Roar Before the Rolex 24 Preview

Racing will be close for the whole 24 hours. [Photo by Jack Webster]

Racing will be close for the whole 24 hours. [Photo by Jack Webster]

By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

The holidays are behind us now and it is time to get back to work. IMSA’s 50th Anniversary season is about to get underway this weekend at Daytona International Speedway as the Roar Before the Rolex 24 takes place.

47 entries, 37 of which are planning on full season runs in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be on hand at the historic high banks of Daytona for official testing which will set the stage for the Rolex 24 at the end of January.

Included in those 47 entries for the Roar are 11 DPi cars (freshly unleashed for 2019 so that they can show their true speed), 3 LMP2 cars (in deference to the DPi class, these guys are no longer in the hunt for overall wins – unless the entire DPi grid runs into major problems), 9 GTLM entries – the usual two car entries from Corvette, BMW, Ford and Porsche, with a single entry from Ferrari, and finally 23 GTD cars, made up of entries from Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, Lexus, Ferrari, Acura, Mercedes-AMG and BMW.

With the addition of Michelin to the DPi, LMP2 and GTD ranks this season (GTLM was always an “open” category as far as tires were concerned, but all used Michelin), the entire field for the 2019 Rolex 24 will be on Michelin rubber. Certainly, another good reason for everyone to get as many laps in as possible at the Roar.

The biggest news is in the DPi ranks, where two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso will be making his second appearance in the Rolex 24, this time with Wayne Taylor Racing in the Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi. Joining the Taylor squad with Alonso for the Rolex will be Toyota FIA-WEC endurance driver Kamui Kobayahsi. The Wayne Taylor led outfit, with regular drivers Jordon Taylor and Renger van der Zande will be quite formidable with the previously mentioned Alonso and Kobayashi taking slots 3 and 4 for the 24-hour race. You would be foolish not to count them as one of the favorites this year.

Not to be counted out, and certainly in a position to will overall this year, will be the John Doonan led Mazda Team Joest squad and their #55 and #77 Mazda DPi entries. There have been some dramatic personnel changes at Joest since the end of last season including bringing Jan Lange in as CEO of Joest Racing and team manager of the MTJ effort, the addition of Timo Bernhard, Rene Rast and Olivier Pla to the driver lineup for the Rolex 24, bringing Leena Gade onboard as engineer, and most recently, acquiring the services of the legendary Brad Kettler (recently departed from Audi’s ranks) as a “consultant” to Mazda Team Joest for Daytona and possibly more (if they want to win it all, they will get Brad locked in for the season – there isn’t a better race strategy guy in the business). It is looking like Reinhold Joest is literally getting the band back together – all the key players from the ultra-successful Audi days reunited to start racking up those wins that Mazda has come so close to in the past, but which to date have eluded them. Looks like things will be different in 2019.
As usual, GTLM looks to be super competitive from start to finish, with the factory teams from Corvette, Ford, BMW, Porsche and Ferrari set to duke it out for the class win. All are coming off of a strong 2018 season and are returning with virtually the same equipment they ran last year.

In GTLM, Alex Zanardi will be joining BMW Team RRL for the Rolex 24, driving one of their M8 GTE cars fitted with special hand controls. We would be lying if we said we wouldn’t be rooting for Zanardi to win class at the Rolex 24.

The GTD class comprises 23 entries, and as is always the case, it is anyone’s race to win (or lose), with very strong entries throughout the class.

Of note, and a personal favorite of ours in the class, the Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo will be piloted by the all-female driving team of Katherine Legge, Bia Figueiredo, Simon De Silvestro and late addition, two time IMSA Champion Christina Nielsen. Nielsen is subbing for regular driver Jackie Heinricher, who is out with a back injury, but who will be on hand in the pit box throughout the race, cheering her companions on. Jackie plans on being back in the cockpit in time for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

So, there you have a teaser of what is to come at Daytona in the following days and weeks. We can feel it right now, the excitement building for IMSA’s historic 50th year. We have been there almost from the start and it is an honor and a pleasure to be covering this great series in 2019.

If you haven’t made your plans to attend the Rolex 24, there is still plenty of time to do so. This year’s race is one that you are going to want to attend in person, so get there if you possibly can.

We will be looking for you.

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