A few news items and notes from around the paddock and track at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, the first official day of the 50th Anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona weekend.
LAST TO FIRST FOR A REPEAT? Defending race and championship winners Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates encountered a rare engine issue, when the team dropped a cylinder toward the end of Thursday's second practice session, held in the afternoon. The team didn't run a lap in qualifying but made it out for the two-hour night practice by the end of the day. Scott Pruett admitted the engine issue was a surprise, but shouldn't affect the team too much the rest of the weekend.
“Losing an engine was a huge surprise,” he said. “Clearly, we never had a problem like this. But in the long run, in a 24-hour race, this doesn't mean anything. If you have a problem, it's nice to find it now instead of one hour into the race.”
Realistically, starting last in a 14-car field in the DP class will have only a minimal impact on the team's performance. If they manage to repeat their victory, they can claim it as a “last-to-first” triumph, even though it only requires a start at the back of class as opposed to starting behind the 40-plus GT cars thanks to the split starts.
AUDI'S QUICK REBOUND. Neither of the two Audi R8 Grand-Am cars had shown great pace throughout the "Roar Before the 24" tests and in the opening rounds of practice. Things went from bad to worse for Oryx Racing's No. 74 entry, which had the first incident of the weekend in Thursday morning's first practice, after spinning at the kink (Turn 5). Saeed Al Mehairi was driving, as the UAE driver partners with Steven Kane and Humaid Al Masaood in the team's entry.
Although the team suffered some cosmetic and vinyl damage to its nose, the team repaired the damage and was back out later in the day. Kane did well to qualify 15th, considering the car was rarely in the top-20 throughout other sessions.
HINCH ON PATROL. James Hinchcliffe won't just be making his Rolex 24 debut this week, but as one of IndyCar's most visible media personalities, he's gathering some video footage over the course of the weekend. “Hinch” said he brought his FlipCam to shoot material for future IndyCar-produced videos. The series debuted with Hinchcliffe interviewing Josef Newgarden, last year's Indy Lights champion who is advancing into IndyCar this season with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
SAHLEN'S SURPRISE RUN. Team Sahlen was one of the surprises in GT qualifying, with the team's No. 42 Mazda RX-8 qualifying a stout sixth place with Wayne Nonnamaker driving. That was tops in the Mazda contingent of entries. Dane Cameron, Sahlen's new pro driver addition for the season in Grand-Am, was pleased with the team's pace and outlined both the team's outlook for the race and his own aspirations for the rest of the season.
Cameron (RIGHT) said the team has been able to maximize practice time with its three cars, rotating its same driver lineup of Cameron, Wayne, Will and Joe Nonnamaker and Joe Sahlen across. Initial plans are to leave the No. 49 car in the garage, the No. 43 started but stopped shortly into the race, and the No. 42 to run the distance hoping to maximize the points for the full season.
ENTRY LIST UPDATES. Ryan Hunter-Reay got a last-minute respite in Starworks' No. 2 entry, after the initial sponsor for the team's grandfathered Ford-powered Riley backed out at the last minute. That left Tony Kanaan and E.J. Viso sidelined. “RHR,” Maurizio Scala and Miguel Potolicchio will continue in that car as was originally projected, with Lucas Luhr set to pull double duty between that and the No. 8 car, and Scott Mayer – an ex-IndyCar driver who twice failed to pass rookie orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – will run in his place. Potolicchio had an incident at the end of Thursday night's practice, but the team should be able to repair the car's front-end damage.
Rick Ware Racing's No. 16 Porsche, with no drivers named and no laps turned on Thursday, almost certainly won't turn a wheel the remainder of the weekend. The team's Ford Mustang qualified 23rd, with Chris Cook behind the wheel.