The Frontstretch: Time To Set Your Watches: Your 2012 Rolex 24 Preview, Part IV by Phil Allaway -- Thursday January 26, 2012

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Time To Set Your Watches: Your 2012 Rolex 24 Preview, Part IV

Phil Allaway · Thursday January 26, 2012

 

Finally, we’re in the homestretch. We still have a few more team profiles to go through, then we’ll get into some predictions for this weekend’s race. Hope you enjoy it.

Team: Oryx Racing
Car: No. 74 Audi R8 Grand-Am
Drivers: Humaid Al-Masaood, Saeed Al-Mehairi, Steven Kane
Thoughts: Oryx ran Dyson Racing’s second Lola B09/86 Mazda prototype in the American Le Mans Series last year. The team was decent last year, but testing times have been mediocre at best. In all honesty, this is a tough call. My best guess has this team in the midfield, if they manage to finish.

Team: Dick Greer Racing
Car: No. 82 Porsche GT3 Cup
Sponsor: Wendy’s
Drivers: John Fergus, John Finger, Dick Greer, Mark Hotchkis, Owen Trinkler
Thoughts: This team has been around for over 25 years, but returns to Daytona after a long absence. Fergus, Finger and team owner Greer are longtime drivers for this outfit. Trinkler drove for a smaller outfit last year that had a tough race, but still managed to finish.

Traditionally, this is a team that is a midpack operation, but a very steady operation. However, the team has not raced in the Rolex 24 since 2002. I don’t believe that the team will still be on track when 3:30 comes around on Sunday, but a midpack finish is possible.

Team: Racer’s Edge Motorsports
Car: No. 87 Dodge Viper Competition Coupe
Sponsor: 3dimensional.com
Drivers: Jan Heylen, Doug Peterson, Maxim Soulet, Emilio Valverde
Thoughts: Big changes for Racer’s Edge Motorsports this year. The team ditched their Mazda RX-8 in the off-season in favor of a Dodge Viper, the first one to race in Grand-Am in years. There’s also a brand-new driver lineup in play.

Heylen and Peterson raced together last year in the No. 7 entry for Starworks Motorsport. Let’s just say that it was quite the struggle. Spoke with a tow truck operator during the race last year and he mentioned that he had towed the No. 7 into the garage three times in the first six hours of the race. The team was effectively done after the third tow-in of the night.

Team: Autohaus Motorsports
Car: No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro GT.R
Sponsors: Flex-Box, Autohaus
Drivers: Paul Edwards, Matthew Marsh, Tom Milner, Jordan Taylor
Thoughts: This team was the revelation of 2011 in the GT class. The relatively small, Delray Beach-based team nearly scored the class championship with the pairing of Jordan Taylor and Bill Lester, but a sub-par final race at Mid-Ohio gave the championship to Brumos Racing. For 2012, Taylor returns to the team with Paul Edwards coming over from Spirit of Daytona for the full season.

The Roar test showed that the car is a little off the pace, but the Camaro has proven to be strong over the past year or so. Last year, the team was quite strong in practice and qualifying leading up to the race. In the race itself, a clutch issue lead to a stay in the garage area while another prolonged

Team: Turner Motorsport
Cars: No. 93 BMW M3, No. 94 BMW M3
Sponsors: Turner Motorsport (both cars)
Drivers: No. 93- Bill Auberlen, Paul Dalla Lana, Michael Marsal, Dirk and Jörg Muller (Auberlen and Dalla Lana are currently entered in both cars) No. 94- Boris Said, Marco Werner, Billy Johnson
Thoughts: Turner Motorsport is a strong team, especially in the Continental Series. However, in the Rolex Sports Car Series, they’re going it alone as the only BMW representative in the field.

Last year, the team was very strong, running as high as second in class before the clutch went during the overnight hours. The long stay in the garage took them out of any possible contention for even a decent finish.

This year, the team is fielding two cars for the very first time. The No. 94 is the primary car and the lineup is stout. Boris Said, a longtime veteran of BMW’s, returns to the team for Daytona only. He has a full-season ride with Marsh Racing along with Eric Curran, but the team chose to skip the Rolex 24 (they’ll be back at Barber Park in March, though). Marco Werner is a sports car racing veteran with experience driving for Audi Sport back in the days of the prototype R8 and the diesel R10.

Then, there is Billy Johnson, a regular in the Continental Series effectively on loan from Roush Fenway Racing (remember, he has two Nationwide Series starts for RFR, including last year at Road America as a last-minute sub for Carl Edwards). Johnson spent last year’s race in the pits as an observer and apparent backup driver (he was in his fire suit despite not officially being entered for any team). He has proven to be a championship-caliber driver in the Grand Sport class, but his team has been snake bit at Daytona the last couple of years. Johnson is a quick driver, but doesn’t have a lot of endurance experience. Auberlen and Dalla Lana are the full-time drivers, and their skills vary. Auberlen has over 20 years’ experience and is considered to be one of the best out there. Meanwhile, Dalla Lana is still a relative newbie, but improving from week to week.

In the No. 93, in addition to Auberlen and Dalla Lana, we have the Müllers. Dirk and Jörg. Both drivers are accomplished racers with years of experience, mainly in BMW and Porsche equipment. They should be solid. Michael Marsal is a full-time driver in one of Turner Motorsport’s Continental Series BMW M3’s and is a bit of a question mark. However, he be able to come through just fine.

