By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
The Roar Before the 24 gives teams in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship the opportunity to test out their machines ahead of the season-opening Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona at the Daytona International Speedway road course.
The end of the testing period is marked by a qualifying session that determines pit road and garage space selection.
It was a near-perfect Cadillac sweep of the top three positions of the seven practice sessions. Out of 21 positions, Cadillac-powered DPi machines occupied 18 of those positions with four different cars occupying the top spot.
Action Express Racing’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi led the first two practice sessions with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 37.266 seconds in the first session. The second session’s fastest lap was 1 minute, 37.196 seconds in the car piloted by Joao Barbosa, Filipe Albuquerque and Christian Fittipaldi. The No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi piloted by Ryan Hunter-Reay, Renger van Der Zande and Jordan Taylor was fastest in the third session with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 37.188 seconds.
The No. 31 Action Express Racing Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi led the fourth and fifth sessions piloted by Felipe Nasr, Mike Conway, Eric Curran and Stuart Middleton. They led the fourth session with a fastest lap of of 1 minute, 36.973 seconds and were slightly slower in the fifth session with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 37.322 seconds. The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac DPi led the sixth session with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 36.960 being the best effort by drivers Tristan Vautier, Matt McMurry and Eddie Cheever III.
The final session was led by the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 36.757 seconds but the upcoming qualifying session was what mattered most.
The No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi led qualifying with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 35.806 seconds, giving Conway, Nasr, Curran and Middleton prime choice of both pit stall and garage.
Regarding other DPi manufacturers, Team Penske’s Acura DPi and Extreme Speed Motorsports’s Nissan DPi traded being the second fastest DPi behind the Cadillacs. Mazda did not run at all in the first session and their No. 77 Mazda Team Joest DPi did not set any laps in the first two sessions. However, the Joest team did climb to eighth and tenth fastest in the sixth session so progress was made.
For LMP2 chassis makers, Oreca was the fastest, getting as high as second on the time sheet in the second session with the No. 54 CORE Autosport LMP2 machine of Loic Duval, Colin Braun, Jonathan Bennett and Romain Dumas setting a time of 1 minute, 37.303 seconds in that session.
GT Le Mans
In GTLM, Ford and Porsche traded jabs at the top of the timesheet with Ford coming out ahead in five of the seven practice sessions.
The No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon led the first session with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 44.095 seconds ahead of their team car of Dirk Mueller, Sebastien Bourdais and Joey Hand in the No. 67 machine.
The second session would be one of the two headed by Porsche as Earl Bamber, Gianmaria Bruni and Laurens Vanthoor wheeled their No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR around at a pace of 1 minute, 44.065 seconds ahead of their No. 911 team car piloted by Frederick Makowiecki, Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet.
Westbrook, Dixon and Briscoe would lead a Ford 1-2 in the third session with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 44.282 seconds and the trio would also lead the fourth session with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 43.980 seconds ahead of the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi.
Mueller, Bourdais and Hand would lead the fifth session with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 43.798 seconds ahead of the No. 912 Porsche and would also lead the sixth session with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 44.132 seconds, this time ahead of the No. 4 Corvette Racing C7.R driven by Oliver Gavin, Marcel Fassler and Tommy Milner.
The final session before qualifying went to the No. 912 Bamber, Bruni and Vanthoor Porsche with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 44.550 seconds but qualifying went to the No. 66 Ford GT of Hand, Mueller and Bourdais. Their fastest lap of 1 minute, 43.610 seconds was only .03 seconds faster than the No. 4 Corvette. The No. 67 Ford GT was only a tenth behind the sister car.
The GTD Class was led by the No. 11 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of the Grasser Racing Team, which set a lap of 1:47.374 in qualifying (119.352 mph). The outcome was good enough to hold off the Andy Lally-led No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 by a slim 0.062 of a second.
Overall, the top 10 were within half a second of each other with other strong showings including Ryan Eversley of HART in the No. 69 Acura NSX GT3, which set the fifth-best qualifying time just behind the No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3 R of Wright Motorsports and the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 of Michael Shank Racing.