Well folks, the Roar Before The Rolex 24 is over and race week later this month beckons. The track action last weekend at Daytona has left us with much to discuss and look forward to when the IMSA paddock reconvenes in two weeks time.

Here is a selection of news nibs and talking points from the test.

Corvette C8.R off to positive start

This year’s Rolex 24 Hours is set to be a historic one for Corvette Racing, racing its new mid-engined C8.R for the first time. Corvette last trotted out a new car in 2014 and unlike many of their competitors, the jump from the C7.R to the C8.R isn’t so much an evolution as it as a revolution. With that comes a laundry list of checks that the team needs to complete — all while getting six drivers accustomed to the new car.

“I feel like I’ve gotten a decent number of laps. I’m comfortable in the car and with the system, but not completely 100 percent. I think that is true for all of us. We will continue to work on that,” Nick Catsburg said. The Roar was Catsburg’s first experience with Corvette Racing. The Dutchmen joins Corvette after a long stint as a factory driver with BMW.

“In terms of my first experience and first few laps, it’s good. It feels like a very natural experience to drive. In the same way, the first experiences with Corvette Racing have been very good,” Catsburg added.

The two Corvette C8.R’s combined to complete 341 laps over the course of the test. For reference, the winning car in GTLM at last year’s rain-plagued Rolex 24 completed 571 laps.

Chevrolet engineers will now begin the process of analysing the data collected. Its drivers are also expected to continue working on the simulator between now and the Rolex 24 at Daytona in three weeks.

“We had a massively long list but I think we got through most of everything we wanted to,” Jordan Taylor said.

“Getting to work on little things like seatbelts, driver comfort, and driver changes… you don’t get a lot of chances to practice that on a live pit lane. We checked a lot of boxes, but we found some other ones we can work on come the week of the race,” Jordan Taylor said.

Corvette won’t be the only GTLM competitor with a new car, however. Porsche will bring an evolution to their 911 RSR, but that car has already seen race running in the WEC. While the WEC and IMSA programmes are managed by different teams, a crucial understanding of the car can still be learned.

“There are still some things we need to get right… procedural things that we would like to get better. But that is pretty normal with a new car. It’s very rare to come to the Roar and then the Rolex 24 with a brand new car and have absolutely everything covered,” Oliver Gavin said.

Having been with Corvette since 2002, Gavin is the elder-statesmen of the entourage. When he gets in the car during the Rolex 24, he will become the only person to have driving four different versions of the Corvette race car, having already piloted the C5.R, C6.R, and C7.R.

“We’ve all been through this race many times and know what it can throw at you. We’re all eyes-open but somewhat satisfied with how things have gone and progressed,” Gavin said.

DragonSpeed not involved in Era LMP2 programme

DragonSpeed has revealed that it is now not involved in Era Motorsports’ new IMSA LMP2 programme. The US-flagged LMP2 and IndyCar team tweeted out today that its crew, originally slated to help run Era’s ORECA, will play no part in the team’s LMP2 effort.

Status of #98 Aston Martin still unclear

The status of the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT3 which is entered into the IMSA GTD class for the Rolex 24 Hours is still unclear following the news that Paul Dalla Lana will be unable to take part in the meeting due to a skiing incident.

AMR is still in the process of working out whether or not it can or will race later this month in what will be the debut of the new Vantage GT3 in IMSA competition.

The Vantage in question did make the trip to Florida despite Dalla Lana’s absence and after sitting out Friday and part of Saturday, turned laps on Saturday night and on Sunday.

Mathias Lauda, Pedro Lamy and Ross Gunn (who is currently en route to The Bend in Australia for Round 2 of the Asian Le Mans Series season) all set times, gaining valuable experience on the Daytona banking with the Vantage.

If the #98 does not take part in the Rolex 24, Aston Martin will still have a representation in the GTD class with The Heart of Racing. The GTD class would also drop to 17 cars.

Encouraging weekend for The Heart of Racing

Speaking of The Heart of Racing, the team left Daytona on Sunday night in good spirits after a promising showing with its brand new Vantage GT3.

