Monday, January 25, 2016

2016 Daytona 24 Hours - GTLM Preview

Oh, an upset! Of sorts. Maybe. For those of you scoring at home (or, even if you're alone, and thank you, Keith Olbermann for that phrase that I still use to this day), you know that I tackle the classes in the order of least interesting (to me) to most interesting (to me). So, as in 2014, the GTLM class has again been superseded by the GTD class as "most interesting GT class". Why's that? I'll get more into it later in the week in the GTD preview, but I'll start with this simple fact: GTLM - 11 cars; GTD - 22 cars. OK, maybe one more: GTLM - 5 manufacturers; GTD - 7 manufacturers. More is more. And with that, on to the GTLM preview.

The Lesser Contenders

#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE - This certainly isn't for lack of driving talent (the roster boasts ex-F1 drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Olivier Beretta and Ferrari factory sports car drivers Toni Vilander and Davide Rigon), but the Ferrari 488 GTE is a brand new car. And by "brand new", I mean that the Risi team missed the entire Roar Before test because the build of their new car was not yet completed. In the ensuing two weeks, they have finished the car, but it's had scant time to get on a track. Unless the turbocharged 488 GTE is insanely reliable right out of the box, the Risi guys are almost certain to have a bad case of "new car blues" (aka, everything going wrong because you haven't shaken out all the bugs yet). Frankly, I'll be surprised if this car makes it to Hour 12. Odds - 40 to 1.

#72 SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GTE - The SMP Ferrari actually got on the track during the Roar Before, which gives it a leg up on the Risi car, and it actually climbed up into the middle of the pack in a session or two. So, the speed might be there or thereabouts, even though the limited running of the Ferraris is liable to still jump up and bite this car as well. Factory Ferrari sports car drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Andrea Bertolini and James Calado are joined by Russian Viktor Shaytar, who did decently in the World Endurance Championship last year. A capable crew that'll be let down by a car that's not quite ready. Odds - 30 to 1.

#68 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE - Another Ferrari team that'll be battling a new and yet-to-be-developed car. The #68 actually made it onto the track for the Roar Before test as well, but except for one session where the car was the fastest, the #68 was down in the lower reaches of the GTLM class on the time sheets. It's another driving roster that's full of talent (Ferrari ace Alessandro Per Giudi, capable Brazilian Daniel Serra, ex-DTM and Aussie V8 Supercar driver Alexander Premat and ex-Ganassi/ex-Delta Wing pilot Memo Rojas), that'll be wishing the 488 was about six months further along on its development curve. Odds - 30 to 1.

The More Definite Contenders

#100 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM - The new, twin-turbocharged BMW M6 GTLM is, like the similarly twin-turbocharged V8 Ferrari 488 GTE, a brand new car. So, given that two of the manufacturers that are battling in this class are bringing less made over models that are well sorted out, it'll take some astonishing luck on the part of the teams with the brand new cars to overcome years of development. That said, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMW guys are some of the best in the business, and the M6 was quick at the Roar Before test, even topping the time sheets at times. The squad of the #100 car (which includes Lucas Luhr, Kuno Wittmer and Americans John Edwards and Graham Rahal) are as quick as anybody, but will their new rocket ship let them down? Odds - 25 to 1.

#25 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM - See above, substitute in the longtime superstar BMW driving roster of "Bad Bill" Auberlen (nobody calls him that except for probably me), Augusto Farfus (look up #farfusfacts on Twitter sometime for some tasty folklore about that guy), Dirk Werner and Bruno Spengler. Odds - 25 to 1.

 #66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT - The new Ford GT looks unbelievable. And it was super fast at the Roar Before test, regularly within a tenth of a second or two of the top running teams. But, and I know this sounds like a broken record, it is a brand new car. I mean, BRAND. NEW. The engine is the same basic EcoBoost V6 unit that Chip Ganassi Racing has been using in its Daytona Prototype for the last couple of years, but the rest of the car is so new that they have yet to appear on the road. If any team in the US can develop a car from scratch, it's Ganassi, but have they had enough time to work out all the bugs that'll pop up during a 24 hour race? Full season drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Muller and 3rd driver and IndyCar ace Sebastien Bourdais sure hope so. But I have some doubts. Odds - 20 to 1.

#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT - See above, substitute in full season drivers Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook and 3rd driver Stefan Mucke. Odds - 20 to 1.

#912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR - The Porsches were, how can I say it...not as quick as the front runners the Roar Before test. But they weren't that far off of the front runners, and they return in 2016 with a car that is not completely different from their 2015 car (more than can be said for the Ferraris and BMWs, let alone the all-new Fords). Given that I watched one of the GTLM Porsches trounce the field in the wet at Petit Le Mans last fall, you'd have to be an idiot to rule them out for at least a class victory at Daytona. So, while I think they're not the favorites, due to their very, very slight lack of pace, I am certain that they'll run all 24 hours and give the leading squads something to worry about. Unless they crash into each other, like the Porsches did last year in the early going. The #912 is driven by Earl Bamber (an overall winner at Le Mans in 2015 in the 919 P1 Prototype), Frederic Makowiecki and Michael Christensen, who are all Porsche factory drivers, but I'm giving a slight edge to the sister car. Odds - 10 to 1.

#911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR - Like I said, Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy schooled the field (the ENTIRE field, prototypes included) at Road Atlanta last fall, and they've added ex-McLaren factory driver to the Porsche factory driver ranks and to the roster of the #911. That is a crazy stacked lineup. Odds - 9 to 1.

 The Favorites

#3 and #4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.Rs - The 'Vettes led the way for what felt like most of the Roar Before test, leading three of the seven sessions, but almost always having at least one car in the top-3. The car is coming back with minor tweaks from last year instead of revolutionary changes. Oh, and it's the defending champion of the race, along with being the defending champions of the Sebring 12 Hours and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They've gotta be the heavy favorites in GTLM. The #3 is being driven by Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Mike Rockenfeller (who we're used to seeing in a prototype at Daytona, and P1 Audis in WEC competition). The #4 is being driven by Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fassler (who we're used to seeing standing atop the podium at Le Mans in an Audi uniform). You can basically flip a coin between these two cars for your class winner. Odds - 3 to 1 (both cars).

Another class down, and a fascinating one at that. New cars abound, and they all look quick, but the question will be "who can make it 24 hours with no problems?" Which, I suppose, is always the case in a 24 hour race, but feels even more valid here, given the level of totally new equipment. Halfway through our previews, with two more (huge!) classes to come!

1 comment:

Pat W said...

Okay, have to disagree! GTLM is fully-Pro and holy-cow-those-guys-are-quick Pro, which is why I place it above GTD. But I'll give you that GTD has sheer weight of numbers, variety - and definitely more character among its contenders and that's just Magnus Racing.

I can't disagree on your rankings of the cars. It would be nice to see the Ferraris up there but they don't have the miles. The Ford GT does though, they've done a lot of testing.
But yes I agree, the uprated Corvette has the advantage. For now. I think they'll pull their favourite Le Mans trick and let everyone else run away from them in the early running (I think Fords will lead for hours), then beat them with reliability!
Unless it rains, and they don't run the thing under Safety Car, in which case it'll be Porsche.