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Rolex 24 Notes: ESM Arrives On A Roll

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 24 2018

The Tequila Patron ESM team arrives in Daytona for this weekend’s Rolex 24 with a bit of wind at its back.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

If momentum means anything in auto racing, the Tequila Patron ESM team should be something to watch in this coming weekend’s Rolex 24 IMSA WeatherTech series race at Daytona International Speedway.

ESM Nissan Onroak DPi cars won two of the final three races in 2017 – at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. and the season finale in the Petit Le Mans in Braselton, Ga.

The team also will be the only prototype team to return all of its full time drivers: Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel in the No. 2 car, and Johannes van Overbeek and Pipo Derani in the No. 22 car. Frenchmen Olivier Pla and Nicolas Lapierre will join the duos in the No. 2 and No. 22 respectively.

“After winning the last two out of three races at the end of last year,” van Overbeek said, “Tequila Patrón ESM is on a roll. We hope that the momentum continues for the Rolex 24. The key for Daytona is staying out of trouble and mastering all of the variables that we have control over. Everything else is up to the racing gods. Hopefully, one of our cars ends up on the top step at the end of 24 hours.”

A number of significant changes have been made to the series this season. Changes to the prototype class for the 2018 Rolex include new drivers and teams – notably the re-entry of two DPi Acura ARXs and a cast of all-star drivers from Team Penske. Those two cars will be filled with experienced road racing and Indy 500-winning drivers.

The complete roster of competitors at the Rolex includes the world’s best sports car racers – IMSA and FIA World Endurance Championship series champions, and previous Rolex

Two-time Formula One driving champion Fernando Alonso adds international star power to the 2018 Rolex 24.

24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans race winners – as well as a two-time Formula 1 World Champion, four Indianapolis 500 winners, five IndyCar Series champions and two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winners.

The 20-car Prototype field includes the defending Rolex 24-winning Wayne Taylor Racing team, but with a dramatically different driver lineup in its No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. Jordan Taylor, the team’s lone returning driver, will be joined by past IndyCar champion and Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and Taylor’s new full-season co-driver, Renger van der Zande, a past WeatherTech Champ Prototype Challenge class champion.

Ricky Taylor, who co-drove to the Rolex 24 win and the 2017 Prototype class championship with Jordan Taylor, is part of an all-star driver lineup at Penske. Ricky Taylor will share the No. 7 Acura ARX-05 DPi car with three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves – his new full-season teammate in the WeatherTech Championship – and Graham Rahal, who won the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona and owns multiple IndyCar race victories.

The No. 6 Acura DPi will be shared by three-time Rolex 24 At Daytona and two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion Dane Cameron and 2016 IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud.

Two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso is bringing international glam as he competes in his first Rolex 24 in the No. 23 United Autosports Ligier LMP2 along with a pair of  young co-drivers in Lando Norris and Phil Hanson. Another active F1 racer, Canadian Lance Stroll, will share one of the Jackie Chan DCR JOTA team’s pair of ORECA LMP2 cars, the No. 37 entry alongside Felix Rosenqvist, Robin Frijns and Daniel Juncadella.

So, yes the competition will be intense for ESM cars and drivers.

“We know what it takes to succeed,” Dalziel said, “but this year may be the toughest Rolex 24 for some time due to new teams, new cars, and many unknowns. We are confident in our reliability and believe we have the speed to succeed.”

All the newness also means that IMSA and WeatherTech series officials have had a busy off season as they prepare for the Rolex.

“I really hope IMSA has nailed the balance of performance so that every competitor has a real chance of fighting for the win, making it down to the best team and drivers,” Derani said.

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If results from the Roar Before the 24  earlier this year mean anything, then the Cadillac DPis could be the cars to watch as they dominated the three-day test.

Cadillacs led every session throughout the first two days of the Roar and then again in day three’s inaugural Roar qualifying session. The new-for-2018 qualifying sessions establish

Felipe Nasr in the Action Express Cadillac DPi Felipe Nasr laid down the fastest lap in the Roar Before the 24. (File photo by Richard Dole
LAT Images)

the garage and pit locations each team will use during the Rolex 24.

Leading the way in a back-and-forth 15-minute qualifier for Prototype class was Brazilian driver Felipe Nasr in the Action Express No. 31 Cadillac DPi-V.R with a best time of 1 minute, 35.806 seconds (133.764 mph). Nasr was first in a top-four sweep for Cadillac, which is looking for its second consecutive Rolex 24 win after taking its debut race last year.

