All the on-track preparations are set for this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona.
BALANCING ACT – Projections after this year's Roar Before the 24 test were that the pace of Ford and BMW, well ahead of Corvette, was something of a false dawn. Corvette Daytona Prototype teams didn't show particularly well at the test but were expected to improve once race week kicked off.
Not so, as Corvette teams have been mired largely outside the top five all week. SPEED.com confirmed Friday that Grand-Am had made some additional performance adjustments to give the Corvettes a greater air restrictor size and thus slightly more horsepower from what it had in qualifying.
BMW, which swept the top three positions on the grid, has maintained the same rev limit as it had at the Roar test, 7,000 max rpm. It's an increase from what it had in 2012 according to Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, back in a DP for the first time since Indianapolis in July last year, and also per Team Sahlen's Dane Cameron. Cameron's team makes its DP debut on Saturday with a lineup that also includes open-wheel aces Simon Pagenaud and Bruno Junqueira.
The Rolex 24 is no longer merely a test of survival but also comes down to outright pace, and from that standpoint, here's hoping that the adjustments made for the Corvettes sees them closer to that of the BMW- and Ford-powered entries.
HUNTER-REAY'S NEW RIDE – Ryan Hunter-Reay's offseason from IndyCar has included trips to race at Petit Le Mans and the Race of Champions, and a new family addition with the birth of his first son Ryden on Dec. 28. Now in the new year, RHR has eyes set on securing another accolade to his quickly growing list of accomplishments.
A night-and-day difference from a year ago sees him in a new team and signed well in advance of his 2012 Rolex 24. Hunter-Reay joins the Wayne Taylor Racing squad in a Corvette DP after running a second-generation Riley Ford for Starworks Motorsport a year ago, a car that seemingly had a different driver lineup every day in the week before the race.
“I drove for Wayne Taylor and SunTrust in 2006 (season finale at Miller Motorsports Park), and it was my breakthrough back to mainstream motorsports after the whole Rocketsports situation,” Hunter-Reay said. “That was a big deal driving for those guys. I wanted an opportunity to get back at some point. In a Chevy and a works team with a Corvette DP, it made perfect sense. With Max (Angelelli) and Jordan (Taylor), it should be a great lineup.”
Hunter-Reay's recent sports car history has been in Riley Technologies-built chassis, both the DPs he's driven and also the SRT Viper at Petit. Taylor's Corvette is one of two total Dallara chassis on the grid, with the rest of the Corvette bodies with either Riley or Coyotes.
The team itself seeks a rebound after last year, when mechanical gremlins struck in the first half hour and knocked the team out of the rest before Ricky Taylor or Ryan Briscoe, Angelelli's then-teammates, even had a chance to drive.
MIXED BAG FOR OTHER ANDRETTI DRIVERS – Hunter-Reay is not the lone Andretti Autosport team member on hand this weekend. Team boss Michael Andretti made an appearance in the paddock on Friday; meanwhile at SpeedSource, RHR's Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe has endured an uphill battle in the team's Mazda6. Various teething problems on the new GX class car – primarily in the engine and transmission – have made for the traditional “new car blues” for a team that's long been one of Grand-Am's most well-oiled machines.
“I haven't got much track time yet, but we have bigger issues,” Hinchcliffe related. “We'll work through it and keep pushing.” The Canadian co-drives with Sylvain Tremblay, Jonathan Bomarito, Marino Franchitti and Tom Long.
From talking to several of the Mazda drivers in the paddock, the team is working to conserve parts and engine life in running this week before the race.
On the IndyCar side, Hinchcliffe has tested a couple times during the offseason but is waiting to see how Andretti's engineering staff shakes out with the departures of Allen McDonald and Tino Belli, Belli who was his direct engineer.
“These things happen and it's not so much bad that it happened but it's more the when – it was so late in January,” he said.
One of the team's Pro Mazda drivers, Shelby Blackstock, was also in action this weekend as part of his efforts in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, in a Ford Mustang Boss 302R for Roush Performance co-driving with Joey Atterbury. That car started third overall and in GS for Friday's race, but failed to finish. Blackstock's Pro Mazda teammate, 2012 USF2000 champion Matty Brabham, was also in Daytona making the rounds on Friday.
BOWYER'S DEBUT, MARTIN APPEARS – NASCAR star Clint Bowyer, the runner-up in the 2012 Sprint Cup Series championship, makes his Rolex 24 debut this weekend in AF Waltrip's No. 56 Ferrari F458. The easy-going driver is introspective about the challenge of racing in a multiclass effort rather than his usual stock car gig.
“It's interesting!” he surmised. “You're jumping in a GT car, which is so much faster than what we're used to. The biggest challenge is getting used to the depth perception in traffic. It's fast, fun and frenetic.”
Bowyer races alongside Michael Waltrip, Rui Aguas and Rob Kauffman in the car. Aguas qualified a respectable 17th in class.
Meanwhile, Mark Martin was on hand as a guest of the team on Friday. Martin, a part-time driver at MWR during the Sprint Cup season, last competed in the 1995 Rolex 24 at Daytona. He won his class that day co-driving with Paul Newman, among others, in a Roush Ford Mustang.
DÉJÀ VU AT STARWORKS' SECOND CAR – It's a coincidence at Starworks' second DP car, which for a second consecutive year sees a race week lineup change with an IndyCar driver left standing.
Last year, Tony Kanaan and E.J. Viso were projected to race in Starworks' second car, then given the No. 2, and the previous generation bodywork Riley Ford. Race week, a partner pulled out that left them high and dry, and set in motion a game of musical chairs as to who would eventually race the car. It left Hunter-Reay bemused, but he stayed, along with eventual co-drivers Marco Andretti, Michael Valiante, Scott Mayer and Lucas Luhr. Those four were all race week appointments to the car, and Andretti and Valiante were called in as of Friday for the race on Saturday!
So who's sidelined this time around? That would be Alex Tagliani, who ran a handful of races for Starworks at the end of last year and tested for the team in the Roar Before the 24 test. The No. 8 car had an accident with Mayer driving and although Tagliani was rumored to be racing, late Tuesday night, the team tweeted that was not the case.
The tweet sent out by Starworks confirmed four of the five drivers who tested in Mayer, rookies Jan Charouz, Brendon Hartley and SUNOCO Challenge winner Ivan Bellarosa. Tagliani's replacement is Gaetano Ardagna, who raced a GT class entry for TRG a year ago and finished 19th of the 46 cars entered in class. Ardagna is the second pro-am driver in the car.
Tagliani tweeted on Tuesday that the decision was not money related, but rather down to a prior commitment on Thursday where he could not participate in the day's practice and qualifying. Ryan Dalziel, who races in the team's primary No. 2 entry, added “It's exactly like Tag said. He's been great for @StarworksMotor every time he's driven with us.”
LASTLY – Defending Rolex 24 GT class champions Magnus Racing has released its 2013 event poster. After last year's memorable “Star Wars” inspired theme, it's gone one better with a “Lord of the Rolex” display that looks like a mash-up of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series of flicks.
• The 51st Rolex 24 at Daytona goes green at 3:30 p.m. EST Saturday, with live TV coverage beginning at 3 p.m. ET on SPEED.
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