IMSA’s Finest “Roar” At Daytona

Michael Shank Racing's Honda Ligier topped speed charts in all but two sessions. [Joe Jennings Photo]

Michael Shank Racing’s Honda Ligier topped speed charts in all but two sessions. [Joe Jennings Photo]

DAYTONA BEACH – For the 54th running of the famed Rolex 24 at Daytona, the legendary race has drawn 54 teams, comprised of 13 Prototypes, 8 Prototype Challenges, 11 GT LeMans (GTLM) and 22 GT Daytona (GDT) entries. To warm up for the grueling event, the teams came to the Daytona International Speedway this weekend to participate in a three-day test dubbed the “Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.”

The Rolex 24 at Daytona on January 30 and 31 marks the opening of the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season and as usual, it has drawn a world-class field of drivers. Included in the line-up are two Prototypes entered by Chip Ganassi Racing, the vaunted team which has won six and been runner-up twice in last nine years. Adding to the team’s car count is two newly structured Ford GTs, which are entered in the GTLM class.

A year ago, racing headliners Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson powered their way to victory in Ganassi’s Ford EcoBoost/Riley DP, and they are back seeking to repeat.

Action Express Racing Corvette DP has two entries, including the two-time defending championship drivers Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi. For the upcoming Rolex 24, five-time overall winner Scott Pruett has joined the line-up.

In the GTLM class, the new Ford GTs will be doing battle with two new BMW M6 cars from BMW Team RLL and two new Ferrari 488s in addition to two each Corvette Racing and Porsche North America.

The GTD class will show-off new cars that are adhering to full FIA GT3 technical regulations for its seven manufacturers. Lamborghini has joined the GTD class in 2016 with four entries.

Also taking the road course this weekend was a full field of cars from the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge in preparation for the BMW Performance 200 on January 29.

The WeatherTech Championship cars were scheduled for eight on-track sessions while the Continental group had six sessions.

Michael Shank Racing’s Honda HPD Ligier topped the speed charts in the initial rounds with drivers Olivier Pla, Oz Negri, John Pew and A. J. Allmendinger. This team is the defending race pole winner.

One round leader was the sleek Panoz Delta Wing of Katherine Legge, Sean Rayhall, Andrew Mayrick and Andreas Wirth with Legge leading the way.

On a foggy, misty Saturday evening, the Shank Car in the hands of Pla once again dominated the action and the Frenchman soared to the top again on Sunday.

But as the day neared its close, a new name, Pipo Derani, a rookie at Daytona, took the overall speed honors with a time of 1:39.249 while driving the Tequila Patron ESM Honda HPD Ligier. His co-drivers are Scott Sharp, Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek.

Said the 22-year old Brazilian, “This speed means nothing now as we don’t know what the other teams are doing. But it is a good feeling after being here for the first time. I had these 3 days to learn the track, the tires and the Honda engine, and it means I managed to find my way through. We just took our time and did our best.”

In the PC class, the Starworks Motorsport team of Alex Popow, Jack Hawksworth, Ranger van Zande and Chris Cumming was fastest.

The BMW Team RLL of Lucas Luhr, John Edwards, Kuno Wittmer and Graham Rahal bested the GTLM class.

And GTD speed honors went to the Alex Job Racing Porsche 991 GT3R co-driven by Cooper and David MacNeil, Leh Keen, Gunnar Jeannette and Shane van Gisbergen.

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