2015 Rolex 24 – Daytona, Florida

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Chip Ganassi’s team scored a record sixth win in January’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. All Ganassi’s wins have been recorded with Riley Daytona Prototype chassis, but this was the first with Ford’s new EcoBoost V6 turbo. The engine’s performance and reliability looked good and cast Ganassi’s team as a strong favourite to win this year’s Tudor United SportsCar Championship.

But it was Ganassi’s ‘second’ car that won, in the hands of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson. Driven by Scott Pruett, Joey Hand, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam, its regular title-chasing car dropped out barely 90 minutes from the end with clutch failure. Both cars ran at the front for most of the distance, until Pruett hit trouble, and it will be tough for anyone to stop Ganassi winning a sixth American sports car championship.

Last year’s Daytona winners João Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sébastien Bourdais were a close second aboard one of Action Express’s two Coyote-Chevrolet Daytona Prototypes. Barbosa and Fittipaldi also won last year’s inaugural TUSC title and are likely to be Pruett and Ganassi’s most serious challengers. The Action Express team is run by NASCAR veteran Gary Nelson and highly experienced Scot Iain Watt. The team showed its strength by recovering a three-lap deficit after fuel pressure problems struck during the night. The car managed to get back on the lead lap and finished only 1.3sec in arrears after 24 hours.

The TUSC’s other leading contender is Wayne Taylor’s team, third at Daytona with Max Angelelli and the Taylor brothers, Jordan and Ricky (Wayne’s sons).

A longer title shot is Mike Shank’s team, which has switched from racing Riley-Ford DP chassis to a Ligier JS-HPD/Honda P2 car. Shank’s goal is to race at Le Mans and in selected WEC races in the coming years, because he believes that’s the only way he can generate the sponsorship required.

Ozz Negri showed the Ligier-Honda’s potential by putting the car on pole at Daytona. Co-drivers AJ Allmendinger, John Pew and Matt McMurry stayed in the hunt for much of the way, but fell back after Pew was involved in a mid-race incident and had to stop in the pits during the final half-hour because of a front suspension failure. But Allmendinger set the race’s fastest lap and veteran Negri could well be a championship outsider.

One of the two factory Corvette C7 Rs won the GT Le Mans class. Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe beat the Rahal BMW Z4 of Bill Auberlen, Dirk Werner, Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler by less than half a second.

The GT LM category is one of the TUSC’s biggest draws, featuring factory or works-backed teams from Corvette, BMW, Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin. The Corvette team is always hard to beat and made a strong start to the season, but there’s plenty of competition and most of the TUSC’s 10 GT LM cars are capable of winning any given race.

Daytona’s 53 starters comprised 16 Daytona Prototype or P2 cars, 10 GT LMs, eight Prototype Challenge ORECA FLM09-Chevrolets and 19 GT Daytona cars. The latter class covers mostly Porsche 911s with a sprinkling of Audi R8s, Ferrari 458s, an Aston Martin Vantage and a couple of Dodge Viper SRTs. One of the Vipers won the GTD class, Ben Keating, Dominik Farnbacher, Kuno Wittmer, Cameron Lawrence and Al Carter taking 13th overall.

Sponsorship for the TUSC is hard to find, however, and fewer than 10 Daytona Prototype and P2 cars are expected to take part in all 12 rounds. In the long run, the TUSC must forge a stronger bond with the WEC and deliver a much better overall media package for its competitors and fans. Gordon Kirby

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