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Rolex 24 Hours: Preview Part 2, GTLM & GTD

25 GT cars are set to do battle on the Daytona banking

Part 2 of DSC’s preview to the 2020 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona takes a look at the GT cars in the race. 25 are entered across the two classes, with the 18-car GTD field the biggest class in the race.

GTD though is still down on last year’s impressive 23-car entry for Daytona. GTLM has taken a hit too, with Ford’s programme coming to an end after four years of racing with the GT.

There is plenty to look out for though. In GTLM two cars, the Corvette C8.R and Porsche 911 RSR 19 will make their eagerly anticipated IMSA race debuts and in GTD, there are no real weak links, the list of drivers and teams included is staggering once again.

GTLM: 7 Cars

3: Corvette Racing, Corvette C8.R – Nick Catsburg, Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor
4: Corvette Racing, Corvette C8.R – Marcel Fassler, Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner
24: BMW Team RLL, BMW M8 GTE – John Edwards, Augusto Farfus, Jesse Krohn, Chaz Mostert
25: BMW Team RLL, BMW M8 GTE – Connor de Phillippi, Philipp Eng, Colton Herta, Bruno Spengler
62: Risi Competizione, Ferrari 488 GTE – James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon, Daniel Serra
911: Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911 RSR-19 – Matt Campbell, Frederic Makowiecki, Nick Tandy
912: Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911 RSR-19 – Earl Bamber, Mathieu Jaminet, Laurens Vanthoor

With Ford gone and no sign of Aston Martin or Ferrari running works efforts, IMSA, like the WEC, is down on numbers in its premier GT class.

This year three factory teams, Corvette, BMW and Porsche will do battle with Risi Competizione adding a private Ferrari (featuring world-class driving talent) to the class to bring the number of entries to seven.

The absence of Ford’s GTs doesn’t mean GTLM is without intrigue. Corvette and Porsche will be eager to secure good results for their new cars, while BMW will look to repeat its huge win from last year’s edition and Risi will hope it can throw a cat amongst the pigeons as it has in the past.

All eyes will be on Corvette, its C8.R a mid-engined racer with a new, naturally-aspirated, 5.5-litre flat-plane crank V8 engine, producing 500 horsepower. It’s been through a lengthy development programme and appears to be race-ready. At the Roar, the car managed 341 laps of the circuit and ran fast in garage qualifying. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will go the distance in racing conditions, but it’s certainly a promising and encouraging start.

As for the driving talent, there have been two notable changes. With Jan Magnussen now out of the picture after a stunning, lengthy career with the team, Jordan Taylor moves from the DPi ranks to take his full-season seat. Taylor has plenty of GT experience under his belt with Corvette Racing, from 2012 through 2017, Jordan was part of its line-up for Le Mans, winning the GTE Pro class in 2015 in the team’s #64 Corvette C7.R with co-drivers Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner.

In IMSA though, he will race alongside Antonio Garcia, with team newcomer Nicky Catsburg in the third seat. Catsburg has yet to race with Corvette Racing, but he does have experience driving Corvette machinery, he drove a Corvette C6.R during the FIA GT1 World Championship and the Corvette C7.R during testing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His debut will be a storyline within a storyline to follow. The other car meanwhile, sees the venerable duo of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner return for another season, along with Marcel Fassler for the endurance races.

Porsche’s new car will also generate interest. However, while the 911 RSR 19 is new to IMSA it is a proven car in the FIA WEC, wherein its first season it already has two wins. But it still has a big act to follow, after Porsche’s astonishing 2019 IMSA season. Last year Porsche was by far the team to beat. Between the team’s two 911 RSRs it won more than half of the season’s races (six of 11) and finished 1-2 in the championship.

