both men comfortable in a big prototype, find a setup and work on strategy. Performance Tech might not be immediately on the front row, but this is a team that’s used to punching well above its weight.
#52 – AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 / Sebastián Saavedra, Gustavo Yacamán, Nicholas Boulle
The result of a merger between IMSA team PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports and open wheel team AFS Racing, who took back-to-back Indy Lights championships in 2008-9, AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports will run the full 2018 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season with Colombians Sebastian Saavedra and Gustavo Yacamán. Saavedra finished third in the 2009 Indy Lights season with AFS Racing and fourth in the 2012 season with an Andretti-linked AFS team. He has also made IndyCar appearances since 2010. Yacamán’s early career included podiums in Spanish Formula 3 and Indy Lights before switching to sports cars in 2012, driving for Michael Shank Racing that year at Daytona. He took third in the 2015 WEC LMP2 championship in a Ligier co-driving with Ricardo Gonzales and Pipo Derani. Third driver Nicholas Boulle won as part of the Performance Tech team last year, but has raced with PR1 Mathiasen in IMSA before. The team knows the WEC-spec Ligier, but the new driving squad has a lot to prove.
#54 – CORE Autosport Oreca 07 / Jon Bennett, Colin Braun, Loic Duval, Romain Dumas
The relationship between gentleman driver and CORE Autosport owner Jon Bennett and professional driver Colin Braun has been long and fruitful. The team dominated LMPC from 2011-13, claiming three consecutive teams championships and two drivers championships but struggled in GTD last year. Bolstered by fast Frenchmen Loïc Duval and Romain Dumas for their first race with a WEC-spec Oreca, CORE are serious. Factory Audi man Duval won Le Mans and the WEC LMP1 Drivers title in 2013, has taken Formula E podiums for Dragon Racing and won the 2010 Super GT GT500 championship – he also raced at Daytona in an Oreca last year with DragonSpeed but failed to finish. Factory Porsche man Dumas is hugely experienced in prototypes – overall Le Mans wins in 2010 and 2016, GTE Pro victory in 2013, the 2016 WEC LMP1 Drivers’ title and three overall wins at Pikes Peak in a Norma prove his skills. He’s also won the Nürburgring 24 Hours four times, Spa 24 Hours twice and has successfully competed in rally and Dakar. Bennett’s passion exceeds his pace, but the other three can force a result if the car and strategy work well.
#55 – Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P / Jonathan Bomarito, Spencer Pigot, Harry Tincknell
A very heavily revised Mazda RT24-P returns to IMSA competition after its early withdrawal in 2017. Now with German meisters Joest Racing running the show, expect a far stronger showing in 2018 than we saw last year. Mazda loyalist Bomarito brings bulletproof team spirit and grit for a full season alongside Harry Tincknell – the young Brit impressive enough in prototype and GT machinery to have already added Nismo LMP1 and Ford GT factory WEC drives to his CV. Spencer Pigot is a model for Mazda’s racing ladder in the USA – the young American signed for a full IndyCar season in 2018 having worked his way up through the Mazda Road To Indy. He can tame his sprint racing instincts for endurance though, and took third at Watkins Glen last year in the underperforming predecessor to this year’s car. After a humiliating 2017 season and eye-catching off-season work, failure is not an option now.
#77 – Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P / Tristan Nunez, Oliver Jarvis, Rene Rast
Like Bomarito in the sister car, Tristan Nunez is Mazda through and through. His undeniable skills are rewarded with a full season drive in 2018 alongside former Audi LMP1 man and ex-Bentley Boy Oliver Jarvis, who made no secret of his desire to race in IMSA. Both are absolute professionals and incredibly focused, as well as experienced in developing packages. Nunez knows the Mazda side of the team as intimately as Jarvis knows Joest, so expect it to seem like these two have been driving together for years. Rene Rast is the dream third driver for any endurance team – ballistic speed, silky smooth fuel and tyre conservation, adaptable and dependable, the likeable German is a Joest favourite and has been deeply involved with the reworking of the Riley-Multimatic chassis the Mazda is based on. From what’s come out already, speed is no longer an issue. If the reliability is there, this crew will be in with a strong chance come Sunday afternoon at the Rolex 24.
