This year is the 52nd edition of the Daytona 24 Hours. The 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona is also the first race of the year in the brand new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (TUSCC) With the merger of the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series rewriting and revising the rules of American sports car racing right up until yesterday, we've made the journey to an intermittently wet and constantly freezing Daytona Beach, Florida with Audi to watch the new R8 LMS and every other competitor explore the limits of those rules on the track.
With a ton to cover – and a couple of videos below to watch, including some slo-mo qualifying footage and a hot lap in an R8 LMS – let's not waste time with chit-chat, eh?
Quick things to know about the classes and the leader-light system:
Driver Classes: Two classes in each racing category are Pro and Pro-Am. The Pro class is composed of professional driver line-ups and its cars use red markings on the windscreen, number placard, rear wing endplate and leader light. Pro-Am has driver line-ups that are a mix of pros and amateurs and cars in this class use blue markings instead of red.
Pro Racing Classes
Prototype (eight entries): Daytona Prototypes, LMP2 cars and the DeltaWing Coupe
GT Le Mans (GTLM, 11 entries): Aston Martin V8 Vantage, BMW Z4 GTE, Corvette C7.R, Ferrari 458 Italia, Porsche 911 RSR and SRT Viper GTS-R
Pro-Am Racing Classes
Prototype Challenge (nine entries): Spec cars with Oreca chassis and Chevrolet engines
GT-Daytona (GTD, 29 entries): Aston Martin V12 Vantage, Audi R8 LMS, BMW Z4, Ferrari 458 Italia, Porsche 911 GT America
For the long-form reading there's this Mega Guide with a breakdown of class changes and blurbs on every one of the 67 teams entered. The SparkNotes version comes via Andy Blackmore's typically awesome Spotter's Guide. For the 'Before' picture check out the full entry list, for the 'Middle' picture check out the full qualifying order, and for the 'End' of affairs, well, we'll be back tomorrow with a race recap. And for Corvette and Viper fans, Racer magazine put together free, downloadable pdf issues on the Chevrolet Racing and SRT Motorsports.
How to watch/listen:
Race starts at 2:10 pm EST today
Fox Sports 1 coverage runs from 2-4 pm ET, that switches to Fox Sports 2 from 4-9 pm EST, and back to Fox Sports 1 from 7 am to 3 pm on Sunday
Overnight streaming and full-race radio and live timing can be found from 9 pm to 7 am EST at www.IMSA.com
Thanks to Rolo in Comments, various in-car streams can also be found on Speed TV's stream.
Related Gallery2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona - pre-race gallery
The Audi R8 LMS
Head of Audi Sport customer racing Romolo Liebchen explained the small changes made to the Audi R8 LMS compared to last year's R8 Grand-Am car. Shortly before the end of the season last year one of the R8 teams, Fall Line Racing, tested a new rear diffuser on the R8 Grand-Am looking for more downforce. When they found one that worked, they petitioned the governing body to allow it to be homologated and it was allowed. That new diffuser is on this year's LMS racer.
The spec wing is slightly changed this year, and you can spot this year's cars that haven't been upgraded completely to this year's cars (as opposed to brand new cars) by the wing supports: the R8 Grand-Am has kinked wing supports, the new cars have straight wing supports.
One of the most vexing differences between FIA GT3 car and the Grand-Am car was the rollcage specification. Liebchen said that Grand-Am mandated slightly thicker tubes in some places because the series wanted any proficient welder to be able to weld his or her own rollcage, whereas the thinner tubing allowed in GT3 required specialist knowledge. This year IMSA, the TUSSC oversight body, has allowed GT3-spec cages, which makes it much simpler to swap cars from one series to another.
If you're wondering what the difference is between the R8 LMS and the R8 LMS Ultra, the Ultra is lighter through the use of some carbon fiber body panels, gets a lot more downforce from a different front splitter and rear wing and it uses traction control and ABS that aren't allowed over here. Swapping from an Ultra to a standard LMS is now a matter of swapping body parts and brake lines (the brake lines control the ABS and traction control).