For 2020, along with the new car comes a fresh-looking line-up. Frederic Makowiecki moves from Endurance Cup duty to full-time action in 2020, joining Nick Tandy for the full season in the #911 Porsche. Australian star Matt Campbell moves into the third seat. In the sister car, Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber (Bamthor!) return for another season, with Mathieu Jaminet for the enduros. Missing is Patrick Pilet, who was a full-season driver in the #911 alongside Tandy last year and will race with Porsche in GTD this time round.

This change has not in any way affected the standard of the driver, this is another astonishing driver crew for Porsche. And if the 911 RSR 19’s form in the WEC is anything to go by, then it could be a memorable week for the German marque in Daytona.

If they are to win though, they may have to get past the reigning champion BMW, which took a surprise win at Rolex 24 in 2019, easily the team and the M8’s most significant accomplishment to date. Can it repeat this time? It has the advantage in that it is the only factory team bringing a proven car (in IMSA competition) to the party. It also has a strong driver crew, the only one of the factory teams to opt to run with four drivers in each car (Risi has four drivers too).

In the #24 is John Edwards, Augusto Farfus, Jesse Krohn and Chaz Mostert, all of which have years of experience with BMW. The #25 meanwhile, features Connor de Phillippi, Philipp Eng, Colton Herta and Bruno Spengler, a mix of youth and experience. Like the other makes, there has been a tweak to its crew. Tom Blomqvist won’t feature this year, the Briton moving on from his role at BMW. Crucially though, BMW will remain confident, as each of the four drivers that won the Rolex 24 with it last year (Farfus, de Phillippi, Herta and Eng) return.

BMW has a real chance to make it back-to-back wins if the BoP goes right especially as Porsche and Corvette are running new cars and Risi doesn’t have the strength in numbers or level of resource.

But, Risi, as always, has a chance. If any privateer team can take the fight to factories in GTE racing it’s Risi. Time and time again it has proven that it can score big results regardless of the level of competition it faces. It has form at Daytona to rediscover too, as it has three class victories to its name and two-second place overall finishes. This year will mark its 17th entry to the 24 since 1998.

For its 2020 entry, the team will race with four world-class Ferrari drivers, James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon and Daniel Serra. While Risi only has one 488 GTE up against a field of two-car teams, and it doesn’t have the full weight of a factory behind it, it has the engineering and driver talent to feature upfront.

Will it be fighting for the win by the end of the race? It depends on BoP, of course, as much as execution. The Roar Before The 24 showed what the team and the 488 platform is capable of, as it ended up topping garage Qualifying. But it remains to be seen whether that will translate into race week.

At the Roar, all four models appeared to be close. But a pre-event BoP change has seen three of the four models receive adjustments, with Corvette’s new C8.R gaining power (0.3 mm large air restrictor), Ferrari’s 488 GTE losing power and top speed (5.3 horsepower across all RPM levels), and Porsche’s new 911 RSR gaining 10kg of weight. Only the M8 GTE goes into race-week unchanged.

