IMSA: Roar Before the 24 Friday notebook

IMSA: Roar Before the 24 Friday notebook


IMSA: Roar Before the 24 Friday notebook


Follow IMSA’s three-day test with regular updates in RACER’s daily Roar Before the 24 notebook from Fri-Sat.


Today could prove to be the one and only valuable day of running for teams at the Roar. With heavy rain forcasted for Saturday and high winds expected for Sunday, today’s calm air and warm sun, the most valuable data and best lap times could be set on the first of the the three-day practice outing. 


The Mazda camp has been buzzing with activity today. On top of assembling a brand-new chassis—the No. 55 RT24-P—which performed its shakedown at the end of the first session, the SpeedSource-led program is also experimenting with two different exhaust layouts across the Soul Red No. 55 and the Machine Gray No. 70.

The No. 55 is trying a periscope-style exhaust for its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that sprouts from the left side of the engine cover, and the No. 70 is sticking with the left sidepod exhaust that was tried during the mid-December test. Once the Roar is over, Mazda will review the data and choose one style to apply to both cars.

Although the No. 70 skipped the first session, both cars are expected to be out for the second and final practice outing of the day. All of the team’s race engines have been prepped as well, which bodes well with the Rolex 24 approaching quickly.


Brent O’Neill’s Performance Tech Motorsports team earned the unfortunate distinction of becoming the first IMSA team to crash during an official session in 2017. The No. 38 PC will need a fair amount of work to get it back in running shape.


2016 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and reigning WEC LMP1 champion Neel Jani was the fastest driver in the first session today, and the Swiss ace said his first taste of lapping a banked track was quite an experience in the Rebellion Racing ORECA 07-Gibson P2.

“It’s my first time ever here!” he exclaimed. “Yesterday I looked at the banking and thought it was really steep. I’ve never been on banking before. I watched some on board last night and saw that you could do it, but it doesn’t look natural.”


The Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX team has expanded considerably since its days as an independent prototype effort. Moving to two factory-supported GT cars has called for a number of hires to staff both GT Daytona entries, and among the new faces, some former Chip Ganassi Racing mechanics—including Kevin O’Donnell, Dario Franchitti’s former crew chief—are now under the MSR tent.


BAR1 PC team owner Brian Alder will continue fielding a full-time program this year during PC’s swansong, and hopes to make his second PC car a full-timer as well after the Rolex 24.

With the class set to be deleted at the end of 2017, Alder says he’ll spend the year evaluating his Prototype options before making a decision on which chassis to use in 2018.

“We’ll be moving up,” he said. “Just need to figure out which car is best for us.”


Four-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and his entire Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar team spent Thursday testing at Sebring before heading up to Daytona to test CGR’s Ford GT entry at the Roar. For the multi-talented Kiwi, jumping from a rapid open-wheeler to a production-based GT car is easier than one might expect.

“We’ve done it in previous years, going from one car at one test to another here,” Dixon told RACER. “It obviously takes time to adjust, but you just reflect on the last time you were in the car. It’s pretty easy for myself because we’ve done these back-to-backs to often, but there’s also greater separation between the IndyCar and the GT opposed to the prototypes. They’re both very different so you go in with a different mindset.”


Mazda has broken from its recent trend of using dual Soul Red liveries for its pair of IMSA prototypes by dressing the No. 70 RT24-P in a unique Machine Gray. The No. 55 will carry the standard Mazda red for the season.


Spencer Pumpelly has run out of space on his arms to wear all of the Rolex watches he’s received for winning the 24 Hours of Daytona. It makes the Virginian’s availability for IMSA’s grand season opener–and the entire WeatherTech Championship season–one of the bigger surprises entering 2017.

After successfully leading the Change Racing Lamborghini Huracán GTD effort last year while mentoring co-driver Corey Lewis, Pumpelly was given late notice by the team that a new driver would partner with Lewis in the No. 16 entry. Weeks away from the Rolex 24, finding a new opportunity for Daytona has become Pumpelly’s primary mission.

“It’s disappointing not to be back with Change but I understand the circumstances and I love those guys so I’m hoping they have a great year in 2017,” he told RACER. “It’s been a scramble to try to find something for at least Daytona, and hopefully beyond. I am hoping to compete in my 18th Rolex 24 later this month so I’m leaving no stone unturned in the paddock. It’s slim pickings this late in the game but I’m holding out hope.”


The best looking Cadillac DPi-V.R spent early Friday morning in a custom livery to help General Motors’ luxury brand with filming intended for future use in commercials. With the on-track filming completed before two hours before the first practice session, the Wayne Taylor Racing team leapt into action to changeover the car so Ricky and Jordan Taylor, Jeff Gordon and Max Angelelli will have the killer Darth Caddy black DPi-V.R in action once the green flag waves at 10:05 a.m. ET.


The Rolex 24 will feature its usual complement of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, and this year, there’s a Noah’s Ark vibe to the two-by-two usage of open-wheel talent and a Three’s Company feel elsewhere.

Michael Shank Racing and the Acura Motorsports (Honda Performance Development) team have tabbed Indy 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay from Andretti Autosport and title contender Graham Rahal from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to wheel a pair of NSXs in the GT Daytona class, which will be a first for both drivers after recently competing in Prototype or GT Le Mans.

Mazda Racing has also secured two of its familiar endurance racing IndyCar drivers to pilot its new RT24-P DPis. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team leader James Hinchcliffe and Spencer Pigot, who is tipped to stay with Ed Carpenter Racing, will pursue overall victory for the Japanese brand.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing has drafted in a pair of Indy 500 winners from its IndyCar program with the continuing Scott Dixon and Ford GT newcomer Tony Kanaan. FCGR also has its 2016 Le Mans winner Sebastien Bourdais–now driving for the Dale Coye Racing IndyCar team–back to give it an almighty assembly of open-wheel success. Along with the two Indy 500 wins, Dixon (four), Kanaan (one) and Bourdais (four) have nine combined IndyCar and Champ Car titles to their credit.

Among the MSR, Mazda and FCGR drivers alone, 33 percent of the regular IndyCar field will be represented at IMSA’s biggest race.

Mix in a few Indy-only specialists like Townsend Bell and Sage Karam in the GT Daytona class, and IMSA will have plenty of crossover talent to showcase.