Apologies to anybody who thinks that I'm riding the professionals' coattails and that I should leave the heavy lifting to them, but it's time for a Grab Bag Sports preview for the 24 Hours of Daytona! First up, we're going to take a quick look at the GT class.
GrandAm has taken the visionary step for 2012 of incorporating cars that are built to FIA GT3 specifications (a move that the American Le Mans Series could have done to help their car counts and instill extra interest via a larger variety of manufacturers as far back as the start of the 2010 season, but still has not, for reasons that I can not understand...this is a separate 6,000 word rant, so I'll just leave this right here), which has added to the regular crowd of Porsche GT3s, Mazda RX-8s, BMW M3s and Chevrolet Camaros (plus the occasional Cheverolet Corvette or Ford Mustang) the Audi R8 and the Ferrari 458. When you also take into account that in Europe, teams also currently run Aston Martin DBR9s, BMW Z4s, Lamborghini Gallardos, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMGs and McLaren MP/4-12Cs, and we could see an incredible variety of cars in GrandAm's GT class down the road, not to mention gargantuan car counts.
Back to the present, though. Who are the favorites, the contenders and the pretenders in this year's field? I'm putting odds to win on the different levels of competitors, but please do note, I am not a professional odds maker, and so these odds will not add up, nor probably make sense. OK, let's get to the good stuff.
The Semi-Prohibitive Favorites
#59 Brumos Porsche GT3 - With a great driver lineup, including the defending Rolex Series GT champion co-drivers, Leh Keen and Andrew Davis, Porsche hired gun Marc Lieb, and 5-time overall winner of the Daytona 24 Hours, Hurley Haywood, there are no chinks in the personnel armor. Add in the tried and true Porsche 911 GT3, and the argument for the team best equipped to run at 100% for 24 straight hours begins and ends here. Odds - 3 to 1.
#62 and #63 Risi Ferrari 458s - Fantastic driver lineups (longtime GT frontrunner Gimmi Bruni, ex-F1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella and ex- and possibly future-IndyCar pilot Raphael Matos in the #62; ex-longtime Corvette driver Olivier Beretta, and factory Ferrari GT drivers Andrea Bertolini and Toni Vilander in the #63) means that the Risi cars will be running flat out as long as they're running. The long-running Risi team, taking a step over the sports car fence for the first time from ALMS, means that the cars will run well as long as they're running. The 458s were fast (very, very fast) in pre-event testing. However, the 458 is brand new to GrandAm GT. Will it last 24 long hours on the high banks? Odds - #62: 5 to 1; #63: 5 to 1.
#45 Flying Lizard Porsche GT3 - The same guys who won the 2010 ALMS GT2 title, with the same bundle of drivers (Porsche factory drivers Patrick Long, Jorg Bergmeister and Mike Rockenfeller, plus team owner Seth Nieman), they're taking a step back from last year when they sat on the pole and set the fastest race lap in the Daytona Prototype class. With a car much more similar to what they're used to running in their ALMS "day jobs", they're bound to be up in the top-5 all day and all night. Odds - 5 to 1.
#66 and #67 The Racer's Group Porsche GT3s - TRG is running 5 (count 'em!) Porsches in this year's race, but the only two that are really in contention for a podium finish on pure speed are the #66 and #67. Filled with Porsche factory drivers (Patrick Pilet in the #66, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Wolf Henzler in the #67) and longtime sports car frontpackers (Dominik Farnbacher, Allen Simonsen and Ben Keating in the #66, Marc Goossens, Spencer Pumpelly and Steven Bertheau in the #67), the TRG cars are constantly in the top-5 at Daytona. Factor in that TRG won the race overall in at GT3 Porsche in 2003, and you have to figure that they'll be there or thereabouts when the clock ticks into the final hour. TRG is running 3 other cars, but the driver lineups are not nearly as strong as the #66 and#67. Odds - #66: 7 to 1; #67: 6 to 1; #64, #65 and#68: 12 to 1.
#69 AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 - Moving over from a Mazda RX-8 in 2011, AIM's very capable driver crew are in a very fast car in 2012. Will the car last? Or will the new car blues get them down? Odds - 9 to 1.
#02 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ferrari 458 - Using the same four drivers that they use for their full ALMS effort, the ESM Ferrari should be fast. Very, very fast (Guy Cosmo, especially, can absolutely fly, though Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek are no slouches, and Patron Tequila CEO Ed Brown is getting better by the season), but again, will the Ferrari do the trick in its first year at Daytona? Or will something befall this team in the night, as tends to happen to them at Sebring? Odds - 9 to 1.
#23 Alex Job Racing Porsche GT3 - The stronger of the driver lineups between the two AJR cars (Porsche factory drivers Emmanuel Collard and Marco Holzer, sports car megastar Butch Leitzinger), this car could easily be in the top-3 come daylight. Odds - 9 to 1.
Sorry, It Ain't Your Year
#93 Turner Motorsports BMW M3 - Even with three factory BMW drivers (Bill Auberlen, Dirk Muller and Jorg Muller) on board, it's a huge question mark for what is basically a glorified sedan to outrun a field filled with Porsches and Ferraris for 24 hours. Odds - 12 to 1.
#57 Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro - They finished 2nd in the GrandAm GT championship last year, but the Camaro still appears to be a brick through the air on the highbanks. Even super-capable (and fast) drivers Ronnie Bremer, John Edwards and Robin Liddell can't run to the front at Daytona in this car. Odds - 15 to 1.
#88 Autohaus Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro - See above entry for Stevenson, but sub in factory GM drivers Paul Edwards, Tom Milner and Jordan Taylor. Same result, though. Odds - 15 to 1.
#70 Speedsource Mazda RX-8 - The potentially best overall driver lineup of any car in the field, GT or DP (Jonathan Bomarito, Sylvain Tremblay, James Hinchcliffe and Marino Franchitti...that, friends, is a murderer's row), but they are saddled with a no-longer-at-the-sharp-end-of-the-field Mazda. Sorry, fellas. If you had a Porsche, I'd be etching your names on the trophy right now. Odds - 15 to 1.
#4 Magnus Racing Porsche GT3 - Sneaky-fast mid- to front-pack Porsche team, but they're simply outgunned this year. Pencil them in for a top-5 at the end of the 24 hours, though. Odds - 20 to 1.
Plenty of interesting storylines abound (Michael Waltrip and Travis Pastrana in a Ferrari! Fantastic looking Audi R8s! About 239 other Porsche teams! A Corvette with drivers from Belgium and The Netherlands? A freaking Dodge Viper?!?), but make no mistake, the winner will be from the group above. Odds - 50 to 1.
Of course, with all of this said, I'm sure that the Yellow Dragon Mazda RX-8 is going to prove me to be a moron. Bring it. It's going to be a fascinating race.
Daytona Prototype preview to come...