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Defending Prototype Champs Chase First Rolex Win

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 27 2017

The No. 31 Action Express Racing car won last year’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar series championship. This weekend, its drivers want to add a Rolex 24 victory.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Co-drivers Dane Cameron and Eric Curran of Action Express Racing have tasted and savored the main course in North American sports car racing as they won last year’s prototype division in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

This week, they’re up for a little dessert.

Driving the No. 31 Cadillac, the two are hoping to win their first Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’ve been training hard and spending a lot of time in the shop trying to get the cockpit exactly how wewant it to compliment the details of our new Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R,” Cameron said. “Our guys have been absolutely flat out preparing our No. 31 machine for the biggest race of the year, I think we are ready to fight it out for 24 hours.

“I certainly have a lot of personal desire to win my first Rolex 24. I feel like it is the one race that has really eluded me my entire career, hopefully this week we can change that.”

The team qualified second fastest on Thursday.

Action Express had been campaigning Daytona Prototype Corvettes in the past. Doing so very successfully. This year, the team will help debut the new Cadillac-powered Dallaras and hopes are high.

The new cars showed power at the traditional Roar Before the 24 test earlier this month, but two things: Teams have been known to sandbag at the Roar, and, that three-day test and practice is simply not a good test of the reliability needed to drive 24 hours straight in the race.

Teammate Curran said he’s not worried.

“From being the quickest at the first Daytona test to the reliability in the Roar test, we feel like we are ready to challenge any of the competition this weekend,” he said.

“The Rolex 24 hour is like no other race, non-stop pushing by all the drivers and all the crew for 24

Driving the No. 31 Cadillac this weekend will be Eric Curran, Mike Conway, Dane Cameron.

hours straight. As a driver, I am focused on endurance training at the gym as you need to be prepared for long drives in the car.”

Joining Curran and Cameron this weekend at the 24 will be Mike Conway and Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner, Sebastian “Seb” Morris.

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Joining the DPi prototypes in making their debuts at Daytona will be Le Mans P2 machines.

DPi, and LM P2 cars use the same chassis, built by one of four approved chassis constructors: Dallara, Ligier, Multimatic/Riley and ORECA.

The differences concern engine and bodywork. DPi cars are powered by Mazda, Nissan and Cadillac. Each  also uses manufacturer-specific bodywork aimed at aligning certain features of the manufacturer’s production vehicles with the DPi race cars.

There are two Mazda twin-turbo four-cylinders in the Mazda Prototypes, twin-turbo V6 engines powering the of Nissan Nos. 2 and 22 Tequila Patron ESM prototypes, and three normally aspirated Cadillac V-8s.

The LM P2 cars are more of a European specification, especially attractive to those teams that want to run the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. The cars built to the P2 specifications should be able to enter Le Mans, with one restriction: The ACO, which sanctions Le Mans, insists that all P2 cars have to run the same engine – a 4.2-liter V-8.

There are several Gibson engines running in the Rolex 24, and three that are expected to race all season; the No. 90 Multimatic-Riley, the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier and the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports ORECA.

Standing out at the three-day Roar test at Daytona earlier in the month was the No. 13 ORECA of Rebellion Racing.

Swiss driver Neel Jani, a veteran who has driven the powerful, high-tech World Endurance Championship Porsche 919 Hybrid prototypes in Europe, got his first look at Daytona at the Roar and responded with some of the fastest laps in the Rebellion car.

“This is my first time at Daytona ever,” Jani said. “I saw the track today, the banking and how steep it is. You wonder … how can you drive on that? But, you get used to it quite quickly.”

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Last year, Corvette C7.Rs finished 1-2 in the powerful GT Le Mans at the 24. The goal of Corvette Racing for this weekend’s 24 is logical; do it again.

In the No. 4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, defending Rolex 24 champions Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fässler are back after each claimed their first career victories in the event. It also started a run that resulted in a sweep of the GTLM Manufacturer’s, Driver’s and Team titles for Chevrolet, Milner and Gavin, and Corvette Racing.

In the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, the trio of Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller reunite after a thrilling chase to the finish in 2016. Garcia and Magnussen placed third in the GTLM Championship in 2016 on the strength of an overall victory at VIR.

“You always try to learn everything you can from last year,” Gavin said. “Yes, it was an amazing finish but it was by no means perfect. We had our issues along the way and some things that didn’t quite run to plan. But with this race, you know you have to be there at the end. Even if you have a problem at the start and you go a couple of laps down, the way the caution periods and wave-by systems work, you can often make that up. Ultimately you need to stay smart and clean to keep the car on the lead lap in the last couple of hours where you can really push hard and see where you stack up. The competition is fierce, and it always is. It’s ratcheted up again just another level. It seems like we say that a lot but it’s very true. You can’t ever take your eye off it to be ready every lap. Nothing is ever given to you.”

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Lexus Returns to the series with the entry of two RC F GT3 cars at Daytona.

Lexus raced in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series from 2004 to 2009 when the manufacturer won 25 races, two driver championships (2004, 2008) and three-straight Rolex 24 at Daytona victories (2006-08).

Co-driving one of the Lexus will be sports car veteran Scott Pruett .Over six seasons in a Lexus-powered entry, Pruett won 22 races – including two Rolex 24 at Daytonas (2007-08) – and two championships (2004, 2008). When Lexus announced its intent to return to sports car racing in North America with 3GT Racing, Pruett joined and has played a guiding role in the program’s development, and has served as a brand ambassador and spokesman for Lexus and the team.

“This is just a terrific venue,” Pruett, one of America’s most successful drivers, said, “and when you think of those great race tracks – Indianapolis and Daytona – those are those ones for me personally that I go into and I get goose bumps. I’m excited to be back and I’m excited to be back with a great program with Paul (Gentilozzi, 3GT Racing team principal) and with Lexus. The group that we managed to put together is a great group of drivers. We’ve got a lot to learn and we’re working hard on it. It’s exciting being involved at the ground level and learning a lot like we do and we have a lot to learn as we move forward.”

In addition to Pruett, former open wheel racer Sage Karam will join the veteran driver in the No. 14 RC F GT3, while drivers Robert Alon and another former opener-wheeler, Jack Hawksworth, pilot the No. 15 Lexus full-time for the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. Hawksworth and Karam both come to the team after competing in the IndyCar Series from 2014 to 2016, while Alon moves to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GTD class after capturing three wins in PC to finish second in the series point standings in 2016.

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The 55th running of the Rolex 24 is set to start at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday on the Daytona International Speedway 3.56-mile road course, with 55 cars entered across four classes – Prototype (P), Prototype Challenge (PC), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD).

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, January 27 2017
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