DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—For fifty years sports car racers—and fans—have been coming to Daytona International Speedwat at the end of January for a grueling but exciting 24-hour ordeal, a beautiful but brutal endurance test, one of the first races, and one of the biggest races of the global sports car season.
The IMSA WeatherTech Rolex 24 at Daytona is the latest incarnation of this proud sports car tradition, and it looks to be one of the best editions of the past several years.
IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has ironed out a lot of imbalances and incorporated a lot of new cars and new ideas. For the first time in several years, many different cars of many different types have a chance at the overall win, while there is more variety in the various classes than has been offered in a decade.
Judging by Internet input, even some of the more skeptical fans are excited about this year’s race—and pleasing the fans is always the hardest task.
This year, the LMP2-derived prototypes dominate the grid, but the updated Daytona Prototypes still have the better record of reliability. Because there was only a single hour of dry practice for what will be a dry race, how teams adapt to changing conditions will matter more than it usually does.
As always, experience will play a major role—being fast in the frst hour is exciting, but being fast in the final hour is all that really counts. Getting the car to last until Sunday afternoon is what matters. Multiple endurance-race winners like Chip Ganassi Racing and Action Express aren’t going to worry that Extreme Speed Motorsports and Shank Racing are ahead on the starting grid.
The pole-sitting #37 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan blew an engine in Friday practice; how good is the replacement engine? It won’t have as many test miles on it as the old one, but then, it could last longer for being fresher.
Katherine Legge in the #0 Panoz DeltaWing was quickest in Friday practice—which could be dismissed as a fluke if the car hadn’t also been quickest at times during the Roar Before the 24 test earlier this month.
Another pair of veterans who are now contenders are the two SpeedSource Mazda prototypes. With their new gasoline engines in place of the old diesels, the cars having been running top five consistently.
The IMSA WeatherTech Rolex 24 at Daytona takes the green flag at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 and finishes up Sunday, the 31st.
Tickets are available through the Daytona International Speedway website, or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. The race will be televised on Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, and streamed on IMSA.com, which will also have live timing.