We're in the dead center of the 2021 Daytona 24 Hour class previews now. Right in the middle, between the "ooh, those are the classes to watch" category and the "uh....maybe I'm gonna go grab some snacks" category is the "eh, sure, let's check in over there" class for 2021: LMP2. Last year, LMP2 was my "least interesting" class, with only six cars on the entry list (although one of those scratched before the race even started), but this year, there are more cars starting in the LMP2 class (ten) than the last two years combined (nine). MOVIN' ON UP.
#11 WIN Autosport ORECA LMP2 07 - Ex-Mazda factory driver Tristan Nunez is the headliner of the driver lineup, although Matthew Bell has quite a bit of endurance experience. I'll be honest, I don't know much about the two Bronzes on the team, Steven Thomas and Thomas Merrill, which is why I'm parking them back here. Odds - 20 to 1.
#51 RWR-Eurasia Ligier LMP2 - The most notable driver to American fans will be NASCAR driver Austin Dillon. Less known would be rumored IndyCar-driver-to be Cody Ware. Essentially unknown would be Salih Yoluc. The fastest driver, though, would be Mathieu Jaminet. The only Ligier in the LMP2 field, which isn't a good thing (it's been said to be down on straightline speed at Le Mans in the past...and going fast in a straight line is kind of a big deal at Daytona. Odds - 15 to 1.
#82 DragonSpeed USA LLC ORECA LMP2 07 - Teammate to the defending race winning #81 DragonSpeed ORECA, you might think that this car would be further up the grid, but the #82 finished 9th out of ten cars at the Roar Before Pole 100, and the #82 only has one driver above Silver (that would be Christopher Mies, who's won here before in a GTD Audi). There are just simply too many fast cars here this year. Odds - 11 to 1.
#47 Cetilar Racing Dallara LMP2 - Here is where things start to get tricky. Cetilar is an experienced European Le Mans Team, and the Dallara is extremely fast in a straight line (as we've covered, a good thing at Daytona). But this is their first go here in the States, so to me, it feels like the Italian guys are going to wind up mid-pack-ish. Odds - 10 to 1.
#8 Tower Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07 - Gabriel Aubry and Matthieu Vaxiviere are both extremely quick. Timothe Buret maybe a tick less so (although he has plenty of 24 Hour experience). John Farano is the requisite gentleman Bronze of the group, but he seems capable. Again, like I've mentioned for the last couple of cars, there are just simply faster cars here this year. Odds - 9 to 1.
The Front Runners
#18 Era Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07 - We know full well that Ryan Dalziel can get the job done in a prototype car (he sat on the pole here in 2012 and finished 2nd). Paul-Loup Chatin is quick. Kyle Tilley and Dwight Merriman have both done this race more than once. And the Era ORECA has a sweet paint job that was designed by a six year old (yes, really). These guys should contend well into Sunday morning and possibly even beyond. Odds - 8 to 1.
#20 High Class Racing ORECA LMP2 07 - Another of the first time Daytona entrants (which, in fairness, applies to most of this class), this team features an actual Formula 1 Grand Prix winner (Robert Kubica) and an actual member of a royal family (Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen). Cool, huh? Those two should be quick, and their Danish co-drivers Dennis Andersen and Anders Fjordbach should hopefully be capable enough to hand off to Robby and Freddy (as I'm going to call them, just to be obnoxious) in the late hours. Odds - 8 to 1.
#29 Racing Team Nederland ORECA LMP2 07 - The Dutch squad, loaded with quick Dutch drivers...and one Frenchman. These guys have been quite good in World Endurance Championship competition, with a class win at Fuji a couple years ago. They finished 4th in the Roar Before Pole 100 race, after building their car out of a shipping container just a week or so ago. I think that story will continue into Sunday afternoon, and I think a podium is a strong possibility. Odds - 7 to 1.
#81 DragonSpeed USA LLC ORECA LMP2 07 - The defending champs, with longtime driver Ben Hanley being joined by Rob Hodes, Indy Lights veteran Garrett Grist and lightning quick IndyCar driver Rinus Veekay. This car will contend for the win all the way to the end....and come up just short. Odds - 7 to 1.
#52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 - Longtime LMPC and LMP2 team Mathiasen Motorsports finished second to the #81 DragonSpeed car last year, but with Platinum driver Nicolas Lapierre, Gold Mikkel Jensen and quick young Silver Scott Huffaker on the squad, this team is poised to go one spot better in 2021. I'd say that if your "weakest link" is Ben Keating (one of the most solid "gentleman drivers" on the grid, and whose outstanding "Dinner With Racers" podcast episode I just listened to earlier this week), you're looking better than good. This is my pick (although I'm not exactly going out on a limb, seeing as how they're on the class pole). Odds - 6 to 1.
We're past halfway, with just one GT class and one Prototype class to go. Let's see if I can get those done before the weekend!