In what was the first outing for the team’s programme after a three-year hiatus, Ian James, Alex Riberas, Roman De Angelis and AMR works driver Nicki Thiim managed plenty of laps as the crew got used to running the car in a competitive environment.

“All in all, I think it was a very good weekend”, said De Angelis. “We progressed as a team well bearing in mind, we had a brand-new platform to work on and not only for us, but for the North American market. It was great to finally be together with the team, my teammates did an awesome job all weekend helping me get used to the Aston Martin Vantage GT3. Really looking forward to going into the 24-hour race strong and I think we have a good chance to at least fight. That’s what we came here to learn, and that’s what we’re coming out with so I’m looking forward to getting going later in the month.”

Thiim was also full of praise for his new team.

“What a good weekend meeting The Heart of Racing for the first time,” Thiim added. “Obviously as the factory driver I’m trying to get to know the guys as fast as I can and give them as much information as I can to learn the car which is also new for the team. I have to say, a brilliant job from everyone, and I know I probably have to say it, but I really feel like the chemistry within the team, it feels really good together, especially between the four drivers – already big respect.

“What I’ve noticed and what I really like is how calm everyone is, everyone knows their role, and that just makes it so much easier to work together. Really brilliant effort by everyone, pretty much no issues and we used the whole of every practice session to get everything as race ready as we could. We got the maximum out of it, as much information as we could, and I cannot wait to come back for the race.”

During the Roar the team’s car ran in plain white. It has since revealed its livery for the Rolex 24 (above).

Video of Pla’s stunning time

Mazda Team Joest was talk of the town on Sunday after Olivier Pla’s stunning performance in Roar DPi Qualifying (to decide the pit placements for race week). Pla managed to eclipse Oliver Jarvis’ stunning record-breaking time from last year, with a 1:33.324. That’s the quickest ever lap around the Daytona Infield circuit. It’s an unofficial record, but it’s still nevertheless impressive.

Here’s the onboard:

Mazda once again displayed real speed during the Roar, but the race itself is what matters most. Can Mazda add to its 2019 successes?

“Our focus this weekend was to work on our cars for the race to give our two cars the best chance for success when we return at the end of the month,” said Nelson Cosgrove
the new director of Mazda Motorsports.

“Our plan was to show our true pace and work through the items we needed to work through and give each of the driver’s plenty of opportunity to improve the cars. But it has been great to have both Mazda RT24-Ps lead sessions and be fast throughout all three days. Olivier put together an amazing lap and the team is confident in the car that we have for the race.

“One of our primary goals this season is to be successful in the endurance races, and even though today’s results will mean very little on race day, it’s great to know that we are on the right path.”

Hardpoint Audi quickest in Pilot Challenge testing

In addition to the testing for the WeatherTech teams, the almost 40 Michelin Pilot Challenge runners also turned laps and tested ahead of their four-hour season opener on Rolex 24 race week.

Following six testing sessions, Spencer Pumpelly in the #31 Team Hardpoint Audi R8 GT4 owned the fastest time of the weekend, a 1:53.555, posted during the Sunday morning practice. Pumpelly returns to Daytona alongside co-driver Rob Ferriol, both of whom shared an Audi for the final three races of 2019.

While the Team Hardpoint car led two of the six sessions, the #33 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4 led the way through the first three.

“Testing doesn’t say much, everyone is getting warm,” said Dutchman Indy Dontje, who will co-drive with Russell Ward for the second straight season. “It was good to be back directly on top, but you never know what everyone is doing.

“At least it’s good to be back with the team. Everybody is in a good rhythm. We have actually a lot of the same faces, so I think that is also a really good thing for us because everybody knows what he’s doing and for that reason, I think we came out really good.”

In the TCR class, Stephen Simpson broke the two-minute mark during the final practice, topping the class’ charts at 1:59.846 for the weekend. While no longer with JDC-Miller Motorsports in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Simpson remains with the team in Pilot Challenge as the longtime coach for Michael Johnson. The two return in the No. 54 Audi RS3 LMS.

Additionally, the No. 18 TEAM PREMAT Audi, the #5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta and the #21 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Veloster N posted fastest laps in class by a session’s end.

The four-hour BMW Endurance Challenge opens the 2020 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season on Friday, January 24.

