Today’s the day all the talking stops and the green flag drops on the 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona. Final pre-race notes are below:
The starting lineup is linked here. Class polesitting cars are the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R (P and overall), the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 (PC), the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (GTLM) and No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3 (GTD).
The 55th Rolex 24 at Daytona will have 23 of 24 hours live across the FOX Sports networks and all 24 hours streamed via FOX Sports Go, with additional uninterrupted flag-to-flag coverage via IMSA Radio.
Here are the TV times:
Saturday, Jan. 28
2-5p ET FOX
5-10p ET FS2
Saturday, Jan.28-Sunday, Jan. 29
All 24 hours are streamed via FOX Sports Go, with FS1 authentication.
Green flag is 2:30 p.m. ET with Dario Franchitti as grand marshal and Hurley Haywood as honorary starter.
Some quick keys to the race:
- Weather. With forecast highs barely topping 60 degrees Fahrenheit ambient and expected to drop into the 40s overnight, those cars that run better in cooler temperatures may have an edge. Watch for rain to play a factor as well.
- Reliability. A total of 18 cars make their worldwide debuts – all 12 cars in the Prototype class, the two new Porsche 911 RSRs in GT Le Mans, and two Acura NSX GT3s and two Lexus RC F GT3s apiece in GT Daytona. It’s all but impossible that all 18 will make it home but if say, more than half do so, that will speak volumes of the development and testing work. Remember a year ago that the Ford GTs made their race debut, and had a litany of problems.
- Traffic. Cautious aggression is key to ensuring you don’t lose too much time passing slower cars. Too aggressive, and you risk damaging your car and a penalty assessed by IMSA Race Control. Too timid, and you risk getting eaten alive by your other competitors. Finding that balance is imperative.
So, weather is a thing at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. With temperatures forecast in the low 60s for highs and into the 40s for lows, with rain possible starting Saturday night and continuing into Sunday morning, it’s going to be a colder Rolex 24 than in recent years.
If you’re looking for more accurate projections of how the cars will far going into this weekend’s race from this week’s times, look at free practice four, held on Friday morning.
The temperature breakdown per IMSA’s timing & scoring the four practice sessions:
Free practice 1 69/70
Free practice 2 77/75
Free practice 3 (night) 75/71
Free practice 4 59/64
That’s a big ‘ol drop from Thursday’s sessions down to Friday’s singular session. Some cars – notably the front-engined Corvette C7.R, Lexus RC F GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 – noted a tendency to run better as the conditions get cooler. So if those cars have good runs despite midpack qualifying runs, and the conditions hold true to the forecast, you can look back on this note in a number of hours and think hey, that was good forecasting.
A common refrain in the paddock this weekend has been about the track conditions changing, and arguably worsening, from the Roar Before the Rolex 24. Times have been a lot slower than at the Roar.
So with 55 cars and anywhere from three to five drivers per car, for more than 200 drivers, it might be difficult to pick out drivers to watch. But that’s why we’re here is to answer that question.
There are other obvious choices, of course, but these drivers may play a greater impact than normal within their respective cars’ races this year.
- Filipe Albuquerque, No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. While full-season drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi will undoubtedly lead this car’s charge, Albuquerque’s stints may move the car forward against lesser rated drivers.
- Dane Cameron, No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac. The defending IMSA champion is poised to capture his first Rolex watch and lead this car’s entry.
- Neel Jani, No. 13 Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibson. His three teammates are all solid but Jani has the most Daytona experience to draw on this year, from the Roar.
- Jordan Taylor, No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac. Quirky off-track but seriously focused on it, the younger Taylor brother (Ricky is a couple years older) is motivated to score an elusive first Rolex win.
- Brendon Hartley, No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi. The Porsche LMP1 ace will provide speed and endurance savvy to the defending champion’s team’s lineup.
- RC Enerson, No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson. Daytona is a place where drivers making either their race or sports car debuts can star. If the car’s up to it, keep an eye on Enerson in his stints.
- Spencer Pigot, No. 55 Mazda RT24-P. Pigot’s drive at Petit Le Mans was his best yet in a sports car and he’ll be no doubt motivated for an encore.
