DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The last time most in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship paddock saw the pair of Mazda RT24-P Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race cars was at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July, and a lot has happened since then.
Tuesday, the pair of revised Mazda DPis were on track alongside 16 other WeatherTech Championship race cars on the first day of a two-day IMSA-sanctioned test at Daytona International Speedway. It was the first “public” appearance for the race cars, Mazda Team Joest and some of the team’s drivers – including 2013 Rolex 24 At Daytona GT winner and 2013 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring overall winner Oliver Jarvis.
Jarvis was introduced last week as one of the four full-time drivers for the team in 2018, joining Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez and Harry Tincknell. And for his part, he’s thrilled to be in the WeatherTech Championship.
“It’s a dream for me to be here full time,” Jarvis said. “I’ve always wanted to come over to the States and run here. When I got the call from (Mazda Director of Motorsports) John (Doonan), it was a very easy decision to make. I wanted to be here, I wanted to be a part of the Mazda team. IMSA has gone from strength to strength with so many DPi cars. It’s probably the strongest field I’ve ever seen, but with the team we’ve got, I think we’ve got a great chance.”
Mazda Team Joest did test at Daytona last month, but this was Jarvis’ first day back at Daytona in a few years. He did join the team for a recent test at Sebring International Raceway, though, and likes what he has seen thus far.
“The car is still very new, we’re still learning every time we go out, but so far everything is positive,” Jarvis said. “The car has run well and I’m very happy with the balance. It’s the second test for me with the team, I drove at Sebring and then here at Daytona.
“It’s very hard to compare because it’s completely different tires between the two tracks, but I have to say this test has already been a big step up from Sebring. The team has had time for a little more preparation and we’ve hit the ground running.”
Edwards Returns, De Phillippi Joins BMW Team RLL For December Test Ahead Of 2018
One of the four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) teams testing at Daytona International Speedway this week is BMW Team RLL.
Two of the team’s drivers were on hand, returning BMW driver John Edwards alongside Connor de Phillippi, who joins the team after competing with Land Motorsport for two seasons.
The upcoming WeatherTech Championship season marks Edwards’ six with BMW. While he has three victories to his name with the team, he is still searching for his first Rolex 24 At Daytona victory after recording a career-best fourth place three times.
The two-day test also allows a first look at the new BMW M8 GTLM, which was unveiled in September at the 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show as the successor to the M6 GTLM.
“This is the third car I’ve been able to be a part of the development on with BMW and I have to say it’s the most exciting,” Edwards said. “The M8 is everything from the M6 that we liked, and improved on the things we didn’t like. It has a lot of promise. The whole team is learning the car together, drivers included. I love the car so far, and compared to where the M6 was in December on its rollout, I think we’re miles above where we were.”
It was less than a week ago that BMW announced Edwards and de Phillippi as part of the team’s full-time driver lineup for 2018.
De Phillippi is on the heels of a victory at the season-ending Petit Le Mans in October, only the third race he entered during the 2017 WeatherTech Championship season. However, the victory came in the GT Daytona (GTD) class, and the step up to the GTLM class will put the California-native in arguably the toughest class of sports car racing in the world.
As one of his teammates, Edwards feels strongly though that BMW Team RLL could be on its way to a victory at the Rolex 24 At Daytona this upcoming January.
“The GTLM class is a very competitive category because it’s manufacturers pitted against other manufacturers and it’s all professional lineups,” Edwards said. “You can see the competition level is fierce from the end of the race at Daytona, all the way to the end of the race at Petit. Everyone has to be up to speed and you have to get the maximum performance out of your car. Considering the baseline we have today, I think we have a car that can fight for the win in the Rolex 24.”
Braun Returns To Prototype Ranks In CORE autosport ORECA
While there have been several well-known additions to the Prototype class in 2018, there is one driver who makes his return to the Prototype ranks this week after several years in both the Prototype Challenge (PC) class and, most recently, the GT Daytona (GTD) class.
Colin Braun returns with CORE autosport and longtime co-driver Jon Bennett this season as the two debut the team’s new No. 54 ORECA LM P2. While Braun most recently won in the top Daytona Prototype class of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series in 2007, he and Bennett teamed up to win eight races and PC championships in 2014 and 2015 in the WeatherTech Championship.
“Jon and I have had a lot of fun getting back into the Prototype car, there’s not a lot more fun than driving a Prototype car with the grip and power,” said Braun. “This ORECA/Gibson package has been in a lot of different series, so it was really sorted out right from the start.
“I think for us this first test is just about familiarity with the car, the seats, comfort and just getting all that sorted out. When we show up at the Roar hopefully we’ll have all of this out of the way and can focus on getting the setup dialed in and the race package.”
A lot has changed since Braun most recently competed in the Prototype ranks, but he is eager to compete against the best of the best as the WeatherTech Championship and Prototype class continues to gain momentum.
“The quality of teams and drivers is really high,” he said. “And then the interest in the series…It’s amazing to see the buzz around IMSA right now.”