Photo: Courtesy IMSA

Roar Before the 24 Musings

By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer

The 2019 Roar Before the 24 test at the Daytona International Speedway road course prepares teams and drivers for the upcoming 2019 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and caution was seemingly thrown to the wind by Mazda Team Joest ahead of the season-opening race for the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

After suffering issue after issue in last year’s Rolex 24, the squad made several changes during the offseason to its technical staff and minor changes to their driver lineup that seem to be paying dividends as they were among the quickest in the Daytona Prototype International (DPi) class. The No. 77 RT24-P DPi machine driven by Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez, Timo Bernhard and Rene Rast was outside the top five in only one session and ended up setting the fastest lap in the qualifying session that determined garage position and pit selection. That fastest time of 1 minute, 33.398 seconds equated to an average speed of 137.212 mph which unofficially broke the old lap record set in the Camel GTP days.

The No. 55 RT24-P was second fastest in that qualifying session and with Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell and Olivier Pla behind the wheel they were only outside the top three in one session (they were fourth in the other) and actually led three sessions compared to the No. 77 leading only one. However, the big question is how much were the other manufacturers sandbagging.

Mazda may get bit by a Balance of Performance (BoP) adjustment ahead of the Rolex 24 but given Mazda’s recent form at the Rolex 24, there’s a possibility that no adjustments could be made.

One team that performed well at the test was Juncos Racing. The team placed as high as fourth, fifth and sixth in three of the sessions and their No. 50 Cadillac DPi-V.R machine was brand new, having been delivered to the team just recently.

CORE Autosport did lead the final session with their new Nissan DPi, only 15 cars participated in the last session including six of the nine GT Le Mans (GTLM) cars and the rest were in the DPi class.

Probably one of the more interesting performances came from Acura Team Penske as they qualified third and seventh in the pit selection qualifying session but spent most of the remaining test sessions in the middle to lower parts of the top-10 except for the fourth session where the No. 7 Acura ARX-05 DPi was second.

The LMP2 class was a seesaw battle between DragonSpeed and PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports as they traded the top spots in the four car class between all seven sessions.

GTLM was a balanced field for the most part as Ford, Porsche and Ferrari split the honors of being fastest in class between all seven test sessions. The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE was fastest in the second session, the Houston-based squad having not participated in most of the 2018 season. Porsche led four sessions and Ford led the remaining two but it was the No. 3 Corvette Racing C7.R of Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller that led the pit/garage selection qualifying session with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 42.651 seconds to average 124.844 mph.

GTLM also had the BMW M8 GTEs from BMW Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan and in the No. 24 M8 was perhaps the story of the weekend in Alex Zanardi. Zanardi lost his legs in a 2001 accident at Lausitzring in Germany and drove with hand controls to post a personal best lap of 1 minute, 44.340 seconds to average 122.823 mph.

The class with the most variables, however, was GT Daytona (GTD). With eight manufacturers in the largest class of the field, four different manufacturers took the fastest lap in the five sessions that GTD cars took part in. The No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 was fastest in the first two sessions with Porsche, Acura and Ferrari taking the other three sessions.

For a pre-race favorite in GTD, Ferrari and Acura might be the way to go based on how the results ended up. Of the top three results in each of the five sessions, Ferrari had six of the 15 spots, more than any other manufacturer. The next-highest number was three from Acura and Mercedes.

Acura took honors of being fastest in the pit/garage selection qualifying session with the No. 57 Meyer-Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 machine going around the 3.56 mile track with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 45.537 seconds at an average of 121.430 mph. The No. 57 entry is notable because its lineup is entirely female with Ana Beatriz setting the fastest lap in the session. Her co-drivers are Simona de Silvestro, Christina Nielsen and Katherine Legge. Nielsen was brought in as a last-minute substitute for full-season driver Jackie Heinricher after Heinricher withdrew because of injury.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is scheduled for January 26th-27th.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the Verizon IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.