Friday April 19th, 2024 8:42PM

What to watch for in the Rolex 24 at Daytona

By David Phillips-IMSA Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The dawn of the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is upon us. And while the start of any racing season is eagerly anticipated by competitors and fans alike, seldom has the opening race of any season been more keenly awaited than this weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Where to begin? With a deep and now battle-tested GTP field? With one of the largest Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) entries in Rolex 24 history? With GT Daytona (GTD) and GT Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) fields boasting no fewer than 11 of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers, headlined by a renewal of the Chevy-Ford rivalry?

A GTP Slugfest

The GTP field has grown from last year’s eight entries to 10 entries with the addition of privateers JDC-Miller MotorSports and Proton Competition. What’s more, where the paint was still wet on some of the GTP cars last year, all entries have plenty of racing and testing under their belts this year. And where last year some pundits suggested attrition would be so high that an LMP2 car might well take the overall victory, there are no such concerns about reliability in 2024. And where spare parts were at such a premium a year ago that door-handle-to door-handle racing was risky – at best – sharp elbows will likely be in evidence from the green to checkered flags.

Practice and qualifying saw Cadillac and Porsche atop the time sheets, with the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac V-Series.R taking pole position just ahead of the similar No. 01 Cadillac Racing entry. The No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 and the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 grabbed the second row ahead of the Nos. 10 and 40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06s monopolizing the third row.

With just 0.7 seconds covering the top six and the nine qualifiers (the Proton Porsche did not post a time after a crash in the final practice session) blanketed by less than a second, there is little to choose between the four marques. Indeed, while Cadillac and Porsche led the way in every session, BMW was always in the top three, while Acura is the defending champion.

Lest we forget, the No. 85 JDC-Miller Porsche set the pace in the fourth practice session on Friday just ahead of Proton’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling Porsche. While they dropped down the order in qualifying, the privateer Porsches could have a thing or two to say about the overall winner come Sunday afternoon.

LMP2 Grows In Leaps And Bounds

GTP is not the only class to have grown over the winter. Now that Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) is no longer a part of the WeatherTech Championship and that LMP2 was eliminated from the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), the WeatherTech Championship LMP2 class has seen an influx of teams.

Thus, a baker’s dozen of LMP2 entries is poised to take the green flag Saturday with WEC refugee No. 2 United Autosports starting on pole ahead of WeatherTech “veterans” the No. 52 Inter Europol by PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports and No. 04 CrowdStrike Racing by APR entries. Meanwhile, the 2023 WeatherTech LMP3 champion, the No. 74 Riley team, is fourth on the grid with its new LMP2 entry. Who will come away from Daytona International Speedway with bragging rights?

GTD And GTD PRO: Much More Than The Battle Of Motown

With a total of 36 entries, the GTD and GTD PRO classes are the heart and soul of the Rolex 24. Many eyes will be on the Chevrolet vs. Ford contest in both classes, with Corvette Racing by Pratt Miller Motorsports doing battle with Ford Multimatic Motorsports in GTD PRO and AWA taking on Proton Competition in GTD.

But in no way does the Battle of Motown figure to monopolize the interest in the GTD classes. Fascinating stories abound everywhere you look, from GTD PRO heavyweight Pfaff Motorsports now campaigning the No. 9 McLaren 720S GT3 Evo after several hugely successful campaigns with Porsche, GTD champions Paul Miller Racing moving to GTD PRO with the No. 1 BMW M4 GT3 and teams running the Porsche 911 GT3R looking to rebound after a difficult 2023 season.

The list goes on. Will Acura, Aston Martin, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lexus, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG and/or Porsche steal the thunder from Chevy and Ford? Or will Motown come through to take a win in one or both classes? The permutations are nearly endless and will be fascinating to watch.

The action from the Rolex 24 starts Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC, with the finish back on the NBC network starting at 12:00 Noon ET Sunday. Complete streaming also is available on Peacock and other portions of the race will be televised on USA Network.

  • Associated Categories: Sports, NASCAR News, Other Motorsports
  • Associated Tags: motorsports, Auto Racing, Asphalt, road course, IMSA, sports cars, daytona, WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Rolex 24
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