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.
No. 62 Risi Competizione with American Canadian Racing Ferrari 458: Raphael Matos, Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella
Risi and Ferrari are synonymous with success – witness the team's run of six straight Le Mans-style endurance race wins from 2008's 24 Hours of Le Mans through 2010's 12 Hours of Sebring. The team's driver lineup is excellent but either strategy calls or unreliability have undermined the team's inherent pace in recent years. Whether such issues will prop up for the Grand-Am spec 458's debut, a different beast from its GTE-spec F458 Italia run in ALMS, remain to be seen.
No. 63 Risi Competizione with American Canadian Racing Ferrari 458: Toni Vilander, Andrea Bertolini, Olivier Beretta
Hard to see where this lineup isn't as strong as the sister car. The only minor downside is that Bertolini's done more sprint racing than endurance racing of late. Vilander should provide ample tutelage on the Ferrari to new recruit Beretta, who enters the team after eight years with Corvette. Beretta's always been one of the best at Daytona and shouldn't have too difficult a time sorting out the 458.
No. 66 TRG Porsche GT3 Cup: Patrick Pilet, Ben Keating, Allan Simonsen, Dominik Farnbacher
None of these drivers are marquee names, but collectively have scored some impressive endurance race results over the years. Simonsen and Farnbacher finished runner-up in the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans GT2 class in a Hankook-shod Ferrari 430, while Pilet – something of a young John Travolta lookalike – is another Porsche factory driver placed at one of its top customer teams. Keating will be busy, driving in both TRG's trademark No. 66 and sister No. 68 entries.
No. 67 TRG Porsche GT3 Cup: Spencer Pumpelly, Steve Bertheau, Wolf Henzler, Marc Goossens, Jeroen Bleekemolen
On paper, the early class favorite. TRG has somehow managed to improve the winning lineup from 2011, swapping Andy Lally and Brendan Gaughan for Bleekemolen and Goossens. Lally for Bleekemolen is a straight trade of aces, but Gaughan to Goossens is a substantial upgrade. If Bertheau's minimal driving time goes without issue, the other four should provide the necessary balance of pace, patience and reliability to keep the car near the top of the class yet again.
No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD Ferrari 458: Jeff Segal, Emil Assentato, Nick Longhi, Anthony Lazzaro
There's a solid group of people assembled at AIM, but this is a difficult car to project given the amount of unknowns. The team itself shifts from DP to GT, with Segal and Assentato joining the team and switching from Mazda to Ferrari. How will the team call the race as a GT entrant? How the drivers will integrate into the team? And of course, how will the Ferrari hold up? The people assembled outweigh the question marks, and therefore, this car makes the top tier cut.
No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8: Sylvain Tremblay, Jonathan Bomarito, Marino Franchitti, James Hinchcliffe
SpeedSource still provides Mazda's best shot at a GT class win by just a hair over the top Dempsey or Sahlen's entries. They're not the favorites, but the team can draw on its past success at Daytona to dig deep and perhaps pull a rabbit out of the hat. None of Tremblay, Bomarito, Franchitti or Hinchcliffe is error-prone and while “Hinch” is the only endurance race wild card in the quartet, he should be heady enough to keep the car in contention.
No. 88 Autohaus Motorsports Camaro GT.R: Paul Edwards, Jordan Taylor, Tommy Milner, Matthew Marsh
If Corvette doesn't take the outright win, Chevrolet still could take the GT class win with this Camaro. The car that nearly won the Rolex Series championship in 2011 has swapped Bill Lester for Paul Edwards alongside impressive youngster Jordan Taylor. Milner gives the team a factory GM driver for support and Marsh has enough 24-hour race experience to keep the car from tumbling down the order.
