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Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona Preview, Part 3: GTD

21 cars, eight marques

With Prototype and GTLM now covered, it’s time to focus attention on the 21 GT3 runners in the GTD class.

Once again, it’s a stellar entry, filled with full-season IMSA goers and some one-off efforts, making picking a favourite, a really hard task.

ENTRY LIST >>>

This year there’s no new cars on the entry, but there are some new teams and a lot of variety.

Audi

With two of Audi’s 2017 customer teams at Daytona – Stevenson Motorsport and Alex Job Racing – no longer competing, Audi has just two R8 LMS GT3s for this year’s running, Montaplast by Land Motorsport and Magnus Racing are representing the ‘Four Rings’.

Land Motorsport, which finished second at Daytona and went on to win Petit Le Mans last year (and the Nurburgring 24 Hours), brings four very capable drivers to the race, Sheldon and Kelvin van Der Linde, Jeffrey Schmidt and Chris Mies. That set of drivers, coupled with its personnel, and you’ve got an entry that has a real chance of taking the class win.

Magnus meanwhile, has plenty of experience in IMSA and a Rolex 24 GTD win as recently as 2016, and is returning to the series this year after a season racing in PWC in 2017. For its comeback, John Potter will race with five time Rolex 24 class winner Andy Lally this year, Andrew Davis and Audi factory man Markus Winkelhock completing the line-up for Daytona.

Audi doesn’t have strength in numbers this year, but it does have quality. The R8, is one of the best cars over long distances, so assuming Magnus and Land stay out of trouble, they should be in it for the long haul.

Porsche

After winning GTD last year, Porsche returns in 2018 with three customer 911 GT3 Rs.

2017 winner Alegra isn’t on the list, but the three teams that are will ensure that the Stuttgart-based marque remain a contender this time round.

First on the list is Wright Motorsport, the reigning PWC GT champion, which will run at Daytona with its PWC headline driver Pat Long, two-time GTD champion Christina Nielsen, 24H Series stalwart Robert Renauer and Porsche Young Professional Mathieu Jaminet, set for his maiden Daytona start. It’s a formidable Pro/Am line-up, and one that could be a force. It’ll be interesting to see though, how Wright Motorsport fares, going from 50-minute sprint races, to a 24-hour slog.

The second team is Manthey Racing, the multiple N24-winning German team running with five drivers for this one. As a team, there’s few better in GT and sportscar racing, so in this case it’s down to the drivers to extract a result. Porsche up and comers Sven Muller and Matteo Cairoli (who emerged as a star in the 2017 WEC season) will race with Steve Smith, Randy Walls and Harald Proczyk.

And finally, IMSA regular Park Place Motorsports bring the third 911 to the enduro. Patrick Lindsey will be joined by the experienced hands of Jord Bergmeister and Tim Pappas. This year Park Place will run a reduced progbramme in GTD; just the NAEC rounds, so this race will be of upmost importance.

BMW

Once again, BMW’s Daytona GTD hopes rest on Turner Motorsport, the privateer outfit bringing a single M6 GT3 to the race.

For Rolex, the team will race with BMW works drivers Jens Klingmann and Martin Tomczyk, alongside Prototype Challenge class regulars Don Young and Mark Kvamme. Pro drivers Klingmann and Tomczyk are some of the best in the class.

The former knows the team well, and has won multiple races with it, while Tomczyk moves over from BMW Team RLL’s GTLM programme to bolster its line-up, before focusing his attention on BMW’s WEC programme, which begins at Spa in May.

For the 2018 season, Turner brings with it backing from Liqui Moly, so gone is its long-time yellow and blue colour scheme, and in are the iconic oil brand’s blue, white and red, 37 years on from Liqui Moly’s win at Daytona race with a Porsche 935.

In the pre-event BoP change, BMW received a boost increase for its twin-turbo V8 engine.

Lamborghini

Fastest at the Roar, Lamborghini heads to Daytona, hoping its customer Huracans can finally score the car its first big global 24-hour win. Taking on that task will be Grasser Racing (which narrowly missed out on winning the 24 Hours of Dubai after early punctures cost the team dearly) and Paul Miller Racing.

