The second part of DSC’s big Rolex 24 Preview covers the GTE-based GTLM class, which this year features nine entries, eight of them from factory teams.
If you missed Part 1, you can read that by clicking HERE >>>
BMW Team RLL
After a really tough 2018 Rolex 24, BMW Team RLL is back for a second crack at winning GTLM with the M8.
In ’18, the team famously complained about the BoP, during the race, revealing in a statement to the media that it believed it had been treated unfairly by the organisers; its cars en route to 7th and 9th place finishes in the class. And in fact, the M8 is the only car to recieve a BoP change since the Roar, with an increase of fuel capacity by two litres.
So this time, the Bavarian brand will be hoping to be more competitive and have a shot at victory.
Both its cars boast strong drivers crews, though its a set of eight that combined may not have quite as much IMSA success under their belts as some of the other brands.
In the #25, Augusto Farfus has been drafted in late to replace Tom Blomqvist, who has been forced to sit the race out due to visa issues. Alongside him will be former ADAC GT champion and N24 winner Connor De Phillippi, back for his second campaign as a BMW driver, 2017 Spa 24 Hours winner Phillip Eng and team newcomer Colton Herta.
The #24 though, may prove to steal much of the limelight during the race week thanks to the addition of Alex Zanardi to the line-up. The 52-year-old Italian is back for a big race in the USA and will drive without the use of prosthetic legs for the first time. Instead, he’ll accelerate and steer with his left hand using a throttle ring, and brake and shift gears using a custom-built lever with his right hand.
He’s not there to be a sideshow either. Instead, he hopes to gun for a strong finish to help BMW Team RLL get its season off to a positive start, and add to his already stunning CV of motorsport and hand-cycling achievements.
At the Roar test, while his best time was at the bottom of the list of combined times in GTLM, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In reality, Zanardi’s 1:44.340 was just three tenths off fellow BMW RLL driver Phillip Eng’s best, and 1.6 seconds off Magnussen’s Qualifying lap.
Alongside him in the #24, will be John Edwards, Chaz Mostert, an IMSA debutant at Petit Le Mans last year who continues to impress wherever he races in a BMW, and Jesse Krohn.
The RLL crew had a quiet Roar, not topping the times in any session, but racked up plenty of laps. Whether or not that form will translate into the race remains to be seen.
In a GTLM class that has very little “new” to talk about, be it cars, teams and drivers, Corvette comes into the Rolex 24 looking near-identical to last year.
In what’s set to be the final year for the trusty C7.R before the C8 becomes the new flagship GTE/GTLM model for the brand, the team brings the same sixtet of drivers, full-season men Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen sharing the three, joined by Mike Rockenfeller for Rolex, and Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in the #4 with third man Marcel Fassler.
But, this lack of change doesn’t mean Corvette Racing can’t be competitive, in fact, the early signs are positive, and the team’s driver line-up continues to show it’s capable of winning both races and titles – the #3 crew winning the IMSA GTLM title in dramatic fashion last year.
Then at the Roar, up against the same crop of cars as last year it must be noted, Jan Magnussen topped GTLM Qualifying with a 1:42.651 which was the fastest GTLM time of the weekend and the fastest ever GTLM time around Daytona, after the Dane used the sister car to gain some extra pace and get a good enough tow.
It’s clear that Corvette is as motivated as ever to win big races again. It would be quite the start to the C7.R’s farewell tour to win Daytona again right?
Risi Competizione Ferrari
Risi comes to the Rolex 24 Hours with its full-season plans still un-decided once again, the outcome of this week potentially a big factor in it entering further races.
The IMSA stalwart, which is still arguably the best privately-run outfit in the world of GTE/GTLM racing, despite having just one bullet in its gun, is still just as likely to contend as any of the other teams in the field.
In part, this is due to how well the team is run, but also because it comes to Rolex with an all-star team of WEC Ferrari factory drivers, Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina and reigning GTE Pro World Champions Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado.
The team’s pace wasn’t head-turning at the Roar, and within the team, a BoP break (which it hasn’t been given) was reportedly longed for. However, during GTLM Qualifying, Rigon did manage to put the team in the mix, coming in under five-tenths of the lead Corvette.
Hordes of fans trackside and at home will as ever be pulling for Risi, as the only private team in the GTLM pack. And who knows, they may end up being rewarded this time?
Ford Team Chip Ganassi
Ford heads into the 2019 Rolex 24 as reigning champion once again, and gunning for a third victory on the bounce in the race after two big wins in 2017 and 18.
Not much has changed in the Ganassi squad over the off-season, aside from the colours of the cars, gone is the corporate blue, white and red livery since the car launched, in is a pair of retro liveries which have (predictably) gone down well with fans.
The #66 will again see Joey Hand, Dirk Muller and Sebastien Bourdais join forces in the Motorcraft-liveried machine and last year’s winners Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon will team up once again in the #67, which is running Castrol colours.
The Roar test saw Ford run at the head of the field throughout, with Porsche, before Corvette pipped both marques to the post in Qualifying.
Odds are, another manufacturer will take the win this year, though it would be a remarkable feat if Ganassi’s crew could make it three wins in a row racing in this company!
Porsche North America
After a hugely successful run at Le Mans last year, and in the WEC, Porsche is looking to recapture some form in IMSA, after a rather inconsistent 2018 season, in which the marque took a handful of wins, including Petit Le Mans, but failed to feature in the title race towards the end.
The 911 RSR is arguably the most sophisticated GTLM car in the field, and is a proven winner around the world, in every series it competes in. With CORE’s pair of cars, and a great selection of Porsche factory talent, there’s every chance that Porsche can feature up front in the race, and gun for its first Rolex 24 GTLM win since 2014.
In the team’s #911 Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy and Fred Makoweicki will team up, alongside Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor and team newcomer Mathieu Jaminet.
Jaminet rejoins the GTLM factory crew after a hugely successful 2018 season in which he competed around the world, won the ADAC GT Masters championship and made his GTLM debut at Petit Le Mans. He’s a more than capable third driver to race alongside Bamber and Vanthoor, in the seat filled by Gianmaria Bruni at Daytona and Sebring last year before the Italian joined the WEC field.
During the Roar, the #912 went fastest of the two, and finished up with the fourth fastest time of the weekend, a 1:42.919 from Bamber. The team will hope that on race week, it is able to extract even more pace in search of the victory.