No. 93 Turner Motorsport BMW M3: Bill Auberlen, Paul Dalla Lana, Michael Marsal, Dirk Mueller, Jorg Mueller
Originally, this car had Dirk Mueller, Jorg Mueller and Dirk Werner on board. Team owner Will Turner either got confused himself or came to his senses about having three similarly named German drivers sharing the “who's on first” M3. Now, Werner has been switched to the team's sister car, with Auberlen and Dalla Lana joining the remaining three. Those two will be busy as they're entered in both cars.
No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW M3: Bill Auberlen, Paul Dalla Lana, Billy Johnson, Boris Said, Dirk Werner
DTM-bound Werner is a late add to this lineup. He's got quality co-drivers in Auberlen and Said – two of BMW's most recognizable pilots – with youngster Billy Johnson and the improving Dalla Lana as the team's gentleman driver. Not an outright favorite, but certainly should be a force to be reckoned with.
Leaving Dempsey Racing out of the top tier was rather difficult considering they podiumed last year. However, repeating will be a substantially difficult task, given the more than a dozen additional GT class entries in 2012 feature some very strong packages. Put this way, if either one of the team's No. 40 or No. 41 Mazda RX-8s score a podium in 2012, it will be a much greater accomplishment than a year ago.
Fellow Mazda squad Team Sahlen has added Dane Cameron to its driving lineup. Although Cameron was able to lift two other gentlemen drivers to a class win at last year's 12 Hours of Sebring, doing likewise with three or four semi-pros in this deep a class would be nothing short of a herculean effort. The team has three cars entered, but has withdrawn one in previous years, which should leave either its No. 42 or 43 car to go the distance.
A late entrant to the field comes from Yellow Dragon Motorsports, which struggled in its debut Rolex 24 appearance a year ago. In year two, its No. 36 Mazda RX-8 should feature slightly more prominently with a lineup including the father-and-son pairing of John and Jarett Andretti, along with ex-Star Mazda racers Anders Krohn and Taylor Hacquard.
Of the remaining two Ferraris, Extreme Speed Motorsports (No. 03 Ferrari 458) should run stronger than the AF Waltrip entry. Scott Sharp's ALMS team managed a runner-up finish at the 2010 Petit Le Mans, and features the underrated Johannes van Overbeek and Guy Cosmo driving together rather than apart as they usually do in ALMS.
APR Motorsport (No. 51 Audi R8, RIGHT) is probably the stronger of the first two announced Audis, although its reliability may be its sore point. The driver lineup features an Audi legend (Emanuele Pirro), two young chargers (Dion von Moltke, Ian Baas), and two gentlemen drivers (Dr. Jim Norman, Nelson Canache).
Second entries from Magnus Racing (No. 4 Porsche GT3 Cup) and Stevenson Motorsports (No. 75 Camaro GT.R) should hover around the top 10 with potential of running better. Magnus's car is run in partnership with the Children's Tumor Foundation and Racing for Research, and has SPEED in-race reporter Justin Bell and Continental Tire Challenge ST runner-up Ryan Eversley in its driver lineup. That's among the strongest “tier two” entries.
Two intriguing Porsche lineups (LEFT) come from FOAMETIX/Burtin Racing with Goldcrest Motorsports (No. 17 Porsche GT3 Cup) and NGT Motorsport (No. 26 Porsche GT3 Cup). While Burtin has Daytona legend Jack Baldwin and young chargers Bryan Sellers and Martin Ragginger aboard its lineup, keep an eye on Nick Tandy and Sean Edwards in their stints in the MOMO-liveried NGT Porsche. Edwards snuck up on the ALMS scene a year ago with one pole and a near-class win in GTC, and a YouTube search for him at the Nurburgring might leave one breathless.
Both Alex Job Racing and TRG have one of their Porsches that could fall into any of the three categories. Cort Wagner (Job No. 24) and Damien Faulkner (TRG No. 68) have the potential to lift their cars higher than they otherwise should be given their respective co-drivers. If neither lives up to par, these two cars could fall to the depths of the class.