GTD: 18 Cars

9: Pfaff Motorsports, Porsche 911 GT3 R – Lars Kern, Dennis Olsen, Patrick Pilet, Zach Robichon
11: GRT Grasser Racing, Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo – Albert Costa, Richard Heistand, Franck Perera, Steijn Schothorst
12: AIM Vasser Sullivan, Lexus RC F GT3 – Townsend Bell, Frankie Montecalvo, Shane van Gisbergen
14: AIM Vasser Sullivan, Lexus RC F GT3 – Kyle Busch, Parker Chase, Jack Hawksworth
16: Wright Motorsports, Porsche 911 GT3 R – Klaus Bachler, Ryan Hardwick, Anthony Imperato, Patrick Long
19: GEAR Racing powered by GRT Grasser, Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo – Ana Beatriz, Tatiana Calderon, Katherine Legge, Christina Nielsen
23: Heart of Racing, Aston Martin Vantage GT3 – Ian James, Alex Riberas, Nicki Thiim
44: GRT Magnus, Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo – Andy Lally, John Potter, Spencer Pumpelly
47: Precision Performance Motorsports, Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo – Mark Kvamme, Johnathan Hoggard, Eric Lux, Brandon Gdovic
48: Paul Miller Racing, Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo – Andrea Caldarelli, Corey Lewis, Bryan Sellers
54: Black Swan Racing, Porsche 911 GT3 R – Jeroen Bleekemolen, Trenton Estep, Sven Müller, Tim Pappas
57: Heinricher Racing (MSR), Acura NSX GT3 Evo –  AJ Allmendinger, Mischa Goikhberg, Trent Hindman, Alvaro Parente
63: Scuderia Corsa, Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo – Alessandro Balzan, Cooper MacNeil, Toni Vilander, Jeff Westphal
74: Riley Motorsports, Mercedes-AMG GT3 – Lawson Aschenbach, Ben Keating, Gar Robinson
86: Meyer Shank Racing, Acura NSX GT3 Evo – Mario Farnbacher, Jules Gounon, Matt McMurry, Shinya Michimi
88: WRT Speedstar Audi Sport, Audi R8 LMS Evo –  Mirko Bortolotti, Rolf Ineichen, Daniel Morad, Dries Vanthoor
96: Turner Motorsports, BMW M6 GT3 – Robby Foley, Jens Klingmann, Bill Auberlen, Dillon Machavern
98: Aston Martin Racing, Aston Martin Vantage GT3 – Andrew Watson, Ross Gunn, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda

BMW

BMW is one of three marques in the field with just one car entered by a customer team. Turner Motorsports is back for a tenth time at the Daytona and is still searching for its first class win. The M6 GT3 is a proven winner of endurance races, after claiming two wins at the Spa 24 Hours, and last year with Turner, a class win at Petit Le Mans. A victory at Daytona would add another big accolade to its CVbefore its newly-announced successor, the M4 GT3, hits the track in 2022.

The good news is that the combination of Robby Foley, Jens Klingmann, Bill Auberlen and Dillon Machavern should be strong in this company. The bad news is that the M6 GT3 has been hit by BoP ahead of the race, with a 13.4 horsepower reduction and a reduction in fuel capacity by 3 litres.

Mercedes

Riley Motorsports is the only team with a Mercedes AMG GT3 and is tasked with debuting the new 2020-spec Evo model, in both IMSA and North America as a whole.

The Roar was a success for the team, its Mercedes completing 158 trouble-free laps, with Ben Keating ending up eighth in the class after Saturday’s pre-race qualifying session.

Gar Robinson and Lawson Aschenbach are the full-season co-drivers for this season and will be joined by Ben Keating in the four-race IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup and Felipe Fraga as a fourth driver for the Daytona opener.

Keating and Fraga will be a duo to watch here, as both are capable of matching up against the best GTD have to offer. Keating, in particular, continues to prove time and time again to be one of the best Bronze drivers in the world. The last time he was seen by DSC was in the final WEC race of 2019 at Bahrain, where he put in a remarkable performance in the race en route to a victory.

The Mercedes heads into the race with no BoP adjustments.

Lexus

There’s a lot of hype surrounding the AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus effort ahead of this year’s Rolex 24 and for good reason. The RC F GT3 has matured into a strong GT3 car, capable of winning races. Last year the team took two victories and finished second at the Rolex 24.

The Canadian outfit returns to IMSA this year with a strong driver crew, featuring some new names. The #12 will see Townsend Bell, Frankie Montecalvo joined by the mercurial talent that is Shane van Gisbergen, one of many drivers who will jump straight on a plane after the race and head to the Bathurst 12 Hour.

The other car sees Jack Hawksworth, who continues to impress behind the wheel of a GT car, young up-and-comer Parker Chase and NASCAR star Kyle Busch, who will spend all of the race week getting to grips with the stark differences between racing in GT3 and NASCAR.

If it all comes together, AVS’ effort could pull off something special. There’s no BoP change for the Lexus since the Roar, and during testing, the car looked fast, Montecalvo making the headlines with a 1:46.754 tour in GTD garage qualifying, the fastest in the class.

