What are the prospects of a repeat win for MSR?
The 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona was a dream for Michael Shank Racing, with AJ Allmendinger delivering the drive of his life to hold off Starworks Motorsport's Ryan Dalziel and earn the eponymous team owner a popular first Daytona victory.
For 2013, the same cast and characters are back with a slight twist. The defending champion No. 60 Riley Ford again sees Allmendinger rejoined by Justin Wilson, Ozz Negri and John Pew, but with NASCAR road racing ace and former V8 Supercars champion Marcos Ambrose added as a fifth driver. Negri has been cleared to race, likely in a limited capacity, after injuring his leg while mountain biking this offseason.
Shank's second car (No. 6) upgrades its bodywork but still will be hard-pressed to repeat its podium of a year ago, given the deep field and likely improved reliability of the Corvettes. Jorge Goncalvez and Gustavo Yacaman return with new additions Michael Valiante and Chris Cumming; Valiante set the fastest overall time at the Roar Before the 24 test, a 1m42.058s.
With the Ford-powered cars strong on pace both last year and in the Roar test, both cars could contend for the pole but it would surprise if both have a shot at victory once the sun rises on Sunday morning.
Which teams could outrank Shank?
Realistically, 10 to 12 cars could contend for the overall victory. Most Daytona Prototype entries feature three or even four pros in their lineups. Starworks seeks to avenge its narrow defeat of a year ago. As it turned out, that losing margin of just 5.198sec was all that separated the team from a sweep of class victories at the endurance classics – Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. Like Shank, both of Peter Baron's Riley Fords are now upgraded to the third-generation bodywork, and the same car that contended last year is his best shot in 2013.
Dalziel's back with two of his 2012 teammates in Allan McNish – seeking his first overall Daytona win – and Alex Popow, with Sebastien Bourdais returning to the race for the first time since 2010. The sister No. 8's lineup features (for now) Daytona DP rookies Jan Charouz, Brendon Hartley, Gaetano Ardagna, SUNOCO Challenge winner Ivan Bellarosa and Scott Mayer, and is less likely to contend.
TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, meanwhile, wants to expunge the memories of a fraught 2012 race where their Riley BMWs finished just fourth and sixth. Some driver shuffling sees Juan Montoya and Rolex 24 rookie Charlie Kimball joining defending series champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas – Pruett in search of his record-tying fifth Rolex watch – while the second car features CGR's IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti with Jamie McMurray and Joey Hand.
Enzo Potolicchio has struck out on his own after a split from Starworks and has assembled quite a cast for the new 8Star Motorsports Corvette. Four ex-Peugeot stars – Anthony Davidson, Nic Minassian, Pedro Lamy and Stephane Sarrazin – join Potolicchio in the orange No. 3. It's as solid a first-time effort as could possibly be assembled, and should stay in the running throughout the race.
The renamed Wayne Taylor Racing (formerly SunTrust) swaps Ricky Taylor for younger brother Jordan, swaps Ryan Briscoe for reigning IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay amd the SunTrust orange and white for Velocity Worldwide's black and orange. Max Angelelli returns after being the guy who sorrowfully drove the car to the garage with a mechanical failure barely half an hour into last year's race.
Meanwhile, Ricky Taylor replaces Antonio Garcia as Richard Westbrook's full-season partner at Spirit of Daytona, although Garcia stays on the roster for Daytona with fellow Corvette Racing ace Oliver Gavin. But the sentimental favorite may be GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, with Darren Law now aboard the No. 99 along with Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and Memo Gidley. After a plethora of problems at Daytona last year that set the tone for a winless season, no one would begrudge this team breaking its run of poor luck in this race. Changes also abound at Action Express, with almost all new faces in its two Corvettes. Lone full-season holdover Joao Barbosa races with Burt Frisselle and Mike Rockenfeller in the No. 9 car, while Christian Fittipaldi, Brian Frisselle and Rolex 24 additions Nelson Piquet Jr. and Felipe Nasr pilot the sister No. 5.
Ford-powered DPs paced the month's Roar Before the 24 test ahead of BMW and Corvette, but widespread assumptions were that GM wasn't showing its full hand. Starworks' Baron made that notion public when he tweeted after the test, “The amount of sandbagging that took place this weekend could have saved New York and New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy.”
Team Sahlen's class debut comes after years running a Mazda RX-8 in GT, and a lineup that includes Dane Cameron, Simon Pagenaud and Bruno Junqueira means that its two Riley BMWs could cause surprises. Doran's lineup is likely better than its car, an updated Dallara Ford that will see Paul Tracy, Dr. Jim Lowe and CORE autosport's Jon Bennett and Colin Braun attempt to punch above their weight. Highway to Help Racing and BTE Sport complete the 17-car class, and seek a race finish with anything beyond that a bonus.