TRG ran a car in partnership with GMG last year, but California-based GMG has branched off into two Porsches run with Orbit (Nos. 32 and 34) in 2012. They are the latest entries into the field and among the hardest cars to project, but should be more than just bottom-feeders. The team's lineup hasn't been confirmed but is rumored to include Madison Snow. If he drives, he'd be the field's youngest driver, having won IMSA's GT3 Challenge Gold Cup title at age 15 last year.
There are two borderline middle tier entries. One is Oryx Racing (No. 74 Audi R8), which sprung some surprises in ALMS in 2011. Steven Kane will be quick, but he and his co-drivers Humaid Al Masaood and Saaed Al Mehairi are unknown quantities in endurance racing, with the Audi's reliability remaining to be seen. Oryx, for this race, lacks the Dyson technical support that served it so well in 2011.
The other is the AF Corse-run AF Waltrip entry (No. 56 Ferrari 458). Michael Waltrip is a Daytona legend, with two Daytona 500 victories. Unfortunately, oval success does not a GT class champion make, especially in this year's field. It should be one of the most publicized entries, but just finishing will be a victory for Waltrip, Rob Kauffman, Rui Aguas and Travis Pastrana. A top 10 in class would be a bonus.
Elsewhere TRG's two remaining Porsches are there to make up the numbers and continue the streak of team principal Kevin Buckler running at least five cars in the Rolex, an impressive feat dating to 2005. Ex-Formula 1 and IndyCar driver Eliseo Salazar (No. 64) and Long Beach Grand Prix CEO Jim Michaelian (No. 65) are the drivers of interest there.
Two Muehlner Motorsports America, LLC entries (Nos. 18, 19) and single entries from Alliance Autosport (No. 12), Mitchum Motorsports (No. 20), Bullet Racing (No. 22), Acumen Motorsport (No. 55) and Dick Greer Racing (No. 82) round out the Porsche GT3 Cup contingent.
Keep an eye out for Davy Jones (Muehlner No. 18) SCCA Formula Enterprise champion Scott Rettich (Alliance), former Porsche factory driver David Murry (Mitchum) and 1990s Indy Lights competitor Mark Hotchkis (Greer) in that batch.
Longtime NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team owner Rick Ware has both a Ford Mustang (No. 15, RIGHT) and a Porsche GT3 Cup (No. 16) entered, with the late Dale Earnhardt's grandson Jeffrey in the team's Mustang. But there's something about the words “Earnhardt driving a Ford” that doesn't sound right.
Dodge is back at Daytona too, and while neither lead driver Jan Heylen nor the Racers Edge Motorsports team are slouches, they'll have an uphill battle to sort out the team's new No. 87 Viper Comp Coupe for the entire race. It's a safe bet this car – adorned in a banana yellow livery instead of the traditional Viper red with white stripes (LEFT) – will not match the 2000 ORECA Viper's overall victory, let alone a class win in 2012.
Team Sahlen's No. 49 Mazda and Michael Baughman Racing's No. 46 Corvette are the least likely contenders. Sahlen's often withdraws one of its entries – likely this one – while the Baughman Corvette might be the epitome of the underdog. In its four prior Rolex 24 starts, the team has either finished the race as the last car running or been one of the first six out. For a sentimental pick where making laps – slowly – is a victory, root for this team's Corvette in the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24.
HOW TO WATCH
The Rolex 24 will unfold live on SPEED on a multi-faceted platform, with 15.5 hours live on SPEED TV and the remainder of the race streamed online on SPEED.com. More than 25 hours of coverage begins on Sat. Jan. 28, at 2:30 p.m. ET with green-flag action beginning an hour later at 3:30 p.m. ET. Online coverage begins at 11 p.m. ET Saturday night, with TV coverage resuming at 9 a.m. ET Sunday morning. On-air talent includes Bob Varsha, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs, Dorsey Schroeder, Calvin Fish and Tommy Kendall in the broadcast booth, with Brian Till, Chris Neville, Jamie Howe and Greg Creamer on pit road, and Justin Bell serving as the in-race reporter for Magnus Racing.