“All I have to say, is we as a team, Action Express and Cadillac, we brought the car out there to run the most amount of laps,” Nasr said after the Roar. “We were really getting into it and preparing for the race, because we know this weekend is more a part of what is going to come at the end of the month. We all felt pretty confident. We felt the car was behaving well.

“Today in qualifying, all I have to say, is myself and Filipe (Albuquerque), that was driving our sister car, we gave everything we had. The times were pretty close. There are some cars out there that aren’t showing fully what they can do, but I know we are. I’m pretty happy with what we have right now.”

Moving to the Cadillac corps this year is the Spirit of Daytona Racing entry with drivers Matt McMurry, Tristan Vautier, and Eddie Cheever III at the Rolex.

“From the beginning it was very smooth,” Cheever III, whose father raced in both Formula 1 and Indy cars, said of his time in the blue No. 90. “I wanted to take my time and get used to the Cadillac. It was very fast from the beginning. I just met everyone on the team a week ago and everyone is very nice. I have been to Daytona about 15 times and I’ve watched my dad here.

“Being on the banking for the first time is a shocker, very different from what I have done before. But, it is a race track and race car so you adapt. I feel good in the car, that is what counts. Twenty-four hour races are tough. You need to try and rest during the race. On the track you need to keep pace and stay toward the front so you can fight for the last few hours. There are so many cars and different speeds from the other categories it will be

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The 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship swings into action with this weekend’s Rolex 24. Here’s a quick, team-by-team look at what’s in store for each prospective entry in thePrototype class:

No. 2 Tequila Patrón ESM

Nissan DPi

Scott Sharp/Ryan Dalziel/Olivier Pla

 

The No. 2 team closed out 2017 with a victory in the Motul Petit Le Mans. Returning as full-season co-drivers are Sharp and Dalziel, with a new endurance racing teammate for 2018, the ultra-fast Pla. Sharp owns a pair of Rolex 24 victories, the most recent coming in 2016, while Dalziel won the event in 2010.

No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing

Cadillac DPi

Joao Barbosa/Filipe Albuquerque/Christian Fittipaldi

 

The biggest news for the No. 5 team heading into the 2018 season is the addition of Albuquerque as Barbosa’s full-time co-driver in the No. 5 machine, forming “Team Portugal.” Fittipaldi moves from full-time driver to become the team’s sporting director, but will continue to drive in the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup rounds. Barbosa, Fittipaldi and the No. 5 team have won every Patrón Endurance Cup since its inception in 2014.

No. 6 Acura Team Penske

Acura DPi

Dane Cameron/Juan Pablo Montoya/Simon Pagenaud

 

Cameron, the 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype co-champion, joins the new-for-2018 WeatherTech Championship team alongside Montoya, a two-time Indy 500 winner, IndyCar champion, three-time Rolex 24 overall winner and race winner in both Formula 1 and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, who is moving to full-time WeatherTech Championship status this season. Pagenaud, the 2016 IndyCar Series champion, joins the team for endurance races.

No. 7 Acura Team Penske

Acura DPi

Ricky Taylor/Helio Castroneves/Graham Rahal

 

Taylor will defend his 2017 WeatherTech Championship Prototype title with a new team, as he moves to the No. 7 Acura DPi to join three-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves as new car’s full-time co-drivers. Rahal, a full-time IndyCar racer who already has a Rolex 24 win on his résumé, joins the team for the longer races.

No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R

Cadillac DPi

Jordan Taylor/Renger van der Zande/Ryan Hunter-Reay

 

The 2017 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion team – which won the first five races of the season, including the Rolex 24 At Daytona – will feature a new look this season. Van der Zande has joined the No. 10 squad, replacing the Acura Team Penske-bound Ricky Taylor, and will look to help Jordan Taylor and the team successfully defend their 2017 title. Indy 500 and IndyCar champion Hunter-Reay joins the team for endurance races.

No. 20 BAR1 Motorsports

Multimatic/Riley LMP2

Joel Miller

 

The BAR1 team closed out the 2017 season as the final race-winners for the WeatherTech ChampionshipPrototype Challenge (PC) class, which concluded after the Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in October. In 2018, the team steps into the Prototype class with a heavily revised Multimatic/Riley LMP2 race car. Joel Miller, who spent the past several years with Mazda, is the lone driver entered thus far for this week’s Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

No. 22 Tequila Patrón ESM

Nissan DPi

Johannes van Overbeek/Pipo Derani/Nicolas Lapierre

 

Van Overbeek and Derani own the distinction of being the co-drivers for the Nissan DPi’s first victory, which they accomplished last year at Road America. This year, Derani – who joined the team as a full-time driver at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen last year – will contest the full WeatherTech Championship season alongside van Overbeek. The pair of drivers will look for their second Rolex 24 win in three years and will do it with Lapierre, a two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner, as their co-driver.