Whatever happens, eyes will be fixed on this two-car team, which will capture the interest of both sportscar and NASCAR fans alike.

Audi

The WRT-run Audi on this year’s list should be considered a serious contender. The driver-crew of Mirko Bortolotti, Rolf Ineichen, Daniel Morad and Dries Vanthoor is stellar and the R8 LMS GT3 is a proven winner.

For Bortolotti and Ineichen, who move from one world-class GT3 team (Grasser) to another for 2020 (WRT), this year’s race presents them with a chance to win the GTD class three consecutive years. Morad meanwhile, won the class just a few years ago back in 2017 with Alegra Motorsports. The only one of the four that doesn’t have a Daytona win is Vanthoor, but he has class wins at Le Mans and Bathurst to bring to the party.

Audi may not have strength in numbers this year, but if the WRT crew can find the speed, then they can win this race. BoP wise, the Audi R8 LMS GT3 has also received a weight break for this one, the R8 LMS GT3 due to run 10kg lighter.

Acura

It’s hard to tell at this stage just how this week will go for the Meyer Shank Racing team and its pair of Acura NSX GT3 EVOs.

The car has taken the biggest BoP hit ahead of the race, with a 7.5-hp reduction and 25 kg increase in minimum weight. And its time at the Roar made the news for all the wrong reasons after the #86 crew were forced to pack up early after Shinya Michimi’s off during night practice at the Bus Stop on Saturday. The team opted to repair the car at the shop instead of trackside.

The NSX GT3 is a capable car though, and its two sets of drivers feature some big names, the key names being AJ Allmendinger and Alvaro Parente in the Heinricher Racing entry and Mario Farnbacher and Jules Gounon in the sister car. Where did the female drivers that formed part of Heinricher Racing’s CAT-backed entry from 2019? They haven’t returned and instead will race with Grasser in the GEAR Racing Huracan GT3.

Porsche

Porsche’s chances of winning the Rolex 24’s GTD class rest on three teams this year, Black Swan Racing, Pfaff Motorsport and Wright Motorsports. All three are well-run teams, with strong driver crews, so it’s hard to pick a favourite here.

Pfaff Motorsports brings Lars Kern, Dennis Olsen, Patrick Pilet and Zach Robichon to the race. Olsen and Pilet are both Porsche drivers who will bring a wealth of experience to the effort, Pilet, in particular, a real asset here, fresh from a hugely successful GTLM campaign with the German brand in 2019.

Wright Motorsports meanwhile, brings its World Challenge stalwart, Patrick Long, to the race to share its 911 GT3 R with Ryan Hardwick for the full season, with Anthony Imperato (a longtime Wright driver) and former Porsche Junior Klaus Bachler providing additional punch.

Finally, we have long-standing sportscar team Black Swan Racing, with Tim Pappas returning to the Rolex 24 after spending most of last year recovering from his huge incident at Bathurst. This will be an emotional week for the team, after Pappas’ tough year. He will be joined by the rapid Porsche works driver, all-round-fast Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen and former IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup racer Trenton Estep.

As for the Porsche, it’s as good as it gets when it comes to GT3 cars. In 2019 the 911 GT3 R won two IGTC races including the Spa 24, two IMSA races amongst over wins. Will that sort of form continue into 2020? It wouldn’t surprise anyone if it did…

Lamborghini

Success at the Rolex 24 clearly brings with it sales as Lamborghini is the marque with the most cars on the entry for this year’s race with five Huracan GT3 Evos entered by customer teams.

The Huracan has been the car to have the past two years, with Grasser Racing winning the class on both occasions. Can it make it three-in-a-row? There’s every chance, especially as Grasser is operating three cars in the race, the most of any team in the entire field.

