IMSA’s TUSC Tests Its 2015 Form at Roar Before the Rolex 24
DAYTONA, Fla.—After an inaugural season marked by some triumphs and a lot of complaints and an off-season which saw some teams depart or cut back in favor of other series, the Tudor United SporstCar Championship is kicking off 2015 with the Roar before the Rolex 24, the old Rolex Series’ traditional three-day test at Daytona International Speedway.
The Roar gives teams a chance to test new drivers and new or updated cars, gives the series a chance to see how between-season rules changes play out on track, and gives fans, teams, and series officials alike a taste of what the season-opening Rolex 24 might be like.
While TUSC is a four-class series, its real appeal lie in the two all-pro classes, Prototypes and GT-Le Mans. While there is often excellent racing in prototype Challenge and GT-Daytona, the big teams and top drivers generally run P and GTLM, and the fans—and sponsors—tend to focus here too.
The good news in P is that the top class is still well-subscribed. The less-than-excellent news is that some teams—and some diversity—have departed. This is offset by some new teams joining, or switching cars.
Prototype is almost a two-tier class, with the heavier, more powerful Daytona Prototypes generally beating the more nimble but less speedy P2s. The P2s are generally the fan favorites, and generally make up less than a quarter of the P-class grid.
Two of the top P2 teams, Extreme Speed Motorsports and Oak Racing, will curtail and cut their programs in 2015, with ESM running a single or occasionally a pair of HPD ARX-04b-Hondas only in the North American Endurance Championship events (Rolex 24, Sebring, Glen Six Hours, and Petit Le Mans) instead of two cars at all events as they did in 2014. Oak is out altogether, focusing on sales of Oak and Ligier customer cars, having proved the quality of its products in 2014.
Replacing these teams in the P2 ranks will be longtime Daytona Prototype campaigner Michael Shank Racing, which is switching to the new Honda-powered Ligier coupe for 2015, and DP/GT veteran Krohn Racing, running an Ligier-Judd in the NAEC events.
Owner-driver Tracy Krohn and regular co-pilot Nic Johnsson will be joined in the Krohn Ligier by WEC stars Alex Brundle and Oliver Pla—a very quick lineup in a quick chassis.
The Daytona Prototype regulars are returning for 2015, with one very welcome addition: Bob Stallings’ Gainsco team, which withdrew after memo Gidley’s horrific collision at the 2014 Rolex, will be back on the grid (Gidley himself is still mending but is expected to make a full recovery.) The team might not make it back for the Rolex, but plan to enter later events.
2014 Tudor and North American Endurance Cup champion Action Express will be back with two cars, the updated C7-influenced #5 and #31 Coyote-Corvettes, the latter wearing Whelen Engineering livery. Driver champs João Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi will pilot the #5, with Sébastien Bourdais for the endurance events. Eric Curran, Dane Cameron, Max Papis and Phil Keen will drive the #31.
2013 Rolex Series champion Wayne Taylor Racing will be back with the Taylor brothers in their Dallara-Corvette DP. VisitFlorda racing (formerly Spirit of Daytona) will return with its Coyote-Corvette DP.
The powerful Chip Ganassi squad will be back with its #01 Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley, with Joey Hand replacing Memo Rojas as driving partner to five-time Rolex Series champ Scott Pruett (still in the saddle at age 54) The #02 car will show up for NAEC events; at Daytona it will feature an IndyCar/NASCAR driver lineup of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson, and Jamie McMurray.
Starworks plans to campaign a Dinan/BMW-powered Riley; newcomers RG Racing will run the same.
Starworks has hired F1 ace Rubens Barrichelo for the event, teaming him with IndyCar champ Ryan Hunter-Reay, young whiz Brendon Hartley, and Tor Graves and Scott Mayer.
RG racing, run by driver/neurosurgeon Robert Gewirtz, features 2013 Rolex GX-class champion Shane Lewis and GTD driver Robert Kvamme.
The diesel-powered Lola-based SpeedSource Mazdas will return. In testing the cars were markedly quicker than last season; 2015 could be their breakthrough year.
Also returning to the prototype grid will be the DeltaWing Racing Cars DWC13, another development project which gains in performance every year. The wingless triangular oddity finished fourth at the 2014 Petit Le Mans, which bodes well for its chances in the Rolex.
Last year’s drivers—Katherine Legge, Gabby Chaves and Andy Meyrick—will be joined by four-time Rolex champion Memo Rojas, who is bringing some much-needed cash from one of Carlos Slim’s telecom companies.
Finally, the 50 Plus Racing Endures for a Cure/Highway to Help Race Team will return for its annual Rolex foray. This team of over-50 drivers only contests the Rolex 24, to raise awareness of the fight against Alzheimers. This year Jim Pace, Bryon DeFoor, and David Hinton will be joined by ex-driver and current sportscaster Dorsey Schroeder in a Riley-BMW.
GT rundown to come.