Rolex 24 Entry List
More than 40 cars and eight different manufacturers are represented in what is easily the strongest GT class field in Grand-Am's history at the Rolex 24 at Daytona (Editor's Note: Our DP class preview will follow on Tuesday). A comprehensive analysis might take tens of thousands of words, so for the sake of timing and simplicity, we'll try to boil it down to three probable tiers: top, middle and bottom.
The top tier (15 entries) represents potential class winners and likely podium contenders. The middle tier (15) features teams on the edge of podium or top-five finishing positions, and are likely lower top-10 contenders. The bottom tier (16) includes teams that could score a top-10 finish via attrition, but are otherwise unlikely to threaten the class leaders. They should focus on enjoying the 24-hour race and attempting to punch above their weight.
This being Daytona, however, absolutely nothing is out of the question. That's half the intrigue. But if things go mostly to plan, here is how the class should shake out:
No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche GT3 Cup: Emmanuel Collard, Butch Leitzinger, Cooper MacNeil, Marco Holzer
AJR has always been a fixture on sports car endurance race leaderboards, but it's been since 2005 since the team has won championships. At Daytona, that dry spell dates to 1999 with its last Rolex 24 class win. But this lineup is as good as any in class. Leitzinger and Collard are two of the underrated sports car stars of this era, and both have prior overall Rolex victories. Holzer has already earned a role as a Porsche factory driver and MacNeil, 19, brings backing but might someday be a low-end number one or high-end number two driver in sports car racing.
No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3 Cup: Andy Lally, John Potter, Richard Lietz, Rene Rast
Magnus is one of sports car racing's newest, and most entertaining, squads to enter the sport in some time. If they taste success at this year's Rolex 24, there's a good chance their offbeat and tongue-in-cheek press releases would provide a humorous take on how they got there. The team's sister entry also has a solid lineup, but this is the team's winning contender. Lally returns to his sports car roots after his NASCAR sojourn, Lietz and Rast represent two of Porsche's top young pilots, and team principal Potter has improved his craft in time. A car that's gray and white may sound dull but the team's attitude and driver lineup is far from it.
No. 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports with Wright Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup: Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Long, Mike Rockenfeller, Seth Neiman
For all its ALMS success, Flying Lizard has never had the best of luck in 24-hour races either at Daytona or Le Mans. Granted, Bergmeister won the overall pole in a Porsche Riley DP last year, and he, Long and Rockenfeller have tasted victory at Daytona before. Team principal Neiman's the only weak link, which isn't a slight on him as much as it is an appraisal of his co-drivers. The pace will be there but the question, as always, is whether the luck will follow (although Bergmeister has said he hates the word and doesn't believe in it).
No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Porsche GT3 Cup: Rob Bell, Sascha Maassen, Bryce Miller, Mark Wilkins
Not flashy by any sense of the word, but here are four dependable endurance racing drivers and two of them (Bell, Miller) finished second in this car a year ago. Maassen and Wilkins replace Tim Sugden and Bryan Sellers. This is one of those under-the-radar entries that could once again figure in the equation if the cards fall right.
No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro GT.R: Ronnie Bremer, John Edwards, Robin Liddell
Only a three-driver lineup for Stevenson, but in some respects, that could play to their benefit. Bremer and Edwards were tossed out of open-wheel and found their niche in sports cars, with Edwards joining the team for the full season. Liddell's spent his career starring in either Porsches or the Stevenson Camaro. The Mike Johnson-led team, for whatever reason, has never finished as strong at Daytona as in other Rolex Series races in years past. Still, with the new cars unknown quantities as yet and with a lack of turnover within the team, this is a contender.
No. 59 Brumos Racing Porsche GT3 Cup: Andrew Davis, Leh Keen, Marc Lieb, Hurley Haywood
You know you're in a good situation when your fourth driver has the most overall wins in Daytona 24 history. Hurley Haywood is both Brumos and Daytona's standard-bearer, but his role in his 40th and last Rolex is simply to run his pace and keep the car on track, leaving it to his three younger co-drivers to deliver the goods. Davis, Keen and Lieb are consistent, fast drivers with the first two earning the Rolex Series GT class title a year ago. While Brumos secured an overall win in 2009, a GT win could be in the offing in 2012.