Grasser’s #11 Lambo features four extremely talented drivers. Rolf Ineichen, set for his fifth Rolex 24 will join Mirko Bortolotti (who topped the Roar Qualifying times), Frank Perera, and Rik Breukers, who is improving all the time and at the Dubai 24 Hours, hassled some top pro’s early in the race on pace.

Its second car meanwhile, is a quintet, featuring three Rolex 24 debutants – Max van Splunteren, Chris Lenz and Louis Machiels – and two experienced hands, Lambo factory driver Christian Engelhardt and Ezequiel Perez Companc. The #11 is certainly the stronger crew top to bottom, though the #19 could spring a surprise after some promising times at the Roar.

In Paul Miller’s example – which will contest the full WeatherTech season – Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow are about to embark on their, with Lambo factory man Andrea Caldarelli and Bryce Miller, making his first race start since the Rolex 24 last year.

The Huracan GT3s will race with a 1mm smaller restrictor after post-Roar BoP, which should slow them down a tad.

The question as always, is whether or not the Huracan can go the distance without any hiccups? It’s a fast car, and the Dubai 24 Hours this month served as a reminder that it can run faultlessly on the mechanical front for 24 hours. But the proof is in the pudding. Will this year be the year?

Acura

With three NSX GT3s on the grid, and a year of racing under its belt, Acura has a real chance here to come away from the Rolex 24 with a good result. While much of the brand’s attention will (rightly) be placed on its new DPi programme with Penske, which will see it gun for the overall win, there’s still plenty of interest for it in GTD.

Due to the shift in attention to prototype racing once again for Acura, factory support has been pulled from Michael Shank Racing, and its pair of cars for this year’s campaign.

That however, should not make any noticeable difference in the team’s performances or potential, especially now the car is a proven winner.

Michael Shank has two very strong line-ups for this year’s race, the #86 including PWC champion and all round rapid talent Alvaro Parente and NASCAR ace AJ Allmendinger, and the #93’s crew featuring ex-McLaren factory driver/Blancpain Endurance champion Come Ledogar and the reliable hands of Mario Farnbacher.

The remaining drivers are also strong in amongst the other GTD drivers, with NASCAR driver Justin Marks and ex-Stevenson racer Lawson Aschenbach in the #93 and former CTSC GS title winner Trent Hindman and 2017 GTD class winner with Acura Katherine Legge.

The third and final NSX meanwhile, will be run by HART. Based in Ohio HART is a team made up of volunteer Honda engineers – making for a very different sort of factory team! After racing in CTSC, the team is stepping up to GTD for the first time, the Daytona 24 its debut.

For the race, the team will run with the experienced hand of Ryan Eversley, Chad Gilsinger, who has many CTSC wins under his belt and United Autosports’ pair of ELMS LMP3 champs from 2017 John Falb and Sean Rayhall. While unlikely to have the raw pace out of the box, it will be interesting to see how this quartet stacks up, especially as Falb and Rayhall’s first ever GT race starts will be at Rolex.

While it’s unlikely to make too much of a difference, it must be noted that the NSXs will run with an extra 10kg of weight after IMSA’s latest BoP change.

Also of note, is that IMSA sources have confirmed to DSC that action was taken at the Roar in response to data that suggested that ultimate performance for MSR’s #93 car was being disguised, causing the car to be parked in the Night Session.

Mercedes

Mercedes also has three cars heading to Florida, the strong combo of Riley Motorsports, P1 Motorsports and SunEnergy1 Racing will fly the flag with an AMG GT3 apiece.

Riley’s line-up looks to be the strongest, with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Adam Christodoulou (fresh from the Dubai 24), partnered up with Ben Keating and Luca Stolz. All four drivers have extensive experience of driving the AMG GT3 as well as competing at Daytona.