Image courtesy of IMSA

Fittipaldi named Grand Marshal

Three-time Rolex 24 winner Christian Fittipaldi (pictured above, left) will serve as Grand Marshal for the 2020 Rolex 24 at Daytona later this month. The Brazillian, whose career spanned NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1 and of course sportscar racing, retired after the 2019 edition and will be back this year as part of this role.

“Daytona has brought me a lot more happy moments than bad moments,’’ Fittipaldi said. “I’ll cherish Daytona for the rest of my life. I managed to win the race three times and I think I finished another three or four times on the podium. I can’t complain, I had a pretty decent run over here.’

“I don’t feel the need to be in the car, so far I’m very good. I come to the track and I’m happy to be at the track and happy to be able to help but if you ask me, would you like to be in the car right now, yeah, maybe I’m curious. If you ask me, do you want to be in the car right now? No, I don’t want to be in the car right now.

“My heart is 100 percent at peace.’’

Busch settles into AVS Lexus

NASCAR star Kyle Busch will generate a lot of interest at this year’s Rolex 24 Hours, with many fans stateside keen to track his progress in what will be his first GTD start in an AVS Lexus RCF GT3.

Busch turned 44 laps over the weekend and set his best time, a 1:46.633, in the final session of the weekend on Sunday.

Clearly there will be a lot of adjusting for Busch when it comes to the race, the American, like the many NASCAR drivers before him to make Rolex 24 appearances, is having to get to grips with a car that is worlds apart from the stock cars he drives week to week.

“I learned from Jack (Hawksworth) that correct road course driver etiquette is to not ever be on the outside of another guy ‘cause they’ll just force you off,” Busch said on Sunday. “He was actually quite entertained when he ran his NASCAR race at Road America last year that guys would actually give you room on the outside of the corner and not just throw you off on the dirt.”

Busch says a big challenge is controlling the Lexus under braking, as his NASCAR Toyota Camry carries a great deal more weight than the RC F GT3, and also features ABS. The amount of visibility during the night too was a surprise for the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion.

“What do you even need the headlights for? There’s plenty of light,” Busch said. “I raced local short tracks, some of them dirt, and there wasn’t very much light at those places.

“It seems as though my eyes still work OK.”

Busch will return to Daytona later this month and race with Hawksworth, Parker Chase and Michael De Quesada.

Forty7 wins Prototype Challenge opener

The IMSA Prototype Challenge season got underway during the Roar weekend with a three-hour race. In it, an all-new driver lineup delivered similar results for the 2019 IMSA Prototype Challenge championship-winning #47 Forty7 Motorsports team, as Joel Janco, JJ Jorge and Kyle Kirkwood, co-drove to victory on Saturday in their Norma.

The team fell off the lead lap early after an incident under rainy conditions in the Bus Stop with their team car, the #40, but battled back in the final hour to get into contention for the victory. On a restart with 28 minutes remaining, Kirkwood lined up fourth behind the #75 of Max Hanratty, the #17 of Garett Grist and race leader Dakota Dickerson in the #54 entry.

Kirkwood and the #47 Norma M30 quickly made their way forward, and 10 minutes later he took the lead from Dickerson at the start-finish line. He cruised the rest of the way to win by 8.846 seconds.

It was Kirkwood’s first IMSA Prototype Challenge victory, coming in his first series start. However, he does have one previous win aboard an LMP3 car in an IMSA-sanctioned race, the 2018 Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore at Sebring International Raceway co-driving with Canadian Roman De Angelis.

“This is my third time in an LMP3 car, the first time with the Norma last month we did a couple of amateur test days earlier in December,” said Kirkwood. “This is really my first time at speed in this car. I adjusted to it really quick. It kind of suits my driving style. For me, I like more of an understeering car and I think that suits more for myself than the Ligier does.”

Janco and Jorge co-drove to the IMSA Prototype Challenge Bronze Cup championship in 2019, but this was their first overall race victory in the series. They won the non-points Michelin IMSA SportsCar Encore in November 2019 with IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular and past IMSA Prototype Challenge champion Tristan Nunez as their co-driver.

Matt Bell and Naveen Rao finished second in the #64 K2R Motorsports Norma following a late-race rally from Bell, who restarted fifth with 28 minutes to go. Rao started the race from the pole position.

Third place went to the #54 MLT Motorsports Ligier JS P3 squad of Dickerson and Dean Baker. Cameron Cassels and Hanratty came home fourth in the #75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier, with Grist and Rob Hodes completing the top five in the #17 Nielsen Racing Norma.

Image courtesy of IMSA

Dickinson receives Hurley Haywood Scholarship

Seventeen-year-old driver Riley Dickinson is the 2020 recipient of the IMSA Hurley Haywood GT3 Cup Scholarship. The award goes towards a full season of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA racing that opens on the weekend of March 13-15 at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“I’ve been impressed with the quality of the attendees during each of the eight iterations, and this past November’s Porsche Young Driver Academy was no different,” said five-time Daytona, three-time Le Mans, and two-time Sebring winner Hurley Haywood.” The young drivers come from increasingly diverse backgrounds and are sharper, more media savvy and confident every year.

“I enjoy giving back to talented young drivers, so I see it as a natural, next step combining IMSA and Porsche Motorsport’s efforts together for the scholarship, and I am proud to see it grow. With Riley Dickinson already having national, and international experience in a 911 GT3 Cup race car, I am confident his natural talent in and out of the race car will only continue to flourish.”

Dickinson, who hails from New Braunfels, Texas, finished third as a rookie in the 2019 GT3 Cup Challenge USA Platinum Cup championship standings for current-generation Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race cars. He claimed his first victory in the series in the penultimate round of the season at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in October and had seven podium results from the 16-race season during the season.

He will return to the cockpit of the #53 Moorespeed Porsche in 2020.

Dickinson is the fourth recipient of the IMSA Hurley Haywood GT3 Cup Scholarship, joining Sean McAlister (2019), Max Root (2018) and Jake Eidson (2017).

The scholarship provides more than $85,000 in value for Dickinson and includes the following benefits:

– Full-season, premium entry for the 2020 GT3 Cup Challenge USA season provided by IMSA
– One free set of race tyres per event provided by Yokohama
– $20,000 in parts credit provided by Porsche Motorsport North America
– A custom driver suit and other safety products provided by OMP
– Two full sets of brakes provided by PFC Brakes
– Promotional consideration by RACER Magazine

Doonan on his first IMSA meeting at President

New IMSA President John Doonan, the former motorsports director of Mazda North America, spent last weekend getting the first taste of his new role, filling the shoes of former President Scott Atherton.

Doonan admitted that his new job in overseeing IMSA has required a bit of adjustment.

“Little different not having a specific horse in the race,” Doonan said while speaking with media on Friday. “I sat back in my office for the first time all weekend and watched the first session quietly because I didn’t want to show any emotion on pit road for anybody in particular.

“I explained to some people who don’t necessarily understand sports car racing that I used to be responsible for the elephants in the circus, now I’m responsible for the whole circus.

“It was an awesome journey, a boyhood dream to work for Mazda. Several people in the garage area said I can’t believe you’re wearing a different shirt.

“But rarely do you get to live out two boyhood dreams. In February of ‘79, I was sitting in my living room with my family, at that time there were just regular, I don’t even think it was hourly, I think it was every six or eight hours they gave some updates from Daytona and the Rolex 24.

“To imagine being a young person like that, I spoke about being that next generation of wanting to be somehow in the game or be part of the action. And now to have had the opportunities I’ve had at Mazda and now to come here, it’s really hard to explain.”

The Rolex 24 is set to be a huge weekend for Doonan. It will be his first major event in charge, and with the decision on DPi-Hypercar convergence looming, it will be interesting to see whether or not we get a glimpse into his plans for the future of IMSA.

At the Roar, when asked about the TV/streaming product for 2020 he spoke about the importance of growth.

“We – as a collective, and I continue to use the word ‘we’ and that’s not just ‘we’ IMSA, it’s ‘we’ the team owners, ‘we’ the drivers, ‘we’ the media community – need to do our ever best to continue to grow our platforms and to grow our value,” he said.

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