- Rene Rast, No. 90 VISIT FLORIDA Racing Riley Mk. 30 Gibson. The speedy German is worth the price of admission every time he straps in for a stint, and is a two-time Rolex 24 winner with Audi in the GT ranks.
- Pato O’Ward, No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09. The Pro Mazda veteran makes his Rolex 24 debut and will look to impress in the team’s youth-laden lineup.
- Buddy Rice, No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09. Rice has both an Indy 500 and Rolex 24 win under his belt, and he’s back behind the wheel this week after several years out of the cockpit.
- Trent Hindman, No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09. The talented New Jersey youngster, still only 21, won the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race on Friday and is the only driver who can win in both series this weekend.
- Billy Johnson, No. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT. The other 11 drivers for Ford are either full-time WEC, IMSA or IndyCar drivers. Johnson isn’t, but the 2016 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge champion will make the No. 68 Ford one to reckon with alongside co-drivers Olivier Pla and Stefan Muecke.
- Tony Kanaan, No. 69 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT. This car’s hopes may sink or swim based on how the 20-year IndyCar veteran does in his Ford GT race debut.
- James Calado, No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE. Calado’s Risi debut at Petit Le Mans ended with a win. His first Daytona bow with the team could produce the same result.
- Laurens Vanthoor, No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR. The Belgian is nothing short of a rocketship and will be keen to star in his debut as a Porsche factory driver.
- Sam Bird, No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3. The rapidly quick Englishman adds the GT3 variant of Ferrari’s 488 to his extensive sports car resume.
- Connor De Phillippi, No. 29 Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS. One of the best American sports car prospects in some time, “CDP” is the leading light among a quartet of young talents for the capable Montaplast-backed team.
- Daniel Morad, No. 28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. Morad has the balance of confidence and patience to lead a trio of Porsche GT3 Cup champions in one of the best “under-the-radar” Porsche entries in years.
- Katherine Legge, No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3. Legge’s become a well-rounded sports car driver in recent years and will look to build on her star turn a year ago driving the DeltaWing, in her first start with Shank’s Acura program.
- Gustavo Menezes, No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3. Pruett and Karam may grab headlines in this car’s entry but it’s the Californian who has become a sports car ace thanks to his LMP2 drives last year.
- Frankie Montecalvo, No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS. Bell and Sweedler have multiple endurance race wins and Kaffer’s endurance credentials are unquestioned. Montecalvo has enough talent to lift Job’s No. 23 Audi into “top sleeper” contention in his GTD debut.
- Tristan Vautier, No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3. The past Indy Lights champion and IndyCar rookie of the year has found his footing as the lead driver for this new program, and has enough Mercedes-AMG experience to lift a new team higher in the field.
A couple press conferences of note from this morning at Daytona. First up was grand marshal Dario Franchitti, who will give the command to start engines before honorary starter Hurley Haywood, a five-time Rolex 24 winner, waves the green flag.
Franchitti won this race overall in 2008, a highlight in an otherwise challenging single year of NASCAR driving with Ganassi. Franchitti hailed Ganassi’s impact on racing and what he did for his career. For 10 years, Franchitti thought of Ganassi as incredibly tough competition, and then realized why he was winning when he joined the IndyCar team starting in 2009, which kicked off a run of three consecutive championships.
In terms of the Rolex 24, Franchitti said it’s a more relaxed atmosphere than a normal IndyCar weekend. The desire to win a Rolex watch is the driving factor to compete, because the watch almost means more than the race does.
He thinks the race will be interesting to watch from a reliability standpoint.
Franchitti’s team boss, Chip Ganassi, joined Ford executives Raj Nair and Dave Pericak for the last press conference of the morning as the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team and its four Ford GTs prepare for battle.
Ganassi, who was honored earlier this week at the Road Racing Drivers Club dinner, says it’s hard to spend too much time reflecting on all his and his team’s accomplishments as they look forward to winning the next race. But he remains humble and said he’ll look back on the career down the road with his family.
As Franchitti described it earlier, “He has a passion for racing… but he has a bigger passion for winning.”
So now, the 24-hour race lies ahead, as do a number of updates.
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