P1 Motorsports meanwhile, which usually competes in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Series, will run with a car for the NAEC this year. Behind the wheel, Koch, a former IMSA Prototype Challenge champion and previous Rolex 24 At Daytona class winner, is only driver in the squad with a Rolex 24 start.

The other three who will race with the team – JC Perez, Robby Foley and Loris Spinelli – are due to compete with it in the Prototype Challenge series or in the case of Spinelli, will take up Lamborghini Young Driver programme for the rest of the year.

SunEnergy 1, back for a second full-season IMSA campaign has a mix of youth and experience for Rolex. Maro Engel and Thomas Jaeger are the experts here, both with tons of experience in long-distance races, Engel in particular touting a stunning CV which includes an N24 overall win. Kenny Habul returns to the cockpit and Mikael Grenier, who has Indy Lights experience make up the quartet.

On the BoP front, the Mercedes will run with a 15kg weight break. Of note, at the Roar, Mercedes, like Acura, had a car parked (P1’s AMG GT3) after the team was found disguising its performance.

Lexus

Lexus Racing is back for its second year of GTD competition with 3GT Racing in 2018, the team’s pair of RCF GT3s sporting very different line-ups for this year.

In its #14 car, there’s a completely fresh quartet, Dominik Baumann, Kyle Marcelli, Philipp Frommenwiler and Bruno Junqueira teaming up, while in the #15 Jack Hawksworth, Domninik Farnbacher return, along with Scott Pruett – making his final race start – and team newcomer David Heinemeier Hansson.

That #15’s line-up could well be the one to watch, combining a fired up Pruett ahead of his retirement, the rapid Hawksworth, Farnbacher who helped develop the car, and DHH, who last season in the WEC was at times easily the best gentlemen driver in the field.

The car still has a lot to prove though. Unlike the other new cars in GTD for the 2017 (the AMG GT3 and NSX GT3), the RCF GT3 didn’t win any races during its debut season. In fact, Lexus finished last of the other full-season manufacturers in the class in the title race, with no podiums to its name.

It remains to be seen whether 3GT and Lexus can turn it around this season; a good result at Daytona would go a long way in showcasing its potential, especially with Lexus telling DSC this time last year that it was hoping to establish a customer base for the car from 2018 onwards.

Ferrari

Ferrari, the last marque featured in our preview has a very strong representation this year, with four cars, the most of any other GTD marque, down to race at Daytona.

Two of them will be fielded by IMSA regular Scuderia Corsa, which has championship winning pedigree, and will have the sole aim of winning the class here.

The #63 car has two-time defending GTD champion Alessandro Balzan aboard, his co-drivers Cooper MacNeil (who he’ll race with for the full 2018 WeatherTech Championship season), Jeff Segal and Gunnar Jeanette. Only Segal has won the Rolex 24 GTD victory, back in 2014 with Level 5. The rest do have plenty of expeience, this year will be Jeannette’s 11th Rolex 24 start, the eighth for MacNeil and the fifth for Balzan.

The second car, will be raced by 2016 Le Mans class winners Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, AF Corse WEC driver Sam Bird and PWC regular Frank Motecalvo. Its another strong set of drivers.

As well as racing in GTLM, Risi Competizione will also run a GT4 488 GT3, for WEC regulars Miguel Molina and Matt Griffin, Ricardo Perez de Lara, PWC regular Martin Fuentes and TRG refugee Santiago Creel. It’s another real contender, and should be right up there on pace when Griffin and Molina are in the car.

And finally, because you can’t host an international endurance mega-event without AF Corse, the Italian team will run a single 488. Interestingly, it’s made up of four Aston Martin Racing WEC drivers: reigning GTE Am WEC champions Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda and 2017 Le Mans GTE Pro winner with AMR Daniel Serra.

In what could be the best line-up in the entire class, there’s no real holes here. Dalla Lana is as good as it gets when it comes to gentlemen drivers, while Lamy, Lauda and Serra are pacey and don’t make mistakes. Look out fellow GTD competitors!

The 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona is set to begin at 14:40 local time on Saturday.