Its headline entry, the #11, features Albert Costa, Richard Heistand, Franck Perera, Steijn Schothorst, a crew which top to bottom should be fast and consistent. But its other two entries bring significant interest and fanbases.

The #19 GEAR Racing entry is an all-female crew, with four experienced drivers, Ana Beatriz, Tatiana Calderon, Katherine Legge, Christina Nielsen aboard the car. The livery is stunning and the driving talent here could feature up the front should the Huracan GT3 have the raw pace at Daytona once again.

Grasser’s final Huracan will be familiar to all keen IMSA followers, as it’s a joint-effort with Magnus Racing, with Andy Lally, John Potter and Spencer Pumpelly set to drive. This alliance marks a chance for Potter’s Utah-based team, which ordinarily runs as a standalone team. If you can’t beat them, join them!

The other two Lamborghinis here are from two different teams. The first is the #47 Precision Performance Motorsports example which has had its driver crew confirmed very late in the day, with Mark Kvamme and Sunoco Challenge winner Johnathan Hoggard moving from Rick Ware Racing (after its late withdrawal from the race) to co-drive with Eric Lux, Brandon Gdovic.

IMSA stalwart Paul Miller Racing is the second and final of the quintet, bringing what should be a strong line-up to this one, Andrea Caldarelli, Corey Lewis and Bryan Sellers.

On the BoP front, the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo is now mandated to run with a 4 mm minimum rear wing angle.

Ferrari

Just one 488 GT3 is on the GTD list this year, but it should be a strong one. Scuderia Corsa is running the WeatherTech Racing entry once again but with a new 488 GT3 Evo. The car was shaken down at the end of last year at the Fiorano test track in Maranello, Italy ahead of the Roar, Cooper MacNeil and Toni Vilander completing over 60 laps before heading to Daytona for the pre-event Roar test.

Then at the Roar, the team continued to put the car through its paces and left positive about the updated 488 package, which is new to the drivers. The fastest lap from the team during the Roar was posted on Saturday afternoon by Jeff Westphal in “garage qualifying, a 1:46.967 which will give the team fifth choice in GTD for pit lane assignments for the race.

Scuderia Corsa is one of the best in the business, but it has yet to win at Daytona. Over the years it has two WeatherTech Championship GTD titles; the 2016 GTE-Am victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans; and wins at three of the four IMSA endurance races: the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Six Hours of The Glen, and the Motul Petit Le Mans. Will this be the year it completes the set?

It must be noted that the Ferrari has been hit by a BoP tweak though, with a power reduction of 4hp.

Aston Martin

This week is a big one for Aston Martin, which returns to IMSA competition with its new Vantage GT3. Two examples will race at Daytona, one from The Heart of Racing team and the other from Aston Martin Racing as a factory. After a successful first season of racing in customer’s hands in 2019, the car looks more than capable of a strong showing in its Daytona debut.

It’s confirmed now that the #98 Aston Martin Racing entry, entered for gentlemen driver Paul Dalla Lana, will indeed take part. Dalla Lana injured himself skiing, before the Roar test, is unable to compete at Daytona, which threw the #98’s status for the race into doubt.

The #98 missed much of the running at the Roar, including the garage Qualifying, because Dalla Lana (the amateur driver in the car) wasn’t present to drive. But Andrew Watson, an AMR Junior driver, will stand in for Dalla Lana and race the works-run car alongside Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Ross Gunn. This is a strong lineup top to bottom, as all four drivers have plenty of GT3 experience. Could this spring a surprise in the race?

Heart of Racing has a strong line-up too, with two Aston Martin drivers for Daytona. Spaniard Alex Riberas, a newly-named AMR North America driver, and Nicki Thiim current FIA World Endurance Championship GTE Pro championship leader will drive alongside Ian James. if the team can get up to speed with its new car then there’s no reason it can’t gun for a strong finish to kick off its full-season campaign.

As for BoP, since the Roar, the Aston Martin’s Vantage has seen a fuel capacity adjustment of -3 Litres.