The M3 is a pretty fast car, and last year’s performance showed that they hold their own with the best of them. However, reliability could be an issue, as roasting heat as well with highs predicted to be around 80 degrees. Ok, the M3’s might not get as hot as the M6’s campaigned in 2010 (they were so hot inside that on a lark, the team used the car as a dutch oven during races), but its still pretty toasty. Without problems, both cars should at least be challenging for a top-10 finish in class or better.

Now that we’ve effectively covered everyone, its time for the all-important question. Who’s waltzing out of Daytona International Speedway with a set of brand new Rolex Daytona watches? It could be anyone right now. However, to narrow down the pack, I’m going to take a page from ESPN’s coverage of the 1996 Rolex 24. There, they came up with three categories to split each class into. Those categories are Favorites, Sleepers and Creepers. Favorites are simply the fastest cars in town. Sleepers are those teams that could conceivably snatch victory with a perfect race, or issues befalling the favorites. Creepers are teams that run a steady pace and stay out of trouble, thus propelling themselves into a great finish.

Looking at the team lineups and what we’ve learned from the Roar Before the 24 three-day test, I can tell a couple of things. One, the Corvette DP’s are quite fast, but not as fast as the top teams were last year. However, much of that was because it was much warmer during the test than last year (Note: 2011’s Roar Before the 24 actually had to be red-flagged due to a wintry mix). Also, the Riley teams slowly clawed the margin between themselves and the Corvette DP’s as the test wore on.

That fact, in addition to the apparent braking woes that the Corvette DP’s had, leads me to believe that if that problem isn’t completely alleviated, the addition brake changes and possible garage stays could cripple some or all of the Corvettes.

Because of this, my favorites for the overall win are the two Ganassi BMW Riley DPG3’s (Nos. 01 and 02), with the No. 02 slightly favored over the No. 01. Third on that list would be the No. 10 SunTrust Chevrolet Corvette DP.

Daytona Prototype Sleeper picks include both of the Action Express Racing Chevrolet Corvette DP’s (Nos. 5 and 9) and the Starworks Motorsport No. 8 Ford Riley DPG3. I’ve designated the Krohn Racing No. 76 Ford Lola as my creeper pick because they just might have the best of the older, more proven machinery.

In the GT class, things are much more wide open. Depending on the way the cookie crumbles, any one of 9-15 different teams could conceivably win the class. The two Audi R8’s are what amount to unproven quantities (the car has basically never raced in the United States before, but has raced in Europe), while the Ferraris are mainly being fielded by teams that will not contest the full schedule. The AIM Autosport FXDD team is the exception to that rule, though. However, the Roar test shows me that the Porsches are the fastest cars.

Most of the new entries in this year’s race are very strong, leading to a rather crowded top of the order. With the attrition that is likely to occur during the race this weekend, I believe that whoever ends up winning the GT class will likely finish between seventh and ninth overall (last year’s winning GT class Porsche was 12th at the finish). I fear that a couple of the top teams might be eliminated by wrecks. In a situation like this, I prefer to rely on proven cars and proven teams for my favorites. An old standby choice like the No. 67 Porsche 911 for TRG wouldn’t be a horrible selection. So wouldn’t the No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche 911. However, neither of those teams were the fastest (although the Nos. 66 and 67 for TRG were right up there). The No. 03 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari 458 Italia gets up there with their speed, along with the No. 23 Porsche 911 for Alex Job Racing

Next level down in the sleeper category, I would place teams like the two Risi Competizione Ferraris (Nos. 62 and 63), along with the Dempsey Racing No. 40 Mazda RX-8 and the Brumos Racing No. 59 Porsche 911. These teams can capitalize on issues with the other competitors.

For the creeper group, I have a couple of picks. One is the No. 18 Porsche 911 for Muehlner Motorsports. Granted, this team turned the third fastest GT lap in the Roar test, but I think that they will run to a specific pace in the race itself. Another option here is the No. 26 Momo Porsche 911 for NGT Motorsport. This team was fast early in the test, but their drivers don’t have an exceptional amount of endurance experience.

Who will take the class victories this weekend at Daytona? Tune in to SPEED starting at 2:30pm EST on Saturday for a one hour pre-race show, followed by the green flag at 3:30. Coverage will continue on SPEED all the way to 11:00pm. Coverage picks back up at 9:00am on Sunday and runs through the finish, with post-race coverage as well.

However, there is also a new caveat in SPEED’s coverage this season. Previously, the overnight hours were simply not televised at all. Even Sprint Vision was cut off at the track, leaving teams unable to get visuals on stricken cars after 10pm. Yes, SPEED would still shoot everything, but it wouldn’t be used for anything other than recap material. This year, the ten hours of the race that won’t be on SPEED will be available on SPEEDtv.com via free web streaming. A number of “strategically positioned cameras” will be available for public viewing, along with a live timing and scoring ticker.

During the race, I will be at the track, either in the Press Box, or in the Media Center, providing you with live updates from the track on our Twitter feed. If the worst-case scenario occurs and our account gets parked temporarily for tweeting too much, then I will pick up the feed on my own personal Twitter. In addition, running order updates will be posted in the Breaking News box on the homepage on a periodic basis, roughly once per hour.

We hope that you enjoy this year’s 50th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. If you were planning on checking out the festivities on SPEED regardless of our coverage, that’s great. Have fun with it. If you hadn’t given thought to checking out this weekend’s action, but just might as a result of this comprehensive preview, I think you’re going to enjoy it. It’s a nice change of pace, and a sign that the Daytona 500 is not that far away (although, a little further away than in past years due to the schedule change.

Contact Phil Allaway

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