Wednesday, January 24, 2018

2018 Daytona 24 Hours - GTD Class Preview

With GTLM out of the way earlier in the week, it's time to get on with the absolute melee that is the GTD class. Just to refresh everybody, GTLM is a faster class, due to more aerodynamic and technological bits allowed. GTD is essentially a moderately modified street car (it's a little more than that, but it's closer to a street car than the GTLMs are under the skin). You can essentially buy a GTD/GT3 car from the car manufacturers, but basically only the factories themselves field GTLM cars. OK, with all of the formalities out of the way, on to the breakdown!

The Long Shots

#71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 - "Qualified" dead last of the cars that set a time at the Roar Before "qualifying" session (which just means that they get last pick of their pit and garage spot) and hovered near the back of the pack in most of the practice sessions. Kenton Koch (past IMSA Prototype Challenge champion), I've heard of, the other guys (Robby Foley, Loris Spinelli and JC Perez), not so much. One very big point in favor of the team: their fantastic livery. ATTENTION, MIKE: THIS IS YOUR CAR. Odds - 200 to 1.

#96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 - A perfectly capable team, and some excellent drivers (Jens Klingmann and Martin Tomczyk are factory BMW drivers, Mark Kvamme and Don Yount are both experienced at Daytona, even if that experience might largely be in non-BMWs), but the Bimmer struggled for pace for most of the week at the Roar Before. It'd be a shock to see it any higher than the tail end of the lead lap come Sunday morning. Odds - 200 to 1.

#14 3GT Racing Lexus RC-F GT3 - No knock on the drivers here (Bruno Junquiera can still drive anything really, really quickly, and Kyle Marcelli has proved in years of LMPC that he's more than solid, but Dominik Baumann is a bit more of a mystery on this side of the Atlantic), but the Lexus struggled for pace for a lot of 2017 and seemed to be inconsistent with finding front running pace at the Roar Before. I'd be pretty surprised to see it 1) last all the way to the finish and 2) actually maintain the speed to stay on the lead lap for the whole 24 hours. I have been wrong before, though. Many times. Odds - 100 to 1.

#51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3 - The Ferrari 488 is now a proven package, having won the GTD manufacturer's championship in 2017, and the drivers in this car (Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Daniel Serra) all have won races at the Pro-Am level of the sport (the first three won the 2017 World Endurance Championship GTE-Am championship), but they've mostly run Aston Martins in the past. Their relative lack of speed in most of the Roar Before sessions indicates that they're maybe not totally to grips with the Ferrari just yet. Odds - 80 to 1.

#69 (Nice) HART Acura NSX GT3 - This one hurts. As the car driven by one of the co-hosts of the unbelievably good Dinner With Racers podcast (Ryan Eversley), this is clearly one of the cars I'm rooting for the hardest in the GTD class. And the rest of the drivers (Sean Rayhall, Chad Gilsinger and John Falb) are all great "shoes", but I fear that this team being brand new to IMSA Weathertech Sportscar competition and the Acura NSX in general is going to leave them outgunned by many of the other teams on the grid. I'll pull for them as hard as I can, as long as they're in the race...however long that might be. Odds - 80 to 1.

#15 3GT Racing Lexus RC-F GT3 - OK, now we get to the first of the two main reasons that I bugged and bugged and cajoled Mike and Wedge to come out of semi-Blogathon-retirement for this race: Scott Pruett has announced that he's retiring from driving after this race. I know, I know, I thought he was going to drive well into his 80s, like Paul Newman did (and maybe beyond), but I guess time (and other business opportunities) catch up with all of us (at least they did with me, as I'm currently trying to make my Pog trading business turn around, and I feel like 2018 is the year they finally make me rich). The rest of the driving crew (former and possibly future IndyCar driver Jack Hawksworth, David Heinemeier-Hansson and Dominik Farnbacher) is well up to the challenge of supporting Pruett's last drive, but I fear that the Lexus still just isn't there. Maybe I'd feel better about it, if it were an outstanding JDM Toyota that's got a different badge on it, but it's not. Oh, well. Odds - 50 to 1.

 #75 SunEnergy 1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 - Led by Maro Engel and Thomas Jager, this Mercedes should be firmly in the midfield, even if the Mercedes were down on top speed last year (one finished 3rd at Daytona last year, but was unable to take advantage of superior infield speed  by the fact that other cars could blow by it on the straightaways). However, Mikael Grenier hasn't spent a ton of time in this sort of car, and Kenny Habul spent a good chunk of last year bouncing off of other cars. If the latter two can keep it on the black stuff, this car could contend for a top-5. Odds - 40 to 1.

 The Contenders

#29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3 - Maybe my hottest take here, not putting the defending Petit Le Mans winning team, defending Daytona 24 Hours 2nd place car and two of those drivers (Christopher Mies and Sheldon van der Linde) higher on the list, but this is the first Daytona 24 Hours for Kelvin van der Linde and Jeffrey Schmidt. And the Audi isn't necessarily one of the two or three fastest makes this year, so I just think that other teams are more likely to take home the expensive watches, if this race comes down to sheer speed at the end. Odds - 25 to 1.

