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Lots Of Wrappers Will Be Shucked At 2016 Rolex 24

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 29 2016
The defending IMSA prototype champion Corvette DP of Action Express leads the 54-car parade onto the track at Daytona for this weekend's 50th running of the Rolex 24. (Photos courtesy of IMSA)

The defending IMSA prototype champion Corvette DP of Action Express leads the 54-car parade onto the track at Daytona for this weekend’s 50th running of the Rolex 24. (Photos courtesy of IMSA)

Looking for an adjective to describe the 2016 Rolex 24? “New” would do nicely. From regulations to drivers to the venue to the cars to the name of the series itself, new is what’s new at Daytona International Speedway this weekend.

rolex 24 logoThe 54th running of the Rolex will begin Saturday afternoon and will feature a full field 54 cars scattered through four sports car classes.

As usual, the field will be packed with the biggest stars in North American sports car racing and will be spiked with big-name drivers from such other racing series as NASCAR and Verizon IndyCar. Joining in will be a host of former F1 stars and some of Europe’s sports car greats.

The 2015 overall champions –Scott Dixon and fellow IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan, joined by NASCAR stars Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson driving the No. 02 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Riley DP car – are back in the quest to repeat.

“The Rolex 24 At Daytona is a very special race for us,” said Dixon, who also was part of Ganassi’s first Rolex 24 victory in 2006. “I think I’ve done every race for Chip here dating back to when he first entered the series back in 2004. It’s the kick off to the motorsports season and the whole Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team will be ready to go.

“We have a solid lineup in the No. 02 again returning with Tony, Kyle and Jamie, and this team has a lot
of experience in these types of races. You have to be strong for the entire 24 hours without mistakes. It’s a big task as always, and we hope to give the prototype a good sendoff and accomplish what we did last year.”

Also in the field will be the 2015 Tudor United SportsCar Challenge (newly renamed the WeatherTech United SportCar Championship for the upcoming season) season champions in the prototype class; the No. 5 Action Express DP Corvette. That car will be driven by regulars Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, along with Audi factory wheelman Filipe Albuquerque.

If early testing and practice are any indicators – that is, unless there is serious sandbagging going on –

Michael Shank Racing's Honda Ligier was super fast at the Roar Before the Daytona 24.

Michael Shank Racing’s Honda Ligier was super fast at the Roar Before the Daytona 24.

the Honda-powered Ligiers could end the reign of the DP cars this weekend and this year. The Ligier JS P2 Hondas from Tequila Patron ESM and Michael Shank Racing were super quick at the Roar Before the 24 open test earlier in the month.

Then there is the the BR Engineering BR01 Nissan from Russian squad SMP, which won the pole in the prototype class during a rain inundated qualifying session on Thursday.

An old face will be in a new place this weekend as five-time overall winner Scott Pruett has moved from Ganass’s team to Action Express. A sixth victory on Sunday would move him out of a tie with Hurley Haywood as the Rolex’s all-time winningest P driver.

“Certainly being with a team like Action Express Racing is great,” Pruett said. “These cars are certainly very different than what I’ve driven the last twelve years, Christian and Joao have been great to work with helping to figure out some of the ins and outs of the Coyote chassis and these Corvette DPs. The cars are fast and I know the team is incredible so I’m looking forward to getting back here and hopefully getting a sixth overall win.”

“Of course we want to help Scott break the record for most overall victories, that would mean Christian, Filipe and I would also win the race,” co-driver Barbosa said. “The Rolex 24 is our biggest race of the season and one of the biggest races in the world so we want nothing more than to drive our Mustang Sampling Corvette DP into victory lane at the end of the race.”

Also among those competing in the P class  will be No. 90 Visit Florida Racing entry of Ryan Dalziel, Marc Goossens and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay; the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP of brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor with 2005 Rolex 24 winner Max Angelelli and former F1 star Rubens Barrichello.

Barrichello is new to the Rolex 24.

The 43-year-old Brazilian holds the Formula 1 record with 322 career starts, during which he drove to 11

Brazilian open-wheelers Rubens Barrichello and Tony Kanaan will face off at the Rolex this weekend. (INDYCAR/LAT USA file photo)

Brazilian open-wheelers Rubens Barrichello and Tony Kanaan will face off at the Rolex this weekend. (INDYCAR/LAT USA file photo)

career victories and 68 podium finishes, as well as 14 pole qualifying positions. Barrichello’s 658 career points earned is the 11th-best total in Formula 1 history, the bulk of which came during the 2000 through 2005 seasons spent with the Ferrari team as teammate to Michael Schumacher.

