Race Weekend Central

Time To Set Your Watches: Your Rolex 24 Preview, Part II

Yesterday, we brought you a look at the 13 (originally 14) teams set to battle it out in the Daytona Prototype class. Today, we start on the Grand Touring (GT) class. However, there are currenty 46 cars entered. We cannot cover everybody in one day, lest we drive our readers insane. So, we’re splitting this up as well. This will be the first part, with more teams to be covered tomorrow. Here we go.

Team: Extreme Speed Motorsports
Car: No. 03 Ferrari 458 Italia
Sponsor: Patron Tequila
Drivers: Ed Brown, Guy Cosmo, Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek
Thoughts: Extreme Speed Motorsports is a team that runs full-time in the American Le Mans Series and races two Ferrari 458 Italias. However, those 458’s are different than the 458 that they’ll be racing here. Regardless, this was the fastest GT car in the Roar test with a lap time of 1:49.337 (117.215 mph). The driver lineup is very experienced with a past overall winner in the lineup (team owner Sharp, who won along with Wayne Taylor and Pace in 1996).

I believe that the brand-new equipment might be an achilles’ heel for the team, hurting their chances to win. However, if there aren’t any substantial issues, then the team should be right up there in the hunt.

Team: Magnus Racing
Cars: No. 4 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, No. 44 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
Sponsors: No. 4- Children’s Tumor Foundation
No. 44- Magnus Racing
Drivers: No. 4- Justin Bell, Ryan Eversley, Daniel Graeff, Ron Yarab, Jr.
No. 44- Andy Lally, Richard Lietz, John Potter, Rene Rast
Thoughts: Last year, the No. 4 was run under the umbrella of TRG. Also, you might remember that Kenny Wallace was part of that driving team. He’s not back this year, but he believes that his experience with the Porsche 911 GT3 did help him a little bit for the three Nationwide Series road races (or at least, that’s what he said during a press conference). The No. 4 returns three of their five drivers from last years’ run for this adventure (Eversley, Graeff and Yarab), while Justin Bell, a former fastest qualifier overall (in 2003, but was not given the pole due to it being the debut race for the Daytona Prototypes), joins the fray. Last year, the team finished tenth in class. With the same pace and good reliability, this would translate to roughly 15th in class.

Meanwhile, the full-time No. 44 managed a coup when it attracted 2011 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Andy Lally, who won the GT class in the No. 67 for TRG last year, for the full season. Lally joins returning drivers Potter and Lietz, along with newcomer Rast. This effort should be a very notable one. Last year, the No. 44 was an outside contender for the class victory, but fell off after sunrise and finished fourth in class, ten laps down. They could at least equal that, if not improve on their performance.

Team: Alliance Autosport
Car: No. 12 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
Sponsor: PDI Communication Systems
Drivers: Jon Miller, Hal Prewitt, Scott Rettich, Matt Schneider, Darryl Shoff
Thoughts: The Alliance team is a part-time outfit that only sparingly competes in Grand-Am. Rettich and Schneider competed in the season finale last September at Mid-Ohio for Alliance, finishing 12th in class. The car didn’t appear to be all that quick during the Roar test and I believe that the event will be a big challenge for the team. I honestly don’t expect the team to finish.

Team: Rick Ware Racing
Cars: No. 15 Ford Mustang, No. 16 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
Sponsor: Poynt (both cars)
Drivers: No. 15- Chris Cook, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Doug Harrington, Timmy Hill, John Ware
No. 16- Tomy Drissi, Kevin O’Connell, Brett Sandberg
Thoughts: Last year, Rick Ware Racing ran only one car, the No. 47, in the event. It was a struggle. The team was off the pace for almost the entire race weekend and ended up 25th overall, just about the last car running that didn’t spend a significant amount of time in the garage.

This year brings an expanded effort, and the team’s first full-time Grand-Am effort. The No. 15 has a lineup of drivers that have driven for the team’s NASCAR operation, including 2011 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year Hill. The second car, likely the same Porsche that raced last year, had a crash during the Roar test that hampered the team’s efforts. That car does not currently have any drivers listed on the entry list. However, the three drivers that I have placed on here drove the car during the Roar test. The No. 15 appeared to be the faster of the two cars, but the team is likely mid-pack at best.

Team: Burtin Racing with Goldcrest Motorsports
Car: No. 17 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
Sponsor: Foametix
Drivers: Sebastian Asch, Jack Baldwin, Claudio Burtin, Martin Ragginger, Bryan Sellers
Thoughts: The team returns the entire driving lineup from last year, except for Nick Tandy, and like last year, the car appears to be quite fast. The team was just outside the top-3 in GT lap times during the Roar test. However, the car dropped out due to mechanical issues after 378 laps last year. That could be the bugaboo for this squad. The speed is there. They just can’t break stuff. If they don’t break anything or wreck, a top-10 could be on tap. Otherwise, it could be ugly.

Team: Muehlner Motorsports America, LLC
Cars: No. 18 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, No. 19 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
Drivers: No. 18- Davy Jones, Bill Lester, John McCutchen, Mark J. Thomas
No. 19- Scott Dollahite, Ian Nater, Rhett O’Doski, Derek Withis
Thoughts: Muehlner Motorsports ran the Rolex 24 as a one-off last season and finished ninth in class (21st overall). Not horrible. Only Thomas returns from that group. Davy Jones is a former overall winner of the race when he was with Jaguar back in the late 1980’s, but hasn’t raced all that much since a nasty crash at Walt Disney World Speedway in January, 1997 resulted in neck injuries. Jones also made a run for Rookie of the Year in the then-Winston Cup Series in 1995, but was released from his ride with Jasper Racing before midseason.

