In what will be a baptism of fire, reigning ELMS LMP3 champion Sean Rayhall and his title-winning teammate John Falb are set to make their first GT start at Daytona next month. The pair, who will race with HART (Honda of America Race Team) in GTD with an NSX GT3, are still approaching the shot at earning a ‘Watch’ with confidence though.
They’ll race as part of a four-driver crew, with Acura stalwart Ryan Eversley and Honda R&D engineer Chad Gilsinger making up the quartet. It makes for a very intriguing Pro/Am line-up for the race, combining the chemistry of Falb and Rayhall who race together regularly, the GT3 expertise of Eversley and the knowledge and talents of Gilsinger.
For those unaware, HART was racing in Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge with a Honda Civic Si (below) prior to its move into GTD competition for 2018.
Originally the plan was for it to race the NSX in its debut IMSA season this year, though in the end the decision was made for the Ohio-based outfit to sit out the season and assist Michael Shank Racing in its programme.
Next season HART will contest the North American Endurance Cup rounds, in addition to the race at Mid-Ohio, which is located near to the team’s headquarters. So not only will it be a week of firsts for Rayhall and Falb, it’ll be a very new experience for the team too.
“This isn’t a typical deal, and it came together in a strange way too. I had a deal to race a prototype, I actually had two on the table, but it was getting late. Ryan Eversley and I were out for drinks, and he just asked if I wanted to run in the NSX, and I said “yes!”, I then rang John (Falb) who wanted in, we talked to Chad and stroked a deal in about a week’s time.
The chance to race with your best friends for a Rolex watch doesn’t come round often so I couldn’t really refuse it
“It’s great because John, Ryan and I are really close friends, so it’s such a good opportunity. The chance to race with your best friends for a Rolex watch doesn’t come round often so I couldn’t really refuse it. It’ll be special.
“HART too are a good team, it’s made up of Honda employees, some who developed the NSX GT3 and some who work on the road car side of the brand. They’re all just really passionate guys. I’m sure there will be a a story to be told about this effort and how it worked after the race.”
Rayhall, who’s IMSA experience in the past has been in Prototype Challenge, expects the GTD class to be fierce at Daytona, with multiple teams and chassis in the running for the win. It’s a different style of endurance race in Florida, one that requires patience until the final few hours when the class battles hot up towards the end.
“We’ll probably spend much of the race preserving the car,” he predicts, “so we’re in striking distance at the end of the race for the last six hours. That’s when expectations will be high.
“In GTD it’s different to Prototype Challenge that I did in the past, because of the manufacturer involvement and exposure. I have a lot of respect for the GT drivers, I’ve watched them get down and dirty at the end of races, it’s like stock car racing, I expect it will be a ‘fist fight’ at the end of the race.
“Instead of going against Oliver Pla, Lapierre, and the Taylors, you’re going against Jeroen Bleekemolen, Pat Long and Alessandro Balzan. There’s no real dip in quality!
“I just need to keep my nose clean and do the best I can.”
Because Rayhall and Falb have no experience racing in GT cars, the Roar Before the 24 test prior to race week will be of upmost importance. Getting up to speed in the car and doing set up work will be the order of the day, so there’s no grand expectations from Rayhall for the lap times that he and Falb can achieve.
“For me and John, the Roar will be my first GT run as well as my first drive in the NSX,” he said. “But it’s a car, it has four tyres, a steering wheel and gas pedal, so I’m sure it’ll be ok. Expectations wise I expect the NSX to be a strong car at Rolex this year, there’s been so much work behind the scenes to make it better. Both Ryan and Chad have miles in the car too, and I’m sure they’ll set up the car so we can plug in really easily.
I have a lot of respect for the GT drivers, I’ve watched them get down and dirty at the end of races
“I’ve already been looking at Ryan’s video to see how he likes the car set up. And that’s the main thing, there’s no point in us trying to go as fast as possible at the Roar. I’ve topped the times at tests before, then when it comes to the race the order is completely different. We just need to get up to speed with the car itself and its characteristics.”
In the background, Rayhall and Falb are working on a return to race in Europe, after winning the 2017 ELMS LMP3 title. Competing in IMSA though, Rayhall told DSC, is still a priority because of its growth in interest and status over the past few seasons.
“The Rolex 24 is prestigious, it’s a top five endurance race in the world. I’ve won a couple of races in IMSA, and I’ve led at Daytona, which means nothing really, because of late incidents and mechanical issues which can hit you hard. I’ve had big results at the endurance races slip away after leading them for long periods. I want that to change in January.
“Europe is very important to me, I’m looking at ELMS, maybe WEC, but really, alongside that I want a factory ride in IMSA. This deal will be experience for me, great exposure, and that’s what it’s about.
“It ticks a box, I can say I’ve done a big GT race after this.”
CTSC photo courtesy of IMSA, featured image courtesy of United Autosports