No. 23 United Autosports

Ligier LMP2

Phil Hanson/Lando Norris/Fernando Alonso

 

The No. 23 garage and pit area figures to be a busy place during the Roar and the Rolex 24 as two-time F1 World Champion Alonso makes his Rolex 24 At Daytona debut alongside Hanson, the 2017 Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 champion, and 18-year-old McLaren F1 Test & Reserve driver Norris.

No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing

Cadillac DPi

Felipe Nasr/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Stuart Middleton

Brazilian Nasr joins the 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion team as Curran’s new full-time teammate in 2018. The ex-F1 racer previously raced with the team in the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona as winner of the Sunoco Rolex 24 At Daytona Challenge. This year’s winner, Middleton, joins the full-timers along with Conway, who is back for another season of endurance racing for the No. 31 team.

No. 32 United Autosports

Ligier LMP2

Will Owen/Hugo de Sadeleer/Paul di Resta/Bruno Senna

 

The strong, two-car lineup for United Autosports is bolstered by the No. 32 entry. Owen was runner-up in the 2017 European Le Mans Series LMP2 championship, while di Resta is a veteran of Formula 1 and DTM competition. De Sadeleer won 2017 ELMS “Rookie of the Year” honors, while Senna – 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 champion and nephew of the Formula 1 legend – makes his second consecutive Rolex 24 start after racing last year with Tequila Patrón ESM.

No. 37 Jackie Chan DCR JOTA

ORECA LMP2

Lance Stroll/Felix Rosenqvist/Daniel Juncadella/Robin Frijns

 

This year’s Rolex 24 will feature two active F1 racers as Williams driver Stroll returns for his second Rolex 24 appearance after competing in 2016 aboard a Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Daytona Prototype. Swedish driver Rosenqvist is a full-time Formula E racer, while Frijns brings Formula 1, Formula E and sports car experience. Juncadella is a Mercedes-AMG factory driver.

No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports

ORECA LMP2

James French/Kyle Masson

 

The final PC class championship-winning team – which won seven of eight races – moves to the Prototypeclass for 2018. Thus far, the team has named two drivers, both of whom were part of the team’s 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona class victory. French also won the season championship for Performance Tech, while Masson joined French and 2017 co-driver Patricio O’Ward as Patrón Endurance Cup champions.

No. 52 AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports

Ligier LMP2

Sebastian Saavedra/Gustavo Yacaman/Roberto Gonzalez/Nicholas Boulle

 

In mid-December, Saavedra and Yacaman were introduced as full-season drivers for the team, which combines longtime IMSA participants PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports with the former AFS Racing IndyCar program. While Saavedra and Yacaman form “Team Colombia,” they’ll be joined at the Rolex 24 by Mexican driver Gonzalez and American Boulle, who won the PC class in last year’s Rolex 24.

No. 54 CORE Autosport

ORECA LMP2

Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/Romain Dumas/Loic Duval

 

After a year of GT Daytona (GTD) class competition in a Porsche, longtime CORE teammates Bennett and Braun return to their Prototype racing roots in 2018. For the Rolex 24, the team has stacked the deck with a pair of drivers with extensive experience as factory drivers. Dumas was a longtime Porsche works pilot, while Duval remains part of Audi’s program.

No. 55 Mazda Team Joest

Mazda DPi

Jonathan Bomarito/Harry Tincknell/Spencer Pigot

 

Longtime Mazda factory racer Bomarito rejoins a Mazda Prototype program sporting a whole new look in 2018 under the Mazda Team Joest banner. He’ll be joined full-time by British racer Tincknell, who also drives for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s FIA WEC program, and IndyCar racer Pigot.

No. 77 Mazda Team Joest

Mazda DPi

Oliver Jarvis/Tristan Nunez/Rene Rast

Another longtime Mazda factory racer, Nunez will be paired with former Audi factory driver Jarvis on a full-time basis in 2018 with Mazda Team Joest. Rast, who won the 2017 DTM title as an Audi factory driver, joins the lineup as endurance driver.