Lester comes to the team from Autohaus Motorsports, where he had a great season, racking up a victory in dodgy conditions at Virginia International Raceway and finishing second in GT points with teammate Jordan Taylor. McCutchen has limited experience, but raced with Banner Racing back in 2010. On paper, this lineup seems stronger than last years’. Also, the Porsche is quite fast, having turned in the third-best GT lap in the Roar test. Expect the team to at least qualify well. Then, we’ll have to see if the car will be reliable during the race.

The No. 19 was a late entry that was just filed a couple of days ago. This car did not run in the Roar test and its a big question mark for the race. We’ll have to see what happens once practice starts.

Team: Liqui Moly Team Engister/Mitchum Motorsports
Car: No. 20 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
Sponsor: Liqui Moly
Drivers: Franz Engister, David Murry, Joseph Safina, Gunter Schaldach
Thoughts: Last year, Mitchum Motorsports ran the No. 86 Porsche. Their race was effectively in the toilet before they even reached the Kink, as the car, driven by Randy Pobst, was “involved in a crash while slowing for the International Horseshoe on the first lap”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNZuTf1_sds. The problems only mounted from there and the team ended up being the first car out of the race.

No one is back from that driver lineup for this year’s race. Schaldach is a very quick driver who ran well for Banner Racing last year, although he might be best known for his “wreck at Road America last June”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9cuY8IRuww. David Murry is a longtime veteran of endurance races at Daytona and Sebring, along with one Winston Cup start (Watkins Glen, 1999).

More than likely, this will be a mid-pack team if they can avoid trouble.

Team: Bullet Racing
Car: No. 22 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
Sponsors: The Ridge Motorsport Park, Guard Transmission
Drivers: Randy Blaylock, Darryl O’Young, Kevin Roush, Brett Van Blunkers, Joe White
Thoughts: This is a Canadian team that raced Daytona as a one-off last year. Unfortunately, they were done by about the one-third mark of the race with engine woes. Their garage area was characterized by dejected crewmembers puffing away at cigarettes at 1:30am while the rest of the field continued on.

The car appears to be decent, based on times from the Roar test. To me, that would translate to a potential top-10 finish in class if nothing goes wrong. However, that’s wishful thinking.

Team: Alex Job Racing
Cars: No. 23 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, No. 24 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
Sponsors: No. 23- WeatherTech
No. 24- McKenna Porsche, Battery Tender, Kensington, Koss Stereophones
Drivers: No. 23- Emmanuel Collard, Marco Holzer, Butch Leitzinger, Cooper MacNeil
No. 24- Michael Avenatti, Bob Faieta, Fred Poordad, Bill Sweedler, Cort Wagner
Thoughts: Alex Job Racing makes their Grand-Am return after spending the past couple of years racing in the American Le Mans Series’ GTC category. Previous to that, the team raced Porsche-powered Crawfords.

The No. 23 is the primary car and the driver lineup is excellent. Collard is a veteran endurance racer, but he’s probably better known in Europe than he is here in the United States. Leitzinger is a long time endurance racer and a past winner of the Rolex 24 back in the late 1990’s with Dyson Racing, while Holzer and MacNeil are solid drivers. This car should be quite quick and up in the standings towards the end.

The No. 24 is comprised mostly of drivers that raced the team’s GTC cars recently. That’s not a bad thing, as the Alex Job team is fairly strong in that category. Wagner is the team’s anchor and main tie to the successful era of the late 1990’s. Expect this team to be quite competitive, but maybe a little behind the No. 23.

Team: NGT Motorsport
Car: No. 26 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
Sponsor: Momo
Drivers: Henrique Cisneros, Sean Edwards, Carlos Kaufmann, Nick Tandy
Thoughts: Like the Alex Job team listed immediately above, NGT is another team that has run the GTC category in American Le Mans recently. Cisneros, Sean Edwards and Carlos Kaufmann all drove for the team last season, while Tandy was just drafted in recently.

Also similar to the Alex Job Racing team, the No. 26 was very fast in the Roar test, turning in some of the fastest GT laps on Day 1. This car should qualify fairly well and hopefully keep it up in the race.

Finally, the team’s Momo sponsorship was signed a couple of weeks before Gianpiero Moretti passed away. Although this may not have been designed as a memorial scheme, the No. 26 will carry a scheme reminiscent of the No. 30 Ferrari 333sp that Moretti Racing campaigned to the overall victory here in 1998.

Team: Orbit/GMG
Cars: No. 32 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, No. 34 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup
Sponsors: No. 32- GMG, Orbit, Spectra Resources
No. 34- GlobalBarterCorp.com
Drivers: No. 32- Nicolas Armindo, Bret Curtis, Shane Lewis, James Sofronas, Lance Willsey
No. 34- Michael DeFontes, Phil Fogg, Miro Konopka, Jan Vonka
Thoughts: GMG is a team that races primarily in World Challenge, but is very strong in that series. Last year, they teamed up with TRG and Black Swan Racing to campaign one car, the No. 54 Porsche 911. That team was quite competitive before mechanical issues put the car out of the race.

The No. 32 is definitely the stronger of the two cars. It’s a bit hard to figure out where this team could end up, but it should be a little better than mid-pack. The No. 34 seemingly skipped the Roar test, but tested in an earlier session back in December. However, that was with a completely different driver lineup, so I have no idea how high this car can go.

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