Rolex 24 GTLM Class – A Deeper Look
Endurance races have multiple layers and there are a multitude of plots and sub-plots, unseen stories and angles and facts that get filled in later. The Rolex 24 at Daytona had plenty of storylines that grabbed the headlines, but the days and weeks after the race provided an opportunity to have a closer look. The GTLM class had only 11 entries and some of the closest racing of the event. With that, some observations and nuggets through the GTLM field at the Rolex 24:
Nick Tandy was the star in his #911 Porsche. He not only logged the most green laps of any GTLM driver (241 – 4th most of any driver in the race overall), but the fastest driver in either of the Porsches based on average lap time. Did we mention that Tandy set pole time in GTLM in wet conditions? How about that Tandy’s pole lap time was the fastest of all – including the prototypes? Clearly changing conditions had something to do with that, but the GTLM cars and their Michelin rubber clearly favored the Porsche. Tandy’s endurance and pace was a “what could have been,” as the car suffered a driveshaft failure with just over 5 hours to go and went back to the garage for repairs. The repairs cost about an hour and 36 laps.
The #912 in the hands of Fred Makowiecki qualified in second and the car ran a trouble-free race to finish third in GTLM and ninth overall. Earl Bamber lost second with 22 minutes to go as a charging Antonio Garcia in the #3 Corvette nudged by. New Zealander Bamber went from Daytona to Bathurst and finished first in Class-B in a Porsche 911. Fastest times were close, but Bamber was the fastest in the #912 and just a shade off of Tandy’s times in the #911.
Notably, the Porsche pair ran together for most of the race. The entire GTLM class seemed content to run consistent laps, stay on the lead lap, and avoid trouble until the end. The Porsches, however, appeared to run a dedicated strategy of pacing each other and protecting each other’s flanks.
BMW will likely look back at the Rolex 24 as a reasonable debut, but with a need to find more speed out of the car (and potentially some Adjustment of Performance help as well). The BMWs were respectable in the turns, but lagged where horsepower was needed as evidenced by top speed numbers at the bottom of the class. The whole class is tight and there were times where the BMWs were close, but the BMWs never consistently challenged for the top positions during the race. The BMW M6 is a very different car than the Z4 used in 2015. It will be interesting to see if the handling qualities give the BMW an advantage at Sebring.
The #100 Anniversary car was returned to the BMW garage on the back of a flatbed at 3:15am after a suspected right front disc failure put Lucas Luhr into the outside wall at the end of the front stretch and beyond turn one. The damage was severe and the car was retired. Luhr was the fastest driver in the car and was uninjured.
A needed splash of fuel in the closing minutes put the #25 Heritage BMW into fifth place in class after running between fourth and fifth of the last few hours. An early puncture suffered near the bus stop dropped the car down two laps, but Bill Auberlen expertly brought the car back to the pits after a long and slow lap with no damage. The margins between the drivers for average fastest lap were amazingly minimal – 9/100 covered all four drivers in terms of average lap times. Farfus and Spengler tied for the most laps among the #25 drivers – each ran 169 green laps.
The new Ferrari 488 was represented by three cars – #62 Risi, #68 Scuderia Corsa, and #72 SMP Racing. The car was brand new. Risi ran some shakedown laps at Fiorano in Italy before shipping the car to Miami and having it delivered directly to Daytona on Tuesday before the race. The Thursday morning practice session were the first laps turned on US soil. The wet practice and qualifying sessions meant that the team had very little dry running to work on setups before the race start. Risi clearly missed valuable testing time at the Roar where it would have resolved issues like basic setups and driver comfort among the multiple drivers. The car ran flawlessly and stayed close to the top but had contact with other cars on the track. Olivier Beretta served a drive through penalty at the 13 hour mark for avoidable contact with the #3 Corvette. Later contact with a Ford damaged the diffuser which ultimately led to a stop to remove it completely. Repairs took place in the garage under green which cost four laps but the team had no spare. The Ferrari ran without a rear diffuser at all for the last six hours of the race which hampered its pace further. Risi’s post-race press release proudly noted that the crew had no penalties and only one driver-caused penalty during the race. A 6th place in class must be a frustrating result after a very strong race with no mechanical issues for the new car and the only problem caused by contact with another competitor. Watch for Risi at Sebring.