#78 – Jackie Chan DCR JOTA Oreca 07 / Ho-Pin Tung, Alex Brundle, Ferdinand Habsburg, António Félix da Costa
Ho-Pin Tung and Alex Brundle are two drivers who deserve to be far more famous than they are. Both are standout LMP2 talents, both anchored Jackie Chan DC Racing cars in the 2017 WEC and both were at the sharp end of lap time and consistency analysis across the entire season. Austrian aristocrat and Formula 3 winner Ferdinand Habsburg caught everyone’s attention with a ballsy move around the outside to briefly lead this year’s race at Macau before hitting the wall; Tung and Brundle have both shown they’re excellent driver coaches, so if Habsburg can get his head around the endurance mentality his experienced co-drivers should be able to show him the ropes. Factory BMW man António Félix da Costa joins the team for Daytona having developed the new BMW M8 GTE car last year. He’s already confirmed as part of the 2018 FIA WEC squad for BMW, but this is his first time at Daytona.
#85 – JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 / Simon Trummer, Austin Cindric, Robert Alon, Devlin DeFrancesco
JDC-Miller Motorsports expands to two cars this year, clearly proving that IMSA’s model allows privateer teams to make successful business cases for LMP2 racing alongside the manufacturer DPi teams. Former ByKolles and Manor WEC driver Simon Trummer joins for the full season, coming to race in America for the first time. Robert Alon joins him for the full season, moving across from the Lexus RC-F GT3 campaigned by 3GT last year in GTD. Austin Cindric is part of an American racing dynasty and counts starts in Pro Mazda, rallycross, NASCAR, V8 Supercars and GT3 as part of his diverse CV, which also includes being the youngest driver to race in Bathurst 12 Hours at the fearsome Mount Panorama track. Cindric joins the team for Daytona, making his prototype debut. Canadian racer Devlin DeFrancesco ran parallel campaigns in 2017, taking the Spanish Formula 3 championship and coming third in Euroformula Open. He has also raced in Formula 4, the Toyota Racing Series and Ginetta Junior, but the Rolex 24 is his endurance racing and prototype debut.
#90 – Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R / Tristan Vautier, Matt McMurry, Eddie Cheever III
With no more Visit Florida sponsorship for 2018, Troy Flis’ team reverts to the Spirit of Daytona name. Frenchman Vautier has raced Stateside since 2010, and beat new BMW works driver Connor de Philippi to the 2011 Star Mazda title with current Spirit of Daytona race engineer Rick Cameron before being crowned 2012 Indy Lights champion in his debut year. He was scouted by Mazda as a third driver in 2014 and seriously impressed in GTD last year, taking pole and setting a track record in the Team SunEnergy1 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT3. Full season co-driver Matt McMurry still holds the record of youngest driver to start and finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans, set racing a Zytek LMP2 in 2014 when he was 16. He was the third driver for Porsche customer team Park Place Motorsports in 2016 and 2017, as well as competing at Le Mans and in the Asian Le Mans Series for Algarve Pro Racing in an LMP2 Ligier. Eddie Cheever III is the F1 racer’s son and began his career in European single seaters before success in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. A shift to sports cars sees him slated to drive MR Racing’s GTE Am Ferrari 488 in the FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ with veteran Olivier Beretta and gentleman driver Motoaki Ishikawa; his seat at the Roar is confirmed, but Spirit of Daytona have yet to officially confirm their endurance lineup.
#99 – JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 / Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg, Chris Miller, Gustavo Menezes
The Banana splits! With GAINSCO sponsorship for the #99, JDC-Miller Motorsports will field the iconic ‘Red Dragon’ livery alongside the sister ‘Banana Boat’ Oreca 07 in 2018. The team was the strongest WEC-spec LMP2 entry last year, pushing the Cadillacs hard once setups were found. Stephen Simpson is a hugely underrated professional, more than capable of running with the best despite his efforts doing little for name recognition elsewhere. Goikhberg has come on in leaps and bounds since his LMPC days when he was more of a punchline than racing driver. Chris Miller is has a solid record too – top five finishes at Daytona and Sebring as well as a second at Watkins Glen in 2017, LMPC victory at the 2016 Rolex 24 and the 2009 US F2000 championship attest to that. Gustavo Menezes’ appearance is a major coup for JDC-Miller; the young American shone in 2016, taking the WEC LMP2 crown and class victory at his debut Le Mans with Signatech Alpine. He seriously impressed Rebellion Racing at Petit Le Mans, and has turned his guest drive into a full season LMP1 seat with the team for the WEC ‘Super Season’.