No. 78 Jackie Chan DCR JOTA

ORECA LMP2

Ho-Pin Tung/Alex Brundle/Antonio Felix da Costa/Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen

 

Tung and the team won the LMP2 class and finished second overall in the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing one spot ahead of the team’s other Le Mans entry, which included Brundle in its driver lineup. Brundle competed in several WeatherTech Championship events in 2014, but has focused on European racing since 2015. He won the 2016 ELMS LMP3 championship. Da Costa currently races in Formula E, while Habsburg raced FIA Formula 3 in 2017.

No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports

ORECA LMP2

Simon Trummer/Robert Alon/Austin Cindric/Devlin DeFrancesco

 

Swiss driver Trummer, who owns previous experience in the FIA WEC and Europe’s VLN Series, moves to full-time WeatherTech Championship competition in 2018 aboard the rechristened “Banana Boat.” He’ll be joined by Alon, who returns to Prototype racing this year after a year of GTD competition in the 3GT Racing Lexus in 2017. Alon is a past race-winner in WeatherTech Championship PC class competition. Versatile racer Cindric, who has been a top performer in everything from the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to Global Rallycross, joins the team for the Rolex 24, as does 17-year-old Canadian DeFrancesco, who won races in FIA European Formula 3 and the Spanish Formula 3 championship.

No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing

Cadillac DPi

Matt McMurry/Tristan Vautier

 

Spirit of Daytona joins the Cadillac DPi ranks in 2018 with an all-new driver lineup. Vautier, a veteran of IndyCar competition, moves to the Prototype ranks after driving for SunEnergy1 Racing in the GTD class in 2017. McMurry, who became the youngest driver in 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2014 at the age of 16, will race full-time alongside Vautier for the full 2018 WeatherTech Championship campaign.

No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports

ORECA LMP2

Stephen Simpson/Misha Goikhberg/Chris Miller/Gustavo Menezes

 

Simpson and Goikhberg impressed WeatherTech Championship fans throughout 2017 with their strong performances as co-drivers of the JDC-Miller team’s “Banana Boat,” but in 2018, they’ll move to another storied sports car livery, as the No. 99 GAINSCO “Red Dragon” returns for the first time since 2014. The full-time teammates will be joined by their regular endurance co-driver, Miller, as well as Menezes, a 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and FIA WEC champion in the LMP2 class.

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The GT Le Mans (GTLM) class field has taken shape. Here’s a quick, team-by-team look at what’s in store for each entry in the world’s most competitive, factory-supported GT class:

No. 3 Corvette Racing

Chevrolet Corvette C7.R

Jan Magnussen/Antonio Garcia/Mike Rockenfeller

Magnussen and Garcia return to defend their 2017 GTLM title as part of the two-car program celebrating its 20th season in 2018. They will go in search of their second Rolex 24 At Daytona victory as teammates – they won the 2015 race with Ryan Briscoe as their teammate – and will do so alongside Mike Rockenfeller, their endurance racing co-driver since 2016.

No. 4 Corvette Racing

Chevrolet Corvette C7.R

Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Marcel Fassler

Gavin and Milner won the 2016 WeatherTech Championship GTLM title and finished eighth in the GTLMstandings last year with a victory in the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. In addition to the 2016 GTLM title, Gavin, Milner and endurance racing specialist Marcel Fassler also won that year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona – in a thrilling 1-2 finish ahead of their teammates in the No. 3 Corvette – and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

No. 24 BMW Team RLL

BMW M8 GTLM

Jesse Krohn/John Edwards/Nicky Catsburg/Augusto Farfus/Colton Herta

The M8 GTLM is a brand-new model for the 2018 season, which BMW will field not only in the WeatherTech Championship, but also the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). For the full season, Krohn – who had a strong 2017 campaign in the WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class in the Turner Motorsport BMW – steps up to GTLM alongside team incumbent Edwards. Catsburg and Farfus are lightning-quick international racers, while Herta, son of past IndyCar and sports car competitor, Bryan Herta, is a rising star.

