First to first – the GTLM battle
First to first – the GTLM battle
If the first major race of the New Year asks, “what’s new?” The answer is, “nearly everything.”
The Rolex 24 At Daytona is the first event for the new IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and opens the stunning $400 million Daytona Rising Stadium. Icing the new season cake is the spectacular array of new cars.
The highly anticipated debut of the Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) Ford EcoBoost GTs adds yet another top manufacturer and a pair of stunning cars to the powerful GTLM class.
Since Ford announced its return to competition at Le Mans last June, the Ford CGR team has been on an aggressive testing and development path in preparation for its competition debut here.
Joey Hand will drive with Dirk MÃ¼ller while Ryan Briscoe (pictured left) is teamed with Richard Westbrook. Both pairs are joined here by Sebastien Bourdais and Stefan MÃ¼cke respectively.
They have checked all the pre-flight development boxes and are ready to race.
Ford is not the only manufacturer introducing a new GTLM class car here at the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
BMW Team RLL presents a pair of new BMW M6 GTLMs, while Ferrari enters a trio of the spectacular new 488 GTEs in the hands of the Scuderia Corsa, Risi Competizione Ferrari and SMP Racing teams.
Showing early pace, BMW’s Lucas Luhr topped the GTLM time sheets in the early January tests here.
“It’s a new game with the new car,” said Luhr. “It’s a total change from the Z4. The drivability is different with a turbocharged engine rather than a naturally aspirated engine like the Z4 had.”
With Bill Auberlen, John Edwards and Dirk Werner joining Luhr on the full season WeatherTech Championship entry list and Graham Rahal, Augusto Farfus, Kuno Wittmer and Bruno Spengler also on board here, BMW is anxious to kick off its 100th anniversary year in style.
“The car feels different and you take a different approach to driving it,” said Luhr. “It’s a big difference,” said Luhr of an M6 that is wider, longer, and taller than his 2015 BMW Z4 ride.
Opening the season with a premier 24-hour race is a big challenge, especially with a brand new car.
“When you have a brand new car you always find some things that are not ideal and then you work to improve those things or to adjust to them,” said Luhr, whose veteran BMW Team RLL finished second by a mere 0.48 seconds here in 2015.
While the popular Risi Competizione team awaited delivery of its new Ferrari 488 GTE, the team joined with longtime Ferrari stalwart AF Corse at the recent Roar Before the 24 test with GTLM newcomers Scuderia Corsa and SMP Racing in a thorough testing regimen of the new car.
While the pace, traffic, and reliability challenges in the frantic Rolex 24 At Daytona are daunting, an even bigger battle awaits as Ford, BMW and Ferrari try to unseat the 2015 IMSA GTLM champions from Porsche North America and the Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans GTLM winning Corvette Racing team.
Porsche North America’s Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy shocked the competition on a rain soaked Road Atlanta with an overall race victory for their MICHELIN-fitted GTLM class Porsche 911 RSR in the 2015 season finale.
With updated cars, and teammates Frederic Makowiecki and Earl Bamber, they are primed to take on all comers in the 2016 WeatherTech Championship.
There is a similar story at Corvette Racing. Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Ryan Briscoe took the 2015 GTLM wins at Daytona and Sebring while teammates Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor completed the endurance racing GT category Triple Crown at the Le Mans 24 Hour race.
Both Porsche and Corvette have made significant updates under the 2016 GTLM rules which significantly increase downforce by permitting wider bodywork, a bigger rear diffuser, and an additional set back on the rear wing in addition to safety changes.
“The updates give our cars more downforce and make them more fun to drive,” said Corvette’s Tommy Milner.
“We can go deeper under braking and the new MICHELIN tires have certainly helped us to make a good step forward.” Former Le Mans winners Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler bolster the deep Corvette line up here.
With five premier manufacturers presenting a total of 11 GTLM entries, a stunning 60 percent of respondents in a pre-season poll by RACER.com voted the class as the one they looked forward to most in 2016 WeatherTech Championship competition.
And that is nothing new.