Sunday, January 24, 2016

2016 Daytona 24 Hours - Le Mans Prototype Challenge Preview

Hey, everybody, long time no see! Yes, I'm still kicking around in the GBS basement, moving around boxes while looking for my set of "Pit Row Racing" slot cars (and, yes, this is an actual thing that I got for Christmas one year when I was about eight years old, complete with Gordon Johncock's 1981 Wildcat and Johnny Rutherford's sublime 1980 Chaparral "Yellow Submarine"). But I haven't lost track of the fact that it's the last week in January, which means that it's time for our annual Blogathon! Oh, and the 24 Hours of Daytona.

As in years past, I'll be posting my own special brand of class previews (here is where you question my definition of the word "special"), taken on in the order of least interesting class (to me) to most interesting class (to me). And as in years past, the mantle of "least interesting" falls, almost by default, to the Le Mans Prototype Challenge class. As usual, it's still a class full of basically identical cars powered by Chevrolet V8 engines. Zero mechanical diversity = "not as interesting", it's pretty much that simple (to me). As always, the driving crews for each car must be staffed with at least one "amateur" driver, and many of the teams have at least one more "am" driver, some of whom are "pros" cunningly disguised as an "am" within the inscrutable FIA/IMSA driver ranking system. And that sentence right there is exactly how much I'm going to talk about the driver rating system for the remainder of the week. With all of the formalities out of the way, let's get to the rundown. And as always, don't go adding up those odds. It'll just give you a headache.

The Long(er) Shots

#88 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09 - Teams in this "lowest" category of likelihood to win can take solace in that when the prohibitive class favorite CORE Autosport car broke late in the 2015 race, the class was won by the car I ranked second least likely to win, at 40 to 1 odds. The moral of the story, I'm an idiot, and I should never bet any amount of money on racing, ever (to clarify: I have never had any money riding on any of my odds that I've set here). That aside, I have to say that the #88 Starworks car (not to be confused with the #8 Starworks team car, which I'll get to in a bit) doesn't look quite as strong in the driving department as many in the rest of the class. The driving crew is headed up by defending FIA European Formula 3 champion Felix Rosenqvist, making his American racing debut, but the driving superlatives pretty much end right about there. Maro Engel brings a long and mostly undistinguished career in DTM German Touring Cars and Aussie V8 Supercars (zero top-5s in 42 starts in DTM from 2008 to 2011, one top-10 finish in 36 starts in Aussie V8s in 2013). Sean Johnston has done some stuff in America and Germany, but with his webpage and Facebook pages only seeing sporadic updates since 2014, it's hard to tell exactly how much success he's had. And Mark Kvamme brings six total previous starts in IMSA competition. This is a hard one to see much success coming from. Odds - 30 to 1.

#38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09 - Jim Norman (that's Dr. Jim Norman to you and me) has plenty of experience in racing, even scoring a class win in the lightly subscribed GX class in 2013. James French is an up and comer in IMSA, with plenty of LMPC starts. Brandon Gdovic is the reigning Lamborghini Gallardo World Champion. And Josh Norman (Dr. Jim's son) has been racing Lamborghinis with his dad the last year or so. But this team is (mostly, minus French) short on LMPC experience and also shy on experience at Daytona. Hard to see this car beating a bunch of the teams with the more heralded lineups, unless everything goes right. Odds - 30 to 1.

#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca FLM09 - Yeah, yeah, this was the car I was so very wrong about last year. But I also have a hard time that Tom Kimber-Smith and crew will be able to capture lightning in a bottle two years in a row. Right? The wildly experienced and fast TKS will be joined this year by Robert Alon (who has had some success in IMSA Prototype Lights), 19-year old Mexican driver Jose Gutierrez, who has had one win and one pole in 34 Pro Mazda championship starts, and Nick Boulle. I believe the latter three have a grand total of zero LMPC starts. Hmmm. Odds - 30 to 1.

The Field

#20 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 - At press time, only three of the five drivers on the roster have been announced, so it's kind of hard to pin this team down. But, those three that have been announced should be plenty capable. Johnny Mowlem is quick in basically anything. Tomy Drissi has been driving for what seems like forever, with a storied past in Trans Am and sports car racing, and has plenty of wins in his past, including in LMPC. Marc Drumwright has five previous starts in an LMPC. That should put this team solidly in the hunt, but it's hard to see exactly where. Until those last two drivers are known... Odds - 20 to 1.

#26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca FLM09 - Adam Merzon has one LMPC start (coming at Petit Le Mans in 2014). Don Yount got a couple of LMPC starts with BAR1 at the end of 2015. John Falb had three starts in IMSA last year after a season in IMSA Prototype Lights. That doesn't sound like a ton of experience, but the team is bolstered by Ryan Lewis, who has been kicking around (and winning) in LMPC for years, and Pirelli World Challenge factory Acura driver Ryan Eversley. If karma has anything to say about things, then Eversley built up enough goodwill among the racing gods over the off season by hosting the amazing "Dinner With Racers" podcast with Sean Heckman to see this team to the podium. Will reality bear that out? I dunno, but I'll give Eversley (and karma) the benefit of the doubt. Odds - 15 to 1.

 #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca FLM09 - Now, we're getting serious. Really serious. Stephen Simpson has a long list of experience, including the A1GP championship that was a favorite here at GBS. Mikhail Goikhberg did the entire 2015 IMSA Sports Car season after winning the 2014 IMSA Prototype Lights championship, and had three podium finishes and one LMPC class pole to show for his rookie season in IMSA's top class. Kenton Koch is the reigning 2015 IMSA Prototype Lights champion, after winning 11 of 14 races (though he's making his LMPC debut at Daytona). And Chris Miller has plenty of LMPC experience (and success). In addition to this, all but Koch were in this car as it drove to third in class last year. Repeat success is not tough to see for this car. Odds - 8 to 1.

#8 Starworks Motorsport Oreca FLM09 - This car is just about a "who's who" of who's been good in LMPC over the last 2-3 years. Alex Popow and Chris Cumming have multiple wins in LMPC. Renger van der Zande is widely hailed as one of the fastest in this type of car anywhere. And their "extra" driver is none other than IndyCar driver Jack Hawksworth, who himself has won races in LMPC. Yep, they'll be up in the very front of the lead pack all day, unless calamities strike. Odds - 8 to 1.

The Favorite

#54 CORE Autosport Oreca FLM09 - Yeah, I know, this is a total broken record thing by now. Every year, they're my (and most everybody's) favorite to win the class, but when they win the class season championship every year and win Daytona just about every year (except for last year, when late misfortune struck and relegated them to second in class, just 10 laps behind the winner), you'd be a fool to pick anybody else as your favorite. Jon Bennett, Mark Wilkins and Colin Braun (who was the fastest in LMPC at the Roar Before test a couple weeks ago) all return, but James Gue has been swapped out for prototype ace Martin Plowman. Yikes. What can you even say? Odds - Even money.

OK, that's one down and three to go. And it's gonna get juicy in the other three classes. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Pat W said...

Good to have the previews back. I'm really looking forward to this year's edition of the race.

But not in the PC class. I usually place PC 4th best class as well yet this year it is much less interesting than usual. That's not because the other classes are more interesting than usual (which they are), it's just that I have nothing to say about any of the entries.

The GTLM cars are going to walk all over them and at this juncture I think probably only the 54 and 8 and maybe 85 cars will beat the GTD class... Not through lack of trying on the part of the Pro drivers in the other cars who'll probably overdrive to make up the shortfall elsewhere.

But I hope Jonny Mowlem, Tom Kimber-Smith and Colin Braun have good respective races.