No. 25 BMW Team RLL

BMW M8 GTLM

Alexander Sims/Connor De Phillippi/Bill Auberlen/Philipp Eng/Colton Herta

British racer Sims competed in his first full WeatherTech Championship season and won three races en route to a second-place finish in the GTLM championship alongside Bill Auberlen, his then-full-time co-driver. In 2018, Auberlen – who is currently second on the all-time IMSA win list with 58 career victories, trailing leader Scott Pruett by just two wins – shifts to an endurance-only role with BMW Team RLL while also becoming a BMW North America brand ambassador. De Phillippi, a 24-year-old American who has spent the past five years racing in Europe and competed in three IMSA enduros in 2017, returns stateside as Sims’ full-season co-driver. Austrian Eng is a BMW factory driver who competes in DTM and other major international GT events for the manufacturer. Herta appears on the entry list as part of the driver lineup for this car as well.

No. 62 Risi Competizione

Ferrari 488 GTE

Alessandro Pier Guidi/ Toni Vilander/James Calado

The Risi team had an abbreviated campaign in the 2017 WeatherTech Championship GTLM class, competing in seven of 11 races last season and earning five podium finishes. This year, the team will open the year at the Rolex 24 with Finnish racer Vilander, who has been part of the team’s driver lineup for the past several years and is a two-time winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, alongside a pair of 2017 FIA WEC GT world champions in Pier Guidi and Calado. Pier Guidi handled all driving duties for the team at last weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24. In 2018, the team also will add an entry in the GTD class.

No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing

Ford GT

Joey Hand/Dirk Mueller/Sebastien Bourdais

The No. 66 trio returns looking to defend its 2017 Rolex 24 GTLM class victory and got off to a quick start at the Roar, in which Hand posted the quickest time in Sunday’s qualifying session. Hand and his self-proclaimed “brother from another mother” Mueller return for the full 2018 season looking to improve one position from their runner-up performance in last year’s GTLM championship battle, which also included a victory at Road America. They’ll be joined for the enduros by IndyCar star and Le Mans native, Bourdais.

No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing

Ford GT

Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook/Scott Dixon

Briscoe and Westbrook hold the distinction of being the drivers who delivered the first-ever victory for the Ford GT when they won at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2016, and then went on to win that season’s next two races also. Unfortunately for them, they haven’t won since that season’s race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, although they did have five podiums in 2017 en route to fourth in the final season standings. They’ll be joined again this season by the most successful active IndyCar racer, Dixon, for endurance races.

 

No. 911 Porsche GT Team

Porsche 911 RSR

Patrick Pilet/Nick Tandy/Frederic Makowiecki

Pilet, the 2015 GTLM driver champion, returns as a full-time WeatherTech Championship driver for the fourth consecutive season in the mid-engined RSR race car that debuted last season. Pilet and then-co-driver Dirk Werner gave the new car its first victory anywhere, taking the win at Lime Rock Park. This year, Pilet will be joined for the full year by Tandy – with whom he drove for all but two races in his championship-winning season. Tandy, who earned an overall victory in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, is back full-time in IMSA for the first time since the 2016 season. Last year, he raced in Porsche’s 919 Hybrid in the FIA WEC. Makowiecki, who was a full-time WeatherTech Championship competitor in 2016 and won at VIR, fills out the endurance racing driver lineup.

No. 912 Porsche GT Team

Porsche 911 RSR

Laurens Vanthoor/Earl Bamber/Gianmaria Bruni

Vanthoor is back for his second straight full GTLM season in 2018. Last year, his co-drivers split the season as Kevin Estre co-drove the No. 912 in the first three rounds before Bruni – who moved over to Porsche in 2017 after being a long-time Ferrari factory driver – joined the team starting with the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. Bruni and Vanthoor earned the best results for the No. 912 team with back-to-back second-place runs at Lime Rock and Road America. This year, Bruni will be the team’s endurance racer, though, as Bamber is back to full-time WeatherTech Championship status for the first time since 2016. The New Zealander won the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall for the second time in 2017 in the Porsche 919 Hybrid and also won Porsche’s final FIA WEC LMP1 season title. Bamber’s first Le Mans win came in 2015 alongside Tandy and Formula 1 racer Nico Hulkenberg.

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Here’s a quick, team-by-team look at what’s on tap in the GT Daytona Pro-Am class, which will have the largest field of the three competing classes:

No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team

Lamborghini Huracán GT3

Rolf Ineichen/Mirko Bortolotti/Frank Perera/Rik Breukers

The Rolex 24 always attracts high-quality race teams from Europe and the GRT Grasser team clearly fits that bill. Bortolotti, the 2017 Blancpain GT Series champion, posted the quickest GTD time in the Roar Before The Rolex 24 At Daytona qualifying session two weeks ago, while Perera, who previously raced IndyCar, Indy Lights and Atlantic in the U.S also found his way atop the practice charts. Ineichen will be making his fifth Rolex 24 appearance this year, while Dutchman Breukers, who is part of Lamborghini’s Young Drivers Program, is competing in his first Rolex 24.

