DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Day 1 is in the books at the Roar Before the Rolex 24, the annual test at Daytona International Speedway that allows drivers and teams to prepare for the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 28 and 29.
Fifty-five cars in the four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes entered the Roar, and almost all of them got in some practice on a warm, sunny day. The weather forecast for Saturday calls for heavy rain, but Sunday, the final day of the Roar, is expected to be clear and very cool.
Neel Jani, driving the No. 13 Rebellion Racing Gibson-powered ORECA LM P2 Prototype, was the fastest car overall in both the morning and afternoon sessions. Jani’s performance was remarkable since he had never seen Daytona International Speedway before, had never driven the Rebellion ORECA before, and had never driven an LM P2 car before.
His first look at the Speedway was daunting – “I saw the steep banking, and I thought, ‘How can you drive on that?’” But Jani, a 33-year-old from Switzerland and the current FIA World Endurance champion, is a quick study.
“This is the first time the car has run,” he said. “We had a lot of issues getting it ready.” But clearly, the Rebellion Racing team did.
His best lap, set in the morning session on a cooler track, was 1 minute, 39.160 seconds. Second was the No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Gibson-powered ORECA driven by Mathias Beche, 0.274 seconds back impressive for a brand-new team. Gibson, incidentally, is a racing-only engine built by Gibson Technology in England.
Third overall was the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi with a lap of 1:39.496, set by Ricky Taylor. The LM P2 cars are similar to the LM P2 Prototypes that competed last year. The DPi cars are all-new, replacing the Daytona Prototype. Cadillac has also taken over for Chevrolet as engine supplier for three DPi cars.
Of course, Chevrolet remains deeply involved in the GT Le Mans class – indeed, the fastest lap in GTLM was set by driver Jan Magnussen in the No. 3 Corvette Racing C7.R. His best lap was time of a 1:44.760, with three of the four Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs lapping second, third and fourth fastest.
The No. 26 BAR1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09 was quickest in Prototype Challenge, with driver Johnny Mowlem. In GT Daytona, Andrew Davis had the best lap in the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS.
In the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, the fastest times were turned in the morning practice session. In the Grand Sport class, the No. 99 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage clocked in the fastest lap time at 1:56.125 with Charles Espenlaub at the wheel, while the No. 18 RS1 Porsche Cayman stood atop the Street Tuner class leaderboard with a lap time of 2:04.238, set by Connor Bloum.
Franchitti Named Rolex 24 Grand Marshal
Dario Franchitti, winner of three Indianapolis 500s as well as the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona, will be Grand Marshal for the 55th Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 28-29.
Franchitti will deliver the “Drivers, start your engines” command.
“We’re honored to have Dario Franchitti serve as the Grand Marshal for the 2017 Rolex 24 At Daytona,” Daytona International Speedway President Chip Wile said. “Dario has had a decorated career in open-wheel racing and conquered sports car racing’s grueling twice-around-the-clock challenge in 2008.”
Franchitti and co-drivers Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Juan Pablo Montoya took the overall victory in the 2008 Rolex 24 driving for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Franchitti also has a class win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Franchitti retired from competition in 2013 but is still active in the sport, serving as a team advisor for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
Angelelli To Retire
Veteran racer Max Angelelli announced that he will retire after the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona. A longtime stalwart with Wayne Taylor Racing, Max “the Axe” is back with the same team, along with brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor, the full-season drivers, and for the Rolex 24, four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon.
Angelelli, 50, could go out on top – Wayne Taylor Racing is considered a favorite, based in part on extensive pre-season testing.
Eidson First Winner Of Haywood Scholarship
Jake Eidson, 21, from Littleton, Colorado, is the winner of the Hurley Haywood GT3 Cup Scholarship from IMSA, Porsche and Yokohama.
Eidson’s prize is a season in the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA series. Eidson will start the season in March at Sebring International Raceway, the same weekend as the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, driving in the Platinum Cup class for defending team champions Kelly-Moss Road and Race.
Eidson is the first recipient of the Haywood Scholarship, which was expanded from a program IMSA, Porsche and Yokohama started in 2014. Haywood, of course, is the legendary sports car racer who has five victories in the Rolex 24 Hours At Daytona, three wins at Sebring and two at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, usually driving a Porsche.
Eidson, who has spent most of his young career in open-wheel racing, is delighted with the opportunity.
“The support from IMSA, Porsche and Yokohama made the difference of whether or not I could race this season,” he said. “Their support means everything. I’m extremely excited and thankful for everything they have provided.”
The scholarship is worth $70,000 and includes a full-season entry in the Porsche GT3 Cup USA series, $20,000 in parts credit from Porsche Motorsport North America, one set of Yokohama tires for each race, a tool credit from Sonic Tools, a complete OMP driver suit – which was presented to Eidson by Haywood and IMSA President Scott Atherton during Friday’s press conference at Daytona – and promotional consideration by RACER Magazine.
Aspiring racers between the ages of 16 and 25, with no previous full-time Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA experience, are eligible to earn the scholarship. Previous IMSA Scholarship recipients were Victor Gomez IV (2016), Elliott Skeer (2015) and Michael Lewis (2014), all of whom remain active in North American sports car racing.
Racing Loses A Big Supporter
Racers received sad news upon arrival at Daytona International Speedway. Longtime sports car racer and official Carl Jensen, 74, passed away, reportedly as he was preparing to come to the Roar.
Jensen began racing in 1964 with a Triumph TR-3, and 45 years later was still driving a GT-1 Chevrolet Corvette in SCCA Nationals. He also raced in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and La Carrera Panamericana.
Jensen was deeply involved in vintage racing, where he drove a 1969 Camaro and served as an official for vintage racing organizations, as well as for the Road America track. Jensen was a familiar figure at sports car races of all kinds, typically aboard his back scooter, long white hair flying.
“He was family to us, a member of a long-standing kinship amongst racers and promoters throughout the country,” said Road America President and General Manager George Bruggenthies. “He’s been racing at and a part of Road America for so many years.To say he played an integral role in our success, especially with planning and officiating our vintage racing events, would be an understatement.”
“Carl was a great guy,” said Bill Riley, president of Riley Technologies, the car-building and engineering firm. “He was always cheerful, always fun to be around. It’s a great loss.”
Jensen is survived by his wife, Ellie, and two brothers.