By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
The 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona has achieved star power status with world championship-caliber drivers and manufacturers in the Prototype ranks in the second year of the DPi/LMP2 rules package. (what is a DPi? https://www.imsa.com/qa-2017-daytona-prototype-international-dpi-concept)
The entry list has four manufacturers in the DPi ranks with Nissan (two cars), Mazda (two cars), Acura (two cars) and Cadillac (four cars) going up against 10 LMP2 cars from Oreca (six cars), Riley/Multimatic (one car) and Ligier (three cars).
Let’s look at the Prototype portion of the entry list by manufacturer.
Tequila Patron ESM has the two Nissan DPis and their entries are highlighted by drivers such as team owner Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and Pipo Derani. ESM won the Rolex 24 in 2016 in what was the first win for an LMP2 car at the Rolex 24 after the sports car merger. The team switched to Nissan after the 2016 season and finished fourth in last year’s race.
Reinhold Joest’s team takes over the Mazda DPi program from Speedsource and the Team Penske of the sports car world has two cars at their disposal highlighted by Jonathan Bomarito, Spencer Pigot and Tristan Nunez driving the two entries. Mazda has not had much recent success with the program having only four third place finishes in the last two years but a new influx of talent may bring Mazda to the winners circle if things go their way.
The true wild cards of the Rolex 24, Roger Penske’s team comes back to sports car racing and will test their new Acura DPi machinery at the World Center of Racing. With Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ricky Taylor, Graham Rahal, Dane Cameron and Simon Pagenaud behind the wheel, the team will be contenders but with little recent experience in endurance racing that could hurt them.
The four DPi machines run by Action Express Racing (Nos. 5 and 31), Spirit of Daytona Racing (No. 90) and Wayne Taylor Racing (No. 10) were extremely quick in the Roar Before the 24 test and were slowed down with a balance of performance (BoP) adjustment before practice begins. Cadillac won last year with Wayne Taylor Racing and will be a formidable challenge.
BAR1 Motorsports will run a single Multimatic/Riley LMP2 car with an amateur rating lineup behind the wheel. Alex Popow, NASCAR standout Brendan Gaughn and Trans Am wild card (for lack of a better term) Tomy Drissi highlight the driver lineup.
United Autosports and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports will each field two and one car respectively in the Rolex 24 but United Autosports has the edge in driver lineup. In their No. 23 car they have rising star Lando Norris partnering Fernando Alonso, thus creating the clever social media tag #NandoLando (or #LandoNando?) for tracking their No. 23 car that will be also have Phil Hanson behind the wheel.
Will Owen, Paul Di Resta and Bruno Senna highlight the other United Autosports car while Sebastian Saavedra and Gustavo Yacaman are the heavy hitters in the Mathiasen Ligier. United Autosport has come great driver talent behind the wheel but this being their first Rolex 24 in seven years means that some rust will have to come off the team on the high banks.
ORECA has the balance of the LMP2 portion of the field with Jackie Chan DCR JOTA, Performance Tech Motorsports, CORE Autosport and JDC-Miller Motorsports entering the LMP2 cars. For Performance Tech, Pato O’Ward and James French dominated last year’s WeatherTech Sports Car Championship with seven wins from eight races and look to continue their success at Daytona.
Jackie Chan DCR JOTA has an extremely talented lineup with Formula One driver Lance Stroll, Felix Rosenqvist, Robin Frijns and Daniel Juncadella behind the wheel of their No. 37 machine while Antonio Felix da Costa, Alex Brundle and Ferdinand Habsburg will be in their No. 78 machine with Ho-Pin Tung. JDC-Miller Motorsports has Austin Cindric and Gustavo Menezes as two of their main drivers while CORE Autosport has Loic Duval, Romain Dumas and Colin Braun as three of their heavy hitters in their No. 54 machine. ORECA has many drivers in their cars that could get their cars near the front but with recent BoP changes, there’s no telling who will be near the front.
Predicting a winner? Impossible.