#33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 - Another team with a couple star drivers (Jeroen Bleekemolen and Adam Christodoulou) and a couple capable "others" (team owner Ben Keating and Luca Stoltz) that is saddled with the Mercedes that looks to lack the legs to compete on pace at Daytona. They should be a steady contender during the race, just lacking the ultimate pace to climb the podium to the top. Odds - 25 to 1.
#73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R - Porsche factory driver Joerg Bergmeister and super capable pro Norbert Seidler are the driving anchors for the longtime GT team that is also running Patrick Lindsey and Tim Pappas this year (both solid amateur-type drivers). The Porsche is always solid at Daytona, but does it have the ultimate pace to win? Odds - 25 to 1.

#19 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 - The GRT Grasser Lambos have been rocket ships in practice. So, they've got the pace, but do they have the drivers that can take them all the way? The #19 car has a gold level driver that I've heard of (Christian Engelhart), a couple silvers that I haven't heard of (Max van Splunteren and Ezequiel Perez Companc) and two bronzes that I haven't heard of, either (Christopher Lenz and Louis Machiels). That's a lot of relative unknowns in the cockpit (not that I'm the final arbiter of who's who in sports cars or anything...). Odds - 25 to 1.

 #59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R - A car that's pretty much always there at the end (Porsche), run by an excellent team (Manthey) with a couple very good drivers (Matteo Cairoli and Sven Muller), a couple other guys (Harald Proczyk and Randy Walls) and maybe an ex-NFL player (Steve Smith). But, said ex-NFL guy was always one to punch above his weight, so I'll just trust that he's the 5th driver and that he has the same kind of effect on this team. Odds - 20 to 1.

#11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3 - Another GRT Lambo rocket, but this one has most of their drivers that I've heard of (Mirko Bortolotti, Franck Perera, Rolf Ineichen and Rik Breukers). I'd say this one is the one with the better shot at climbing the podium all the way, but as usual, anything can happen in 24 hours... Odds - 15 to 1.

#82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3 - The Ferraris are fast, and several of the drivers in this car are excellent (Miguel Molina and Matt Griffin are proven talents, Martin Fuentes has won a bunch of amateur class races in Pirelli World Challenge), but I don't know much about the other two drivers (Ricardo Perez de Lara and Santiago Creel). I'll trust that the proven guys, the Risi crew and the Ferrari itself have the ultimate pace here. Odds - 15 to 1.

#93 Michael Shank Racing w/ Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 - The Shank Acuras didn't have a fantastic debut last year, but came on like wildfire in mid-season. I think that even though they're not technically a "factory" effort this year, they're liable to be even tougher than last year. They've arguably got as good or better of driving lineups this year, too, with ex-GM factory driver Lawson Aschenbach, rising French star Come Ledogar, and proven talents Mario Farnbacher and Justin Marks in the #93. These guys could easily be around in podium contention at the finish. Odds - 15 to 1.

#86 Michael Shank Racing w/ Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3 - See the above entry, but insert the arguably even stronger lineup of Alvaro Parente, Katherine Legge (crazily still ranked as a silver), Trent Hindman and A.J. Allmendinger. This is a pretty easy one to envision on the podium on Sunday afternoon. Odds - 15 to 1.

The Front Runners

#63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 - The Scuderia Corsa cars should be really, really good this weekend, with the proven 488 and solid driving lineups. The #63 has Ferrari hotshoe Alessandro Balzan, Gunnar Jeannette, Jeff Segal and Cooper MacNeil at the wheel, which is a pretty stout crew. Frankly, I'd be shocked if they're out of the top-5, if they're still running at the end. Odds - 10 to 1.

#64 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 - See above, but with a slightly differently flavored driving lineup. Gentleman drivers Bill Sweedler and Frankie Montecalvo are bolstered by lightning fast Townsend Bell and Sam Bird. Again, another team that SHOULD be fighting for a podium in the last hour of the race. Odds - 10 to 1.

#44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 - The clown princes of IMSA sports car racing, who also just happen to be stupidly quick. No, there's no video that highlights a block system from a toy company this year (if there ever were such a thing, they may or may not have gotten a C&D letter, I have no knowledge of such a thing, so please don't ask me), but they did post a pretty fantastic Daytona 24 Hours preview video on Facebook. Andy Lally, Markus Winkelhock, Andrew Davis and John Potter should be as strong as any lineup Magnus has ever fielded. It'll be fun to watch their 24 hour webcast see if they can repeat their success from two and four years ago. Odds - 10 to 1.

#48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 - A top flight team (Paul Miller Racing), running what's probably the fastest car at Daytona this year (the Lamborghini Huracan, which led over half of the practice sessions at the Roar Before test, and put up the fastest time in the "qualifying" session), with an incredible driving roster with zero weak links (Bryan Sellers, Andrea Caldarelli, Madison Snow and Bryce Miller is about as stout a lineup as you're ever going to see in GTD). Frankly, a non-podium finish would be a shock, in my opinion. Odds - 10 to 1.

#58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R - But, for my money, the favorite has to be a Porsche, especially one run by last year's Pirelli World Challenge GT class champion team. Wright Motorsports won that championship with Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, and he's front and center in this lineup as well. But it's not a one man show here, as they've surrounded him was outstanding talent in two time defending GTD class season champion Christina Nielsen, Robert Renauer and Mathieu Jaminet. Yikes. This car has been super quick in testing, and they should be a monster on Race Day (and Night, and Day). Odds - 9 to 1.

So, a super stacked field of talent and equipment, with few weak links to be found anywhere, but my pick is the Wright Porsche. With the GT classes out of the way, the only one left is the Prototype class. Stop on by later in the week for more (almost certainly incorrect) predictions!

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