DAYTONA, Fla.—The Tudor United Sports Car Series 2015 Roar Before the Rolex 24 starts Friday at Daytona International Speedway, giving fans a chance to see the cars and drivers which will compete throughout the 2015 season.
GT Le Mans class is probably the most popular of the series’ four classes, despite being far from the biggest. The class features highly modified versions of the street-legal sports car many fans aspire to own (or at least dream about owning.) Corvettes, Porsches, Ferraris, BMWs, and Astons battle to be the best production-based sports cars, displaying performance capabilities second only to the purpose-built race cars of the Prototype class.
GTLM is an all-pro class, and most of the teams are either directly factory-supported or receive unofficial technical support. Corvette Racing, Aston Martin Racing, BMW Team RLL, Porsche North America—these are the teams the manufacturers pick to represent them on the racing stage. AF Corse and Risi Competizione are long-time Ferrari surrogates—the factory doesn’t officially race in any series but F1, but it provides engineering and equipment assistance to these teams. Team Falken Tire also gets support, though less than the factory cars.
All these teams are supplied with factory drives—hand-picked pilots under contract to the factories to compete in top-tier GT series around the world.
IMSA has adjusted the Balance of Performance for 2015 to create more separation between classes. For the GTLM class this means more horsepower, and for some cars, less weight.
2014 Driver and team champions Kuno Wittmer and Jonathan Bomarito of SRT Motorsports will not be back with their SRT Dodge Vipers in 2015. Despite the racing version finishing first and third in the team points, second as a manufacturer, and the drivers taking four of the top five spots, sales of the street car were not sufficient to please the brass at Fiat Chrysler. These cars were tremendously popular and will be much missed (luckily for fans, Riley Motorsports will campaign a Viper in GTD.)
Corvette Racing finished second in its new-for-2014 #3 and #4 C7Rs, and Anotnio Garcia finished second in the drivers points. Garcia will again team up with Jan Magnusson in the #3, with IndyCar star Ryan Briscoe helping out at the Rolex 24. The #4 team of Olly Gavin and Tom Milner will also be back, with assistance from sportscar and IndyCar ace Simon Pagenaud.
The Corvette, which finished third in manufacturer points, gets a 25-kg weight break and a .6 mm restrictor increase.
Porsche North America will again run its #911 and #912 911 RSRs. Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, and Marc Lieb will drive the #911 at Daytona; Jörg Bergmeister and Frédéric Makowiecki will be joined by newcomer Earl Bamber in the #912.
Fan favorite Team Falken Tire has entered a 991 RSR for Brian Sellers and factory drivers Patrick Long and Wolf Henzler.
Porsche, which won the manufacturer title, gets a 5-kg weight reduction but a .3 mm restrictor reduction.
BMW Team RLL returns with its pair of somewhat controversial Z4 GTEs, which will receive a 25-kg weight cut and a .3 mm restrictor increase. John Edwards and Jens Klingman will be joined by prototype driver Lucas Luhr and IndyCar’s Bobby Rahal in the #24; Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner will be joined by Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler in the #25.
Aston Martin racing will enter a single V8 Vantage for Pedro Lamy, Darren Turner, and Mathias Lauda. The Vantage gets a 6 mm restrictor increase but a 25-kg weight increase, offset by aerodynamic improvements which should preserve top speed while slightly reducing acceleration.
Ferrari will be represented by two teams: the de facto factory team, AF Corse, and North American stalwarts Risi Competizione, a welcome sight after a costly 2014 season made the team’s future questionable. The Ferrari 458 gets a 3 mm restrictor increase and a slightly lower rear wing.
Pierre Kaffer and Davide Rigon will drive for Risi in the #62 Ferrari 458. François Perrodo and Emmanuel Collard will team up with an as yet unnamed driver in the #51 AF Corse car.
IMSA Must Get It Right for the Rolex
It will be interesting to see how the various cars respond to the BoP changes—assuming any of the teams really show their full potential at the Roar. The rules are written to restrict sandbagging, but every team finds some way to save a little, to keep the series from adding further performance reductions.
Naturally, politicking will begin about as soon as the cars hit the track. In racing, the ability to charm the organizers is as important as the ability to make the car faster. Still, the basic adjustments, which should give the GTLMs a top-speed advantage over the GTD class, are welcome and were much needed. No longer should the sleeker but less powerful GTDs be able to hang with the GLMs down the length of the straights, making for dangerous traffic in the corners.
Of course, Daytona is a one-of-a-kind track, which so much of the 3.56-mile lap being on the NASCAR banking where drafting and top speed determine lap times. Even if the balance is perfect for the Rolex, IMSA will have to do it all over again for the rest of the schedule.
Still, getting it right for the Rolex is essential. Fans—and sponsors—might have cut the series a little slack in 2014; after all, it was TUSC’s first race. (Though some fans were so turned off by the spectacle of Daytona prototypes easily running away from P2s that they turned against TUSC before the event was over.)
The Roar matters as much this year as it did in 2014. In 2014 IMSA had to show that it could balance the various types of chassis and rules packages to create a competitive event out of a mash-up of two disparate racing series—and frankly, it failed. After all the hype, the race, with bad Balance of Performance for the top class and questionable officiating, left fans completely underwhelmed, and made winning over the fans for the rest of the season exponentially more difficult than it needed to be.
The Tudor series lost some teams over the off-season. Racing is, after all, a business, and teams had to look at how much sponsor exposure they got, which way the rules went, and which other series might offer more bang for the buck—and some other series looked better, it would seem.
For the Tudor series to survive, the management has to show that it learned from 2014, and has adjusted its view of what sports car racing should be, to be more in line with what the fans want. if fans think they are still going to get specious cautions flags, lap-down wave-bys, and manufactured “close” finishes contested by heavily restricted “equalized” cars, those fans, like those teams, might find other series more appealing.
IMSA needs to use the Roar as a real test of its new Performance Balance, and it needs to make sure that the cars get to really race, regardless of the outcome. Data from the Roar should lead to a grid full of competitive cars for the Rolex.
If the 2015 Rolex 24 Hours is not significantly more satisfying to fans than the 2014 version—and that does not mean a lot of cars stage-managed to be on the lead lap, or a manufactured “sprint” finish—then the Tudor series might have sealed its own fate, however long the series would take to wind down and fade away. Fans hungry for racing after the off-season will show up or tune in to see what TUSC is offering. After the checkered flag falls, they will either be excited for the rest of the schedule, or disgusted that TUSC has not improved.
Whether 2105 is a growth year or the beginning of the end for the Tudor United Sportscar Championship might be determined by the 2015 Rolex 24—and to some degree the success of that race depends on the Roar.