Rolex 24: Hindy's Dark Horses and Hidden Heroes

Rolex 24: Hindy's Dark Horses and Hidden Heroes

IMSA

Rolex 24: Hindy's Dark Horses and Hidden Heroes

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RACER asked John Hindhaugh, the voice of sports car racing, to share his insights on some of the lesser-known drivers in the field for this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. Enjoy Hindy’s colorful run through some of the competitors whose names deserve a second look.)
 
 
There are so many stories to follow in the Rolex 24 at Daytona this year that I could, quite easily, write a paragraph or more about every single car. You’ll be pleased to know I haven’t done that. Instead here’s a very brief look at a few entries that, unless you are regular listeners to RadioLeMans.com live race coverage or our Midweek Motorsport podcast each Wednesday, some drivers competing this weekend that might not be as well known to fans in the United States.
 
So this is your chance to learn a little about some of Hindy’s “Dark Horses and Hidden Heroes” as you get ready for what should be a fantastic launch of the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
 
Prototypes:

 

No. 6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing  
Klaus Graf / Dornhan, Germany
Lucas Luhr / Koblenz, Germany
Alexander Brundle / UK
This is the best of the USA prototype cars. The two Germans, Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr, are known quantities. Alexander Brundle, son of former World Sportscar Champion and F1 pilot Martin Brundle, who is a man who knows the Daytona banking and raced Dale Earnhardt for a title there (in the now-defunct IROC series), Alex is nicknamed ‘Cookie Monster,’ not because he eats lots, but because he infamously turned down one of my wife Eve’s homemade cookies at Hindhaugh Towers. He claimed the cookie ‘looks like it might be worth half a tenth.’ Dedicated? I should say so. He’s fast and has plenty of downforce experience from Formula series’ and LMP cars in Europe. He’s a thoughtful young man, and a good interview who will more than hold his own within the team.
 
No. 42 OAK Racing
Oliver Pla / Toulouse, France
Roman Rusinov / Russia
Gustavo Yacaman / Colombia
Oliver Webb / UK
Oliver Pla is super fast and was tipped for stardom in LMP1. He’s wise beyond his years and elected to stay in P2 and has settled nicely into ‘works’ driver role for Oak. Roman Rusinov is very experienced in formula cars in 2000s – including a test driver role for Midland and Jordan F1 – and has proved himself in GT, winning the 2004 LMS GT2 Championship. His prototype experience is limited, but he’s a steady hand behind the wheel.
 
Oliver Webb is another very competent Formula 3 driver making his first steps into endurance racing. He finished on podium in Pro-Am, inside the Top 10 overall, at the recent Dubai 24 in and unfancied Lamborghini. He’s VERY impressive in traffic, should take to prototype cars well and is a driver to watch on Saturday.
 
Gustavo Yacaman is the loose cannon of the group and is capable of undoing the hard work of the other three. However, despite the uncertainty Yacaman brings, this car still has to be considered a contender.
 
No. 78 Starworks Motorsport
Scott Mayer / Franklin, WI
Alex Popow / Caracas, Venezuela
Brendon Hartley / New Zealand
Brendon Hartley is known as “Hartley Hair,” a nickname he’s earned for his boyband style. But simply put, he’s the real deal!  We have been raving about him for some time and his reward for all his speed is a factory LMP1 driver with Porsche this season. Hartley will be the fastest driver in the car and he will race hard.
PC
 
No. 8 Starworks Motorsport
Mirco Schultis / Germany
Erix Lux / Buffalo, NY
Renger van der Zande / Dodewaard, Netherlands
Sam Bird / Roehampton, UK
Eric Lux has got himself a top notch set of teammates. Renger van der Zande is rapidly turning into another great endurance all-rounder, as his Dubai performance showed. Mirco Shultis is normally found behind the wheel of a Ferrari but will acclimate himself well in Prototype Challenge. Sam Bird is new to endurance but will push Renger hard to be the fastest pilot in the car. Sam’s formula car experience – including a run at the GP2 title last year – has given him all the skills required for close hard racing. His setup and analytical skills have been recognized by AMG Mercedes, where he was development and reserve driver last year. This is a podium car with chance to win.


GTLM
No. 55 BMW Team Rahal
Bill Auberlen / Redondo Beach, CA
Andy Priaulx / Guernsey, England
Joey Hand / Sacramento, CA
Maxime Martin / Brussels, Belgium
 
The two Americans (Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand) have stout back-up from their European teammates (Andy Priaulx and Maxime Martin). With a clean run this group has a podium shot – at the least. Priaulx, a former hill climber and touring car World Champion, still needs to get a break in his quest to conquer endurance racing. His fast and tidy driving style is perfectly suited to the longer form of racing. His named is pronounced “Pree-ooh” and DON’T call him English or French. Max Martin isn’t French either; he’s Belgian and just about the fastest thing around the Nurburgring in the dry and THE fastest in the wet. Need I say more? Thought not.
 
No. 93 SRT Viper
Robert Bell / UK
Jonathan Bomarito / Monterey, CA
Kuno Wittmer / Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Rob Bell is a smart hire for SRT to join the regulars in the Viper. Rob is a multiple LMS GT Champion who was teamed with Gimmi Bruni for Ferrari. Most days there was little or nothing between them, and Gimmi wasn’t always the quickest. With that kind of pedigree it’s no wonder McLaren snapped him up as a ‘works’ MP12 driver. His skill has also been recognized by Aston Martin, and rightly so. The soft-spoken Geordie (Newcastle born) is a demon behind the wheel and he reads a race well too. He has an awful taste in soccer teams though. Rob’s brother Matt is racing in the No. 48 GTD Audi – he has the same great driving genes, but the same bad taste in soccer teams.
 