Another change is that closed windows are allowed this year, which improves aerodynamics. Liebchen said that last year they had drivers coming over from Europe who were driving with open window for the first time - FIA GT3 allows closed windows, Grand-Am required windows down - and they had to learn to keep their visors down because they were getting hit in the face with debris during races. Dropping the visors, however, meant they got hotter than they were used to. Closed windows allows them to keep their shields up when they want and their faces free of flying bits. Liebchen said they didn't realize the window regulations had changed until they saw a Porsche customer team testing with closed windows. Then they went to the governing body for clarification and found out about the rule change
The improved aero came in handy for qualifying, Christopher Haase putting the No. 48 R8 LMS on GTD-class pole for Paul Miller Racing, the No. 46 R8 LMS of Fall-Line Motorsports following in third place. There was some confusion when both of those cars got were disqualified for not passing technical inspections after qualifying, though. That promoted the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia out of second and into first place in GTD. The Miller car was DQ'ed for having wing endplates that were ten millimeters out of acceptable range, but it was reinstated on appeal and so regained pole. The Fall-Line Motorsports car was dropped from its third-in-class to the back of the grid because its front splitter mounts broke, dropping the splitter below the acceptable level. In happier R8 qualifying news, enjoy some slo-mo scenes from qualifying in this this video:
We got a hot lap in the R8 LMS and, even for on an early run on cold tires and a cold track, we resorted to expletives to describe it. As one would expect of a race car it's plenty raw, but it possesses plenty of the kind of thrill we'd love to see in the R8 and that could be transferred to the R8 - note the Ceberus-like bark on downshifts in the video below. Nota bene, it was a rush getting set up for the lap so we didn't get the GoPro set up exactly where we wanted it. The strange buzzing you'll hear is when it rattles on its base during the high-speed sections.
Speaking of transfer from race to road, we've been told that Audi's European LMP endurance racer program is aligned with developing advances that are perhaps two generations away, while the customer sports racing program is aligned with imminent advances and showcasing the brand with dealer participation.
Audi vs. Porsche
Paul Miller Racing is one of the teams that switched from Porsche to Audi this year. The eponymous team owner also owns one of the largest Audi dealerships in America in Parsippany, New Jersey along with a Porsche dealership and showrooms for eight other brands. He started racing Porsches in 1976 because "I was driving Camaros and Corvettes and getting regularly beaten by Porsches." After defecting to the Stuttgart sports car maker, he became a dealer because "the only way to get the good [racing parts and] pieces was to be a dealer. All the good cars were run with dealers." Miller was able to purchase a failed Porsche dealership out of receivership, and every year the team raced, it raced in cars from that brand right up until last year, its fourth year in the ALMS GT class in a Porsche 911 RSR.
Miller said the team felt like the GTD class in TUSSC offered a good opportunity even though "it was a step down," and they looked at a number of different platforms for this year: Porsche, Audi, Ferrari, McLaren and even Bentley (Miller's group also runs a Bentley dealership). Noting that Ferrari has won the last two Rolex Grand-Am series championships and that the Continental spec tire mandated in the GTD class makes tire wear a very important issue, it was decided to go with a mid-engined car. Being able to use tires for two stints and getting more even wear from the rubber offers more in-race opportunities and is easier on the drivers. That's how it pays...
But it also costs to switch to Audi, "a difference of a couple hundred thousand dollars," Miller told us, the 911 RSR going for about $270,000, the R8 LMS going for about $465,000. Audi expects that its car will be cheaper to run over time, however, with engines are built last for an entire year, and that price does include some parts and tech support. Miller did confirm that the parts are a little less expensive, but the bigger benefit has been that they have a longer race life – "We're getting much longer life out of our parts."
Paul's son Bryce drives for the team, