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Hot Laps At The Roar

First laps for Fernando Alonzo. [photo by Eddie LePine]

First laps for Fernando Alonzo. [photo by Eddie LePine]

By Eddie LePine

I spent the week at Daytona for the Roar Before the 24, the official test session for the IMSA WeatherTech series in the run up to the Rolex 24 that takes place at the end of the month.

I arrived on Friday to take in the practice sessions, speak with drivers and to get a sense of what the 2018 season will be like.

While the weather was unseasonably cold (and I do mean cold), 50 cars from the three classes of competition showed up for the Roar, with an outstanding field of 20 prototypes leading the way.

Of course, the world’s media attention was focused on one Fernando Alonso, who was taking his first laps at Daytona in the United Autosports Ligier LMP2.

His goal? “To be a better driver when the 24 hour finishes.”

The week was full of firsts for Fernando. As he said at the press conference: “First time for me in an endurance race, first time in a prototype car, first time driving at night, first time driving with GT (cars) around, so many new things…”

If his performance last year at the Indianapolis 500 is to be any guide, Alonso should do quite well at Daytona. First and foremost, he is a driver, and a very good one at that. It was a pleasure to meet him and watch him get down to work.

The American fans are going to love him. A huge crowd of spectators showed up at the Roar to watch the unveiling of IMSA’s 2018 field of competitors and I expect that once we get to the actual Rolex 24 at Daytona, there will be a record crowd on hand to experience this classic of American endurance racing.

IMSA seems to have their act fully together and the 2018 season promises to be an outstanding one.

After all the sessions, including the qualifying session to determine pit box location and garage assignments (a clever ploy by IMSA to get the teams to show some of their true speed), the Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi set the fastest lap of the week at 1:35.806. As a matter of fact, the Cadillacs started off 2018 just the way they started 2017, as the fastest 4 cars were all Caddys. Team Penske was fifth and sixth, followed by the Tequila Patron ESM Nissan and the Mazda Team Joest Mazda DPi. Again, a little early to tell how the actual race will sort out, as there is likely to be a Bop adjustment or two on the Cadillacs, but as it is the top 11 cars in the prototype class were only separated by just over 1.5 seconds.

In GTLM, it was the Ford GT on top, with Corvette, Porsche, Ferrari and BMW closely behind, and in GTD is looks to be anybody’s race, with Lamborghini on top, but Audi, Porsche, Acura, Lexus, Ferrari, Mercedes and BMW all within about a second of the fastest time.

Scott Pruett, who will be driving the 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3, announced his retirement from racing effective at the conclusion of the 2018 Rolex 24. He has had quite the career, spanning 5 decades and multiple championships, including five overall Rolex 24 wins. His always present smile and easy-going manner will be missed in the future, and I wish him well.

But now it is time to get ready for what will probably be the best Rolex 24 I have ever attended and witnessed. Are you ready for the racing season to start?

I certainly am.

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Eddie has been involved in motorsports for over 30 years as photographer, columnist, and driver. Eddie also is now a retired racer (well, retired unless a good ride pops up).