No. 14 3GT Racing

Lexus RC F GT3

Dominik Baumann/Kyle Marcelli/Philipp Frommenwiler/Bruno Junqueira

3GT Racing kicks off its second WeatherTech Championship season with its pair of Lexus RC F GT3 race cars sporting a revised driver lineup. Baumann, a 2016 Blancpain GT series champion will share the No. 14 machine for the full 2018 season with Canadian Marcelli, a frequent IMSA racer who won his class in the 2013 Motul Petit Le Mans. Swiss driver Frommenwiler raced the Lexus RC F GT3 in Europe’s International GT Open series last year, while Junqueira, an eight-time IndyCar race winner, has a lengthy history with 3GT and sports cars as well.

No. 15 3GT Racing

Lexus RC F GT3

Jack Hawksworth/David Heinemeier Hansson/Scott Pruett/Dominik Farnbacher

If there’s a sentimental favorite in the GTD class, the No. 15 Lexus may be it, as sports car legend Pruett – a five-time overall Rolex 24 winner, 10-time Rolex 24 class winner and 60-time IMSA race winner – will be calling it a career after this year’s race. Hawksworth, an IndyCar veteran who drove for the team last year, is back for another full season in the WeatherTech Championship alongside Heinemeier Hansson, who won the GTE Am class in the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans. Farnbacher is a two-time class winner in the Rolex 24.

No. 19 GRT Grasser Racing Team

Lamborghini Huracán GT3

Max van Splunteren/Ezequiel Perez Companc/Christian Engelhart/Christopher Lenz/Louis Machiels

Three of the five drivers on the No. 19 team – van Splunteren, Lenz and Machiels – are making their first appearance in the Rolex 24 this year. Companc is returning for his second race, while Lamborghini factory driver Engelhart will be making his fifth Rolex 24 start. Among drivers, van Splunteren posted the fifth-quickest time in GTD during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport

Audi R8 LMS

Sheldon van der Linde/Kelvin van der Linde/Jeffrey Schmidt/Christopher Mies

The No. 29 team heads into the Rolex 24 looking to extend a WeatherTech Championship winning streak to two consecutive races, as it closed out the 2017 season by winning the GTD class at Motul Petit Le Mans. The No. 29 Audi was third quickest in the GTD class at the Roar courtesy of an opening-practice flyer by South African Kelvin van der Linde, the 21-year-old elder brother of 18-year-old Sheldon van der Linde. Audi factory driver Mies and the younger van der Linde won at Motul Petit Le Mans last year alongside Connor De Phillippi, who now has joined BMW Team RLL in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class. Schmidt is making his second Rolex 24 start.

No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports

Mercedes-AMG GT3

Ben Keating/Jeroen Bleekemolen/Adam Christodoulou/Luca Stolz

Keating goes in search of his second Rolex 24 victory – he also won the GTD class in 2015 – with longtime co-driver Bleekemolen, his full-season teammate, who has yet to win a Rolex 24, but does own victories in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Christodoulou, a product of the Mazda motorsports driver development ladder, is now a Mercedes-AMG factory driver who won the prestigious Nurburgring 24 Hours in 2016. German driver Stolz, who won the 2016 Blancpain GT Series Silver Cup title, is back for his second Rolex 24.

No. 44 Magnus Racing

Audi R8 LMS

John Potter/Andy Lally/Andrew Davis/Markus Winkelhock

After a year away, the popular Magnus Racing team returns to the WeatherTech Championship in 2018 with a familiar full-time driver pairing in team owner Potter and Lally, a five-time Rolex 24 class winner. It will be the first Rolex 24 for the Magnus team since winning the GTD class in 2016 with a lineup that included both Potter and Lally. Davis will join the team for all 2018 Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup rounds, and the Daytona lineup will be further enhanced by Audi factory racer Winkelhock.

No. 48 Paul Miller Racing

Lamborghini Huracán GT3

Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow/Andrea Caldarelli/Bryce Miller

Sellers and Snow return to full-time WeatherTech Championship duty for the third consecutive season in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini looking to revert to their 2016 form when they finished inside the top three in the GTD championship. Italian racer Caldarelli is a Lamborghini factory driver, while Bryce Miller, son of the team owner, returns for his first race since last year’s Rolex 24.

