A lot of news, developments, and action took place during two days of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship testing at Daytona last week. Here’s a quick rundown of the major items of interest:
• Talk about awkward Thanksgiving dinner table conversations. Corvette Racing crew chief Dan Binks was the proudest father on pit lane when his son Phil arrived at Le Mans as a mechanic with the Nissan LMP1 team in June. RACER did a story on the father-son combo at the time, and with Phil’s recent move to the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team, the pride has certainly increased, but with the new Chevy-vs-Ford dynamic in mind, father and son have now become archrivals in IMSA’s GT Le Mans category (LEFT, Marshall Pruett photo).
“It’s so great for him, and he’s come so far,” said the elder Binks. “It’s great seeing my boy get hired by a team like Ganassi, but we can’t exactly talk shop anymore…”
Phil was back at CGR’s shop during the test, but it didn’t stop his father – or other members of the Corvette team – from prodding the lad. “He’s worked with us in the past at Corvette Racing, so he’s like a little brother to a lot of the guys here, and we couldn’t be more proud of him.” Binks was barely able to finish his sentence before one of the Corvette mechanics warmly added, “And we can’t wait to kick his ass…”
• CORE autosport tested a new, softer rain tire from Continental on its ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet PC car, and from the team’s feedback, more work will go into a new tire for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The tire tested by CORE was said to be too soft, and did not evacuate as much water as was hoped during the bouts of hard rain that fell during the test. It’s believed the revised Daytona rain tire will only be made available to PC and P2 teams, which has led to an appreciable level of grumpiness in the Daytona Prototype camp. A new, post-Daytona rain tire is expected for PC, P2, and DP.
• The purpose for the Daytona test was to give IMSA a chance to benchmark performance levels for all of its cars, to try various Balance of Performance adjustments to gauge the lap time increase or decrease, and to evaluate the separation in speeds between the four classes. The first item is the one that drew more attention than any other as some (but not all) teams pushed hard during the test, while others left a bit of performance on the table. The most fun part was listening to teams that claimed to run at 100 percent, and then declare they knew their rivals were holding back. The team in the next garage would say the same thing, etc., creating a lovely scenario where seemingly everybody was running flat out and sandbagging…
• Continuing the tire theme, Michelin made one set of its buttery-soft tires to its GTLM teams to run for the first time at Daytona. The “low energy” Michelins were introduced mid-season, and offer a significant reduction in lap time. With IMSA heavily monitoring lap times for BoP purposes, BMW Team RLL, Corvette Racing, and Ford Chip Ganassi Racing alerted the series when the low-energy sets were used to help IMSA account for the change in speeds.
• Timing and scoring information was kept private by the series during the test.
• Sean Rayhall was on hand to try the DeltaWing DWC13 and got up to speed quickly.
• BMW Team RLL and Turner Motorsport made full use of the test to find speed and weaknesses in the GT Daytona and GT Le Mans versions of BMW’s new twin-turbo V8 M6. Although the big BMWs were challenged for outright pace, the November test served its purpose as both programs worked through issues ahead of January’s Roar Before the 24.
On the GTLM side, the converted-from-GT3 M6 persevered through axle issues and, based purely on listening from trackside, it struggled in the electronics department when powering out of slower corners. Plenty of sound was happening as traction control and boost control efforts were working furiously, but not a lot of forward movement took place on hard throttle applications. Given the massive number of BMW engineers on site for the test, I’m sure solutions will be implemented before the car returns for the Roar.
• Too many race-winning drivers were sitting idle at the test. Spencer Pumpelly, Damien Faulkner, Dion von Moltke, and Stefan Wilson were among the painfully unemployed at Daytona.
• Audi Sport’s presence at the upcoming Rolex 24 at Daytona will be interesting, thanks to its relaxed policy of letting factory drivers sign with other teams. Filipe Albuquerque (Action Express Racing), Marcel Fassler and Mike Rockenfeller (Corvette Racing) are among the known LMP1 or DTM drivers who’ll race at Daytona, and with up to four Audi R8s expected for the GTD class, more factory talent could be added to the list.
• Ford finally confirmed its full-time drivers for IMSA, leaving its IMSA endurance drivers and its full WEC lineup to be unveiled. Of the drivers at the test who weren’t announced, Sebastien Bourdais, Marino Franchitti, and Olivier Pla were seen driving. One driver expected to be announced for the WEC roster was busy in Bahrain for the WEC finale.
• Chip Ganassi Racing is expected to field at least one Ford EcoBoost DP – and possible a second – to defend its overall win with its usual collection of IndyCar and NASCAR drivers.
• In addition to giving PC teams a new top gear ratio to reduce revs on the banking, teams are also expecting new camshafts to be in place for the opening race.
• Although unconfirmed, it’s believed Aston Martin and Mercedes-AMG are unlikely to cover the financial agreement required for each manufacturer to have its cars compete in IMSA’s WeatherTech Championship. TRG-AMR and the Mercedes-AMG test team were present at the test, but returns in January, at least at this stage, looks unlikely.
• Mazda’s speedy new 4-cylinder gas turbo P2 engine was kept under wraps during the test (BELOW). The blankets will come off in January after the Japanese brand decides on a name for the 2.0-liter motor.