Likewise, the #68 Scuderia Corsa team had a strong debut for its 488 after a clean run on the pits and on the track. After four hours of running, the team incurred a 3m 30 second penalty for multiple violations (including running a red light at the end of pit lane). The penalty cost three laps, but the team regained the laps and finished fourth in class. Primat served another penalty during the night under green for speeding on pit lane as well. The 488 appears to balance the infield and high speed bits of the track to assemble its lap times. Alessandro Pier Guidi was the leader of the Scuderia Corsa team. Not only did he average the fastest time among the drivers, he ran the most laps (tied for fifth most of all drivers in all classes with 232 green laps).
The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari had an unfortunate qualifying session, ending up sliding through a wet turn one and making contact with the tires at the outside of turn one. Some racers tape, a new rear fascia and some rear wing work solved the problem and the car made it out for Friday practice and the race with good pace. After staying in touch with the leaders for most of the race and running at the front at times, the car was retired just before the 19th hour mark with engine troubles and some left front body damage. James Calado and Gimmi Bruini were the stars of the driving line-up and will make excellent teammates for the 2016 WEC season. It must be said, however, that the SMP Ferrari and the two Ford GT cars need to coordinate on getting more distinctive liveries as they all have too much similar red, white and blue to easily distinguish at a glance.
Speaking of the Ford GT program, the glare of the spotlight must have been hot on Rolex weekend. The team had so much advance publicity and expectations between the new entry, the Ford presence, the GT heritage, the backing of Chip Ganassi Racing, the driver line up, etc. Somehow in all the testing miles, the electronics in the gear linkage never surfaced as an issue, but hampered both entries. The team worked to get both cars back in the event and run as many miles and laps as possible. Silver linings? Both cars make speed on the straights. Ryan Briscoe in the #67 set the fastest average top speed times of any GTLM car at over 185mph. Next fastest? Joey Hand in the #66 at a touch over 184mph. Mucke and Muller were close behind. As you might expect from a professional driver line-up, all the drivers averaged very close lap times to each other. Despite the early problems and repair delays, both cars ran a lot of laps. The #67 logged 429 green laps and the #66 logged 534 green laps. If the Fords can resolve their reliability and trade some of their top speed for grip in the corners, they will be a threat for wins. Sebring will be a major test.
What more can be said about the Corvette effort? The closest winning margin in Daytona history of 0.034 seconds after the Corvette team let both of their cars run for the win? The stuff that legends are made of. Oliver Gavin in the #4 just edged Antonio Garcia in the #3. However, the win looked out of reach with a puncture at speed earlier in the race coming out of NASDCAR Turn 4 and then incurred a penalty on the pit stop. The team recovered, charged to the front, and then suffered a stop plus a 60 second hold penalty for Marcel Fassler with only 3 hours to go after running the red light at the end of pit lane. Not only did Gavin post the fastest average lap times in the #4, he ran the most green laps of the three drivers in the car (214).
Jan Magnussen noted that the #3 had a fueling problem which resulted in an extra stop – and possibly cost the race. The car had earlier drama with 11 hours to go when Olivier Beretta in the Ferrari spun the #3 Corvette in the infield on a restart. IMSA penalized Beretta, but the spin put the Corvette near the back of the GTLM field. Garcia was the hot shoe in the #3 with the fastest average lap time and the most laps in the car. He was too fast on pit lane with just under 7 hours to go, earning a drive through penalty for speeding on pit lane.
Like the Porsches, the Corvettes also ran in tandem when possible during the race. Looking back through the notes during the race, it is remarkable how little went wrong for the Corvette team. They should be very proud of their 1-2 accomplishment.
How hard were the Corvettes pushing at the end? They posted their fastest laps of the race on laps 702 for the #4 and 707 for the #3. The winners covered a total of 722 laps, so that means the fastest Corvette laps were within 20 laps of the finish.
Two Corvette drivers had quiet, consistent, quick and clean races – the two Audi factory drivers. Marcel Fassler and Mike Rockenfeller are no strangers to endurance racing or standing on the podium. LeMans and Sebring winner Fassler had never driven at Daytona before, but had run with Corvette in 2009. However, Daytona was not his first 24 hour win in a Corvette – he won the 2007 24 Hours of Spa overall in a Corvette as well. Rockenfeller won Daytona overall in 2010 in a Porsche powered Daytona prototype and had run for several years in Corvette DPs, but 2016 was his first ride in a Corvette GT car. Both have amassed a very impressive career and will run with Corvette at the Sebring 12 Hours as well. Full credit and kudos to Audi for permitting them to run.
How close was it at the end? A fraction of a second for the win and three cars on the lead lap with two more a lap adrift. All the teams appeared to try to keep a consistent pace, let attribution winnow the field, and save the hard racing until the end. Sebring will offer less room to log clean laps and wait for the end.