No. 97 Aston Martin
Stefan Mücke / Berlin, Germany
Darren Turner / Banbury, England
Pedro Lamy / Lisbon, Portugal
Richie Stanaway / Tauranga, New Zealand
This is the Aston Martin “works” entry with Stanaway being the new boy. Ritchie is another young F3 driver who has found a home in endurance racing. There is NO weak link in this lineup and the Kiwi will certainly hold his own amongst a very talented and quick group. Turner and Mucke are still smarting from bad luck in Austin and Bahrain that cost them the FiA World title. If IMSA had given the Vantage a decent BoP, and not hamstrung them with fuel fill rate as in the recent ALMS years, this is a class-winning car.
 
GTD

 

No. 18 Muehlner Motorsports America Porsche
Earl Bamber / New Zealand
Bradley Blum / Winter Park, FL
Alexandre Imperatori / Switzerland
Ronald Zitza / Maitland, FL
The Florida natives (Bradley Blum and Ronald Zitza) are joined by a very decent Swiss in the form of Alexandre Imperatori, who started racing Karts in Spain at just four-years-old! His GT performances have been mostly in Asia where he’s also dabbled in Super GT (Gt300). He was impressive in LMP2 at Le Mans 2013 in the KCMG Morgan Nissan. Earl is a former co-commentator of mine as we shared the TV booth on a couple of occasions for Superleague Formula. He drives even faster than he talks. I’m delighted to see him in endurance racing, as I’m sure he will do well.
 
No. 28 Dempsey Racing Porsche
Christian Engelhart / Kösching, Germany
Rolf Ineichen / Sursee, Switzerland
Klaus Bachler / Unzmarkt, Austria
Lance Willsey / Chestnut Hill, MA
Franz Konrad / Graz, Austria
The second Dempsey car has an intriguing lineup. I’m guessing that little is known about the Europeans, although those with long memories will remember Franz Konrad, who as a team owner gave the Saleen S7-R a class win in its debut at Sebring in 2001. Bachler, Englehart and Ineichen are all experienced endurance racers who can turn in quick and consistent laps.
 
No. 46 Fall-Line Audi R8
Charlie Putman / Mills, WY
Charles Espenlaub / Lutz, FL
Oliver Jarvis / Burwell, UK
James Walker / Jersey, UK
James Walker is, like Priaulx, a Channel Islander from Jersey. He was at Daytona in 2010 in the J Low Racing Porsche but never got to drive as the car retired early. JMW Ferrari teammate to Rob Bell in LMS and learned quickly. He adapted well to LMP2 and took a class win in FIA WEC for Delta–ADR in an Oreca Nissan. He should do well here. Olly Jarvis is the defending class winner for this race and also won Sebring in LMP1 (Audi R19 E-tron) and was third at Le Mans 24 in a R18. All told, his 2013 season was not bad. Jarvis has done a lot of testing and development in the R8 so Audi Customer Racing must like this car’s chances.
 
No. 49 Spirit of Race Ferrari
Piergiuseppe Perazzini / Verona, Italy
Gialuca Roda / Como, Italy
Paolo Ruberti / Verona, Italy
David Rigon / Thiene, Italy
AF Corse DNS runs right through both Spirit of Race entries. As it should, SoR are customers of Amato Ferrari’s Scuderia. Davide Rigon is the only non-AF regular name here but will not let the team down. He blitzed the field in Superleague Formula and has lost none of his speed in the transition to GT.
 
No. 51 Spirit of Race Ferrari
Matt Griffin / Ireland
Marco Cioci / Rome, Italy
Michele Rugolo / Italy
Jack Gerber / South Africa
The performance and finishing potential of the second SoR entry will, in part, be down to Jack Gerber. The genial South African is a genuine Gentleman driver, and I mean no disrespect to his driving talent. Jack is a massive enthusiast for the sport and was brave enough to compete at WEC level last year. The two Italians, Marco Cioci and Michele Rugolo, are massively competent. Anchoring the team is Matt Griffin, “Thrapston’s fastest Ferrari driver” and a very close neighbour to me. Matt is reining ELMS GTE Champion and as one of the development drivers for the GT3 458, he knows the car better than most. Matt is reliable, consistent and super quick; he should qualify the car well.
No. 72 SMP Racing Ferrari
Boris Rotenberg / Russia
Sergey Zlobin / Russia
Maurizio Mediani / Italy
Mika Salo / Finland
Mikhail Aleshin / Russia
 

SMP burst onto the scene in ELMS last year at the second race and proceeded to clean up the GTC (GT3) championship with a dominating performance in the remaining four events. There used to be a decent F3 and touring car scene in Russia and so there are a number of drivers who have experience. Both Zlobin and Aleshin impressed last year but it remains to be seen if ESM can run them. SMP has already put its toe in the water in LMP2, with Mediani impressing at Paul Ricard, and are expected to expand in 2014 – watch this space, the Russians are coming!

IMSA TUNE-IN:

Tune in for the 52nd Rolex 24 At Daytona at the following times:

Saturday, Jan. 25

2-4 p.m. ET on FOX (Live)
4-9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 2 (Live)
 
Overnight (Jan. 25-26)
9 p.m. – 7 a.m. ET on IMSA.com (includes live images, in-car cameras and announcers)
 
Sunday, Jan. 26
7 a.m. – 3 p.m. on FOX Sports 1 (Live)

Tune in for the Daytona season opener at the following time:

Friday, Jan. 24

6 p.m. on FOX Sports 2 (Same Day)

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