No. 51 Spirit of Race

Ferrari 488 GT3

Paul Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy/Mathias Lauda/Daniel Serra

Canadian racer Dalla Lana is the 2011 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Grand Sport (GS) champion and a 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) GTE Am champion. He will be making his ninth Rolex 24 start this year. He will be joined by ex-F1 racer Lamy and second-generation racer Lauda, with whom he co-drove to the 2017 WEC title, as well as Serra, the 2017 GTE Pro class winner in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

No. 58 Wright Motorsports

Porsche 911 GT3 R

Patrick Long/Christina Nielsen/Robert Renauer/Mathieu Jaminet

Two-time defending GTD champion Nielsen moves to the Wright Motorsports Porsche after co-driving the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari to the last two championships with Alessandro Balzan. She goes in search of her first Rolex 24 win alongside her new full-season co-driver, American Porsche factory driver Long, who won last year’s Pirelli World Challenge title and GT class winner of the 2009 Rolex 24. German racer Renauer is making his fourth Rolex 24 appearance and first since 2016, while Jaminet, a Porsche Young Professional Driver, is making his first Daytona appearance. He made a pair of WeatherTech Championship starts last year at Circuit of The America and Detroit Belle Isle.

No. 59 Manthey Racing

Porsche 911 GT3 R

Steve Smith/Randy Walls/Harald Proczyk/Sven Muller/Matteo Cairoli

Another strong European team at the Rolex 24 is longtime Porsche runners Manthey Racing. In the hands of Cairoli, another Porsche Young Professional, the car turned the second-quickest lap in GTD during the Roar. Cairoli, Smith and Proczyk each are making their second appearances at the Rolex 24, while Muller will be in the race for the third time, and Walls is racing in his first Rolex 24.

No. 63 Scuderia Corsa

Ferrari 488 GT3

Cooper MacNeil/Alessandro Balzan/Gunnar Jeannette/Jeff Segal

Two-time defending GTD champion Balzan will co-drive the WeatherTech-sponsored No. 63 Ferrari with MacNeil for the full 2018 WeatherTech Championship season. Of the driving quartet, only Segal owns a Rolex 24 victory, which came in the GTD class in 2014. This year will be Jeannette’s 11th Rolex 24 appearance, the eighth for MacNeil and the fifth for Balzan.

No. 64 Scuderia Corsa

Ferrari 488 GT3

Bill Sweedler/Townsend Bell/Frank Montecalvo/Sam Bird

Sweedler and Bell won the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona in a Ferrari and won the GTE Am class in the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside Segal in a Scuderia Corsa-prepared Ferrari. Montecalvo will be reunited with Bell and Sweedler, with whom he contested the four Patrón Endurance Cup races last season as part of Alex Job Racing’s single-car effort in 2017. Bird, a Ferrari factory driver who also competes in Formula E, won the 2015 FIA WEC LMP2 championship and is participating in his third Rolex 24.

No. 69 HART

Acura NSX GT3

Chad Gilsinger/Ryan Eversley/Sean Rayhall/John Falb

The volunteer team made up of Ohio-based Honda engineers will field a Rolex 24 entry for the first time in 2018 as part of a planned Patrón Endurance Cup program. Eversley will make his second Rolex 24 start and first since 2016. It will be Rayhall’s fourth consecutive Rolex 24 appearance and Falb’s third straight Rolex 24. Eversley, who has competed full-time in Pirelli World Challenge for the last several seasons, is a former Continental Tire Challenge champion, while Gilsinger is a multiple-time Continental Tire Challenge race winner. Rayhall, the 2013 IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda champion, co-drove to the 2017 European Le Mans Series LMP3 championship with United Autosports, which is fielding a pair of LMP2 cars – including one for two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso – in the Rolex 24.

No. 71 P1 Motorsports

Mercedes-AMG GT3

Kenton Koch/Robby Foley III/Loris Spinelli/JC Perez

P1 Motorsports, which competes full-time in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, is branching out to a Patrón Endurance Cup program in 2018 with a new Mercedes-AMG GT3. Koch, a formerIMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda champion and previous Rolex 24 At Daytona class winner, is the lone driver in the lineup with Rolex 24 experience. In addition to the Patrón Endurance Cup program, Foley will drive for P1 Motorsports in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda this year, as will Perez. Spinelli is part of the Lamborghini Young Drivers Program,

No. 73 Park Place Motorsports

Porsche 911 GT3 R

Patrick Lindsey/Joerg Bergmeister/Tim Pappas

Lindsey, who took third in the 2017 WeatherTech Championship GTD standings, will field a Patrón Endurance Cup program for Park Place Motorsports this season. He’ll be joined again by Bergmeister, with whom he co-drove to a GTD victory last year at Lime Rock, and Pappas, who will make his fifth Rolex 24 start this year. Bergmeister is a three-time Rolex 24 class winner and has an overall victory in 2003.

