Tuesday, January 23, 2018

2018 Daytona 24 Hours - GTLM Class Preview

Greetings, everybody, and welcome back to the annual (uh, kind of) Grab Bag Sports Blogathon! As Mike mentioned in his excellent schedule post, we had some important business come up that meant that we just HAD to come back and do it all again this year. We'll get into the couple of best reasons for that...

...in later posts, due to my arcane personally selected methodology for the order in which I do my class previews. As you may or may not remember, I do these in the order of least interesting class (to me) to most interesting class (to me). However, this year, due to the demise/putting-out-to-pasture of the LMPC class, I won't be leading off with the spec-prototypes. Instead, I'll be leading off with the faster of the two GT classes, GTLM. My reasoning, which is basically exactly the same as the last time we did this in 2016, is totally math based: GTLM - 9 cars; GTD - 21 cars (also, GTLM - 5 manufacturers; GTD - 8 manufacturers). More is more (interesting), less is less (interesting), up is up, down is down, beer and ice cream are both still delicious (and sometimes even together). GTLM is up first.

The Backmarkers/Frontrunners

#24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTLM - No real reason to put this one of the two BMWs up first in this listing, just that it's the one that doesn't have one of my long time favorite drivers in it. Instead, it's got the totally capable crew of Jesse Krohn, John Edwards, Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus. All race winners in varying sports car series, all potential race winners here. Odds - 8 to 1.

#25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTLM - Goes in the more prestigious "later in the rundown" spot, because the driver lineup contains one of my all time favorite sports car drivers: Bill Auberlen (I remember rooting for him back when I first started following racing, when he was driving the IMSA GTU class in an MX-6...). Auberlen is stepping away from full time driving this year and only doing the enduros, so it'd be nice to see him get into victory circle on Sunday, along with his co-drivers Alexander Sims, Connor De Phillippi and Philipp Eng. Odds - 8 to 1.

#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE - The only ran a partial IMSA season last year, but we know that the car is fast (it capped the year with a 3rd-2nd-3rd cluster of finishes in 2017), and all four drivers are MEGA PRO Ferrari factory drivers. Toni Vilander, Alessandro Pier Giudi, James Calado and Davide Rigon have zero weak links among them. Seeing the red Prancing Horse taking home the super spendy watches on Sunday would be the opposite of a...dark horse pick. GET IT? DID YOU GET THAT JOKE? Sorry. Odds - 8 to 1.

#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR - A semi-rocky start to 2017 (where a 2nd at Daytona and a 3rd at Long Beach were the only solid Porsche results in the first half of the season) tapered quickly into better finishes in the second half of the season (the 1-2 at Lime Rock was pretty exceptional), and so I'd say that the now-mid-engined 911 is well sorted out. The #912 has Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber and Gianmaria Bruni on the driving roster, and, well, they're all really good. Odds - 8 to 1.

#911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR - See all of the above, but sub in Frederic Makowiecki and the superb full season pairing of Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy (who I watched dance on everybody's face and take the overall win at the rain sodden 2015 Petit Le Mans, and I think my socks might finally all be dry just now). Odds - 8 to 1.

#4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R - The 'Vettes are basically always great just about everywhere, and especially at Daytona (well, except for last year, when they both finished off of the podium). The #4's well proven driving lineup of Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and Marcel Fassler have all won seemingly a million races (including three overall wins at Le Mans for Fassler), and the car is going to be good. They'll be in the hunt on Sunday morning. Odds - 8 to 1.

#3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R - The 'Vettes are basically always great just about everywhere, and especially at Daytona. The #3's well proven driver lineup of Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Mike Rockenfeller have all won seemingly two million races (including an overall win at Le Mans for Rocky), and the car is going to be good. They'll be in the hunt on Sunday Morning. Odds - 8 to 1.

#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT - The GT is great (two wins and six other podium finishes in 2017, oh, and one of those wins was Daytona last year). The drivers (Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, and one of the all time great IndyCar drivers in Scott Dixon) are all great. I think that's enough said. Odds - 8 to 1.

#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT - This car and group of drivers (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais) won their class at Daytona last year, and managed to win their class at Le Mans the year before that. If the car finishes (which it probably will), it'll probably at least be on the podium. Odds - 8 to 1.

The Pick - As the eagle eyed among you (i.e.: anybody who bothered to read even 1/3rd of the words I wrote up above there, or at least just the ones in boldface) will have noticed, IT'S A TOTAL COP OUT. Nine cars in the class, and they're covered by basically a hand towel in speed. Seven of the nine cars in class were covered by less than a half a second in the "qualifying session" at the Roar Before test, and the other two had issues that session, and each make had a practice session or two where they were in the top couple of cars. It's literally too close to call. But, if I'm picking...I suppose I'll take the #66 to repeat. Because I am not a very creative person (seriously, you can ask my wife how she likes getting bubble bath for Mother's Day, Christmas and her birthday every year).

One class down and two to go! Come on back later in the week, and see my (probably spectacularly inaccurate) picks in GTD and Prototype!

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