DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Before this week, Swiss driver Neel Jani, pilot of the Gibson-powered No. 13 Rebellion Racing ORECA LM P2 car, had never seen Daytona International Speedway, and had never driven the car he is racing.
But he went out Friday, the first of the three-day Roar Before the Rolex 24 pre-season practice session, and set the fastest overall time.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that Jani also was fastest in two of the three practice sessions on Saturday for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and he didn’t participate in that third session, which was run in the rain. In fact, only 32 of the 55 cars in attendance left the garage to run on the wet pavement. In that session, Ricky Taylor was quickest in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi that he is sharing with brother Jordan, Max Angelelli and four-time NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon.
Jani’s quickest time of the two days came in Saturday’s night practice, where the much cooler air resulted in a best lap of 1 minute, 38.944 seconds, making him the only driver to lap at under 1:39.
Even so, Jani isn’t ready to declare a sure victory in the Rolex 24.
“To be honest, I’m not reading too much into it yet. We’ve just been focusing on getting to know the car – it’s completely new,” he said. “Working with the team’s engineers, we’ve made a lot of changes on the car. There’s still some room to improve, but that’s normal. But I don’t think everyone else is really showing what they can do. The main thing for us was working on reliability, and so far it’s great – knock on wood.”
Second-quickest in the night session was Nicolas Lapierre, with a lap of 1:39.461 in the DragonSpeed Oreca P2, followed by Tristan Nunez in the No. 55 Mazda DPi, with a lap of 1:39.612.
In the Prototype Challenge class, Kyle Masson had the best time in the night session with a lap of 1:43.119 in the No. 38 Performance Tech car. In GT Le Mans, Andy Priaulx was fastest in the No. 69 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT with a lap of 1:44.785. And in GT Daytona, the class was led by the No. 29 Audi R8 LMS GT3 with a lap of 1:47.723 by driver Christopher Mies.
Two more practice sessions are scheduled for Sunday. It’s the final chance teams to shake down their cars prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona on January 28 and 29.
Dixon Quickest In GTLM
Multi-time IndyCar champ Scott Dixon, who races in that series for team owner Chip Ganassi, has been a part of Ganassi’s development of the Ford GT from the start. So it isn’t surprising that the open-wheel expert is just as impressive in a car with a roof. Dixon laid down a lap of 1:44.558 in the No. 67 Ford GT in Saturday’s morning session, the quickest overall of anyone in GTLM.
“Yeah, it was good,” he said. “I think the whole program – especially with the mix of four cars here now – everybody’s been meshing quite well, trying to get through the test plan. Lap times are always funny, especially running here. It’s just maybe you’re in the right spot at the right time.”
After strong storms moved through Friday night and Saturday morning, temperatures dropped from the mid-70s Friday to the mid-40s Saturday afternoon.
“Yesterday was a perfect day,” he said, but being able to run on a wet track, and in much cooler temperatures, is good preparation for what could happen in the Rolex 24.
“I think it’s good to have the opportunity to run the car in those options,” he said. “That’s a bonus of having a four-car team – you can really look into those options. But any weather condition, anytime you can be on the track, it’s a good time.”
Mazdas Bounce Back
The two Mazda DPis may bear some resemblance to last year’s cars, but they are all new, and consequently are suffering some teething pains. Suspension and gearbox issues sidelined one of the cars on Friday, necessitating an overnight fix of one of the components for both Mazdas, as well as the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Multimatic/Riley P2 car, which shares the same chassis.
But both Mazdas bounced back on Saturday, with the best showing coming in the fourth session when the No. 55 car, driven by Tristan Nunez, was the second-fastest car in the field, with a best lap of 1:39.157, right behind Neel Jani’s 139.017 in the same session.
In the night session, the No. 55 Mazda was third fastest, and the No. 70 team car was 10th quickest. The new car “is very different to drive,” said Tom Long, who drives the No. 70. “From the way it accelerates, to the way it brakes, it feels very different. It’s a lot of fun, especially at night here at Daytona.”