No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing

Mercedes-AMG GT3

Kenny Habul/Thomas Jaeger/Maro Engel/Mikael Grenier

Habul and the SunEnergy1 Mercedes return in 2018 after their first full-season program in the WeatherTech Championship last year. He and then-co-driver Tristan Vautier earned a pair of podium results last season. Vautier has joined the Spirit of Daytona team in the Prototype class for 2018. Canadian driver Grenier, who has previous experience in Indy Lights, will be making his WeatherTech Championship and Rolex 24 debut. Engel, a Mercedes-AMG factory driver who owns victories in the Nurburgring 24 Hours and Bathurst 12 Hours, will be making his third Rolex 24 start, while former DTM racer Jager – also a Mercedes factory pilot – is back for his second straight Rolex 24.

 

No. 82 Risi Competizione

Ferrari 488 GT3

Miguel Molina/Ricardo Perez de Lara/Martin Fuentes/Santiago Creel/Matt Griffin

Longtime GTLM competitors Risi Competizione expands its efforts to the GTD class in 2018 with a Ferrari. Spaniard Molina is a Ferrari factory driver who won the Gulf 12 Hours late last year, while Fuentes, Creel and Perez de Lara hail from Mexico. Perez de Lara, who has driven for Ferrari of Houston’s Ferrari Challenge team for several years, is back for his second Rolex 24 and first since 2013. Fuentes was part of the same Racers Edge Motorsports lineup as Perez de Lara in 2013 and owns a Pirelli World Challenge GTA championship. He also is making his second career Rolex 24 start. Creel has participated in the last two Rolex 24s as part of the TRG team, and is driving his third different car in the race after running a Porsche last year and an Aston Martin two years ago. Irishman Griffin is a Ferrari racer whose résumé includes a Blancpain Endurance Series title in 2015 and an ELMS title in 2013. This will be his third Rolex 24, but his first since 2015.

No. 86 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian

Acura NSX GT3

Katherine Legge/Alvaro Parente/Trent Hindman/AJ Allmendinger

Legge, who alongside then-co-driver Andy Lally gave the Acura NSX GT3 its first two victories last year at Detroit and Watkins Glen, returns to the MSR team for a Patrón Endurance Cup program this year with co-driver Parente, the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge GT champion. NASCAR racer Allmendinger returns to the Shank team – with which he won the 2012 Rolex 24 At Daytona – after a year’s absence. Hindman, the 2014 Continental Tire Challenge GS champion, is back for his second straight Rolex 24 this year.

No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian

Acura NSX GT3

Justin Marks/Lawson Aschenbach/Mario Farnbacher/Come Ledogar

Marks, who first made a name for himself in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and earned eight career victories – including a GT-class win in the 2009 Rolex 24 – before shifting his focus to NASCAR, is back for a full season in the WeatherTech Championship alongside Aschenbach, who raced the past several years in GTD for Stevenson Motorsports. Farnbacher is a two-time Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring winner, and Ledogar, a Blancpain Endurance Series champion, will make his first Rolex 24 appearance.

No. 96 Turner Motorsport

BMW M6 GT3

Jens Klingmann/Martin Tomczyk/Mark Kvamme/Don Yount

Klingmann and Tomczyk are both BMW works drivers. Klingmann owns three career WeatherTech Championship victories, all with Turner Motorsport, while former DTM champion Tomczyk competed in the full WeatherTech Championship for the first time last year as part of BMW Team RLL’s GTLM program and will focus most of his attention on BMW’s new-for-2018 FIA WEC program after the Rolex. Kvamme and Yount both competed extensively in the WeatherTech Championship Prototype Challenge (PC) class over the past few years. This will be Kvamme’s fifth consecutive Rolex 24, but it will be just his second in a GT car. For Yount, it will be his third Rolex 24. He finished third in the PC class in last year’s race.

 

 

 

 

 

 

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 24 2018
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