“I’m excited for this opportunity as the Rolex 24 has always been a race that I’ve had a great interest in and, when I recently expressed an interest to drive this year for Wayne and his team, he made it possible for me,” Barrichello said. “This is one of the most successful teams in the history of sports car racing and it’s a great pleasure to be able to race in the Rolex 24 with such a competitive team. I have known Max since we raced together in Formula 3 in the early ’90s, and I have been a fan of Ricky and Jordan for some time, now. If they’re not out there winning races, they always seem to be fighting to win at the end. I am looking forward to this opportunity.”

The 2016 race will be the last Rolex for the current generation of DP vehicles as a new era for Prototype racing begins in 2017.  Next year, the Prototype type class will showcase a new car based on international LM P2 specifications known as Daytona Prototype international (DPi) cars, which will feature involvement from multiple manufacturers.

Some of the most highly anticipated new things will come courtesy of the GP classes.

Arguably the most anticipated new thing will be the debut of the Ford GT in the GT Le Mans class. Ganassi’s team will field the Ford GTs, which are tributes to the Ford GT 40s which dominated the Le Mans 24 hour race in the mid-1960s.

Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Stefan Muecke will

The Ford GT will make it's world debut this weekend in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The Ford GT will make its world debut this weekend in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

drive the two Multimatic-built Fords. The new cars have shown impressive speed in practices.

Rag Nair, Executive Vice President for Product Development and Chief Technical Officer, Ford Motor Company, was recently asked about his expectations for the GT at Daytona.

“We race to win,” Nair said. “We’ve prepared as much as we know to do to win.  We’ve got an engine that’s proven in the Daytona Prototype.  It’s a different installation obviously, but, at the same time, we recognize it’s the first race for a brand new car.  We think we’re in pretty good shape.  With any new car we’ve got some teething issues that we’re working through, but having your very first race with a brand new car being the Rolex 24 is a challenge.”

It was pointed out to Nair that his new sports cars will be going against the greatest marques in the world at Daytona and beyond – the team will continue race the Fords in the World Endurance Championship and IMSA this year and will, yes, be back at Le Mans.

Bring it, he said.

“We’ve got some great competitors in Corvette, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and BMW,” Nair said. “We can’t buy experience and you’ve got to start somewhere, but we’ve got a great team in Ganassi.  We’ve got great engines out of Roush Yates. We’ve got a great driver lineup with a ton of experience.  The car is the newest part of that equation and maybe the most important part of that equation, but we’ve got a lot of great people and great engineers around it.”

BMW will also sport a new look in the GTLM class as it is replacing the Z4s with M6s at Team RLL. Ferrari is sending over three factory-supported teams to debut the Ferrari 488 GTE turbos.

If early results are indicative, the GTLM entrants will be chasing upgraded Porsche 911 RSRs and upgraded Corvette C7.Rs.

“The start of any new season is always a time of anticipation and high expectations,” said Jens Walther, President and CEO of Porsche Motorsport North America. With the debut of both the highly anticipated Porsche 911 GT3 R and Cayman GT4 Clubsport customer cars, we believe we have the tools to add favorably to Porsche’s long-standing history in North America. It will not be easy, as competition in the IMSA series is more intense on every level, but the opportunities exist. We have drawn one of the strongest customer team lineups in recent memory for this weekend’s 24-hour race and, collectively both Porsche Motorsport and our customers are well motivated to start the year off well.”

Piloting the Porsches will be defending GTLM champion Patrick Pilet and 24 Le Mans winner and fellow Petit Le Mans overall winner Nick Tandy. Corvette has rented Audi factory drivers Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler for Daytona.

“It’s a great feeling to start the season as the title defenders,” Pilet said. “But that doesn’t make the task with the new 911 RSR easier. Daytona poses a very special challenge; it’s somewhat of a yardstick for the rest of the season. Last year we experienced a lot of bad luck. This time I hope we can fight for victory to the finish.”

The big news in GT Daytona may be the switch to FIA GT3-specs.

In all seven manufacturers will field 22 cars in the class this weekend.

Lamborghini will debut in the class – and the 24 – with five Huracan GT3s.

Five new Porsche 911 GT3 Rs are entered and will be put on the track by familiar teams such as Alex Job

Porsches and Audi's will battle each other in the GTD class this weekend.

Porsches and Audis will battle each other in the GTD class this weekend.

Racing and Park Place Motorsports.

Turner Motorsports will move to the BMW M6 GT3.

Also in the field will be Audi R8 LMS car, Dodge Viper GT3-Rs and Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3s.

This year’s race will mark the christening of the renovated Daytona International Speedway facility. The updating of the speedway, which cost $400 million, features vastly improved fan amenities.

International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa Kennedy and Jim France, vice chairman and executive vice president of NASCAR, officially opened the new DIS – which was updated under the name Daytona Rising – this week.

For complete list of IMSA regulations for 2016, click on the following: http://www.imsa.com/2016-imsa-rules-and-regulations.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 29 2016
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