“Roar Before The 24 At Daytona” Kicks Off The 2017 Season

No. 13 Rebellion Racing's Neel Jani topped the speed charts throughout the weekend. [Joe Jennings Photo]

No. 13 Rebellion Racing’s Neel Jani topped the speed charts throughout the weekend. [Joe Jennings Photo]

By Joe Jennings

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. – While much of the United States was being buried with snow or ravaging water, 55 sports-car teams descended on the Daytona International Speedway to participate in a three-day test, marking the final tune-up before the 55th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona on January 28-29.

The Rolex 24 is run on DIS’s twisting 3.56-mile road course, and the race marks the opening of IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar championship season. Without competition from other events, the venerable race always draws the best drivers in the world.

Adding spice to the driver line-up is NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon. He’s co-driving a Prototype entry for Wayne Taylor Racing.

Seven practice sessions were held at different times of day and night, to allow teams the opportunity to simulate actual race conditions during the 24-hour event. The teams also experienced a variety of weather conditions, ranging from hot and sunny on Friday, rain and blustery conditions on Saturday to very cold temperatures and windy on Sunday.

The spotlight is on IMSA this year as its fastest Daytona Prototype cars are no more, being replaced by new and higher-tech DPi machines, seven of which were on hand. Of the 55 teams on hand, there were12 Prototypes including five former P2 entries; five Prototype Challenge open-cockpit cars, 11 GT LeMans (GTLM) machines, to include four Ford GTs from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing; and 27 entries from the ever-expanding GT Daytona (GTD) class.

In addition to the Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and BMWs, the GTD class has expanded to encompass entries from Acura, Lexus and Mercedes.

Leading the overall speed parade was Ben Henley driving the DragonSpeed ORECA. The 31-year old Brit’s fastest lap was accomplished Sunday morning. His time was 1:38.343 or 130.3 miles per hour.

Said the Daytona rookie, “We’ve had a great three days. It didn’t take long to learn the track, although there were some tricky bumps in the infield. It is also about the lap you get, as you don’t often get a good clean lap. You have to pick the right time to push for the lap. For me, turn 7 is the trickiest turn for me.

“Winning the Roar is a great start for the race. We will take the data and see how we can improve upon it.”

Until Hanley’s quick time, Rebellion Racing’s Swiss driver Neel Jani led four sessions with teammate Sebastien Buemi the final one. In between, Wayne Taylor Racing’s Ricky Taylor led session three.

In the only serious on-track incident, Marcel Fassler escaped injury when his Corvette Racing C7.R caught fire entering the banked portion of the track. The incident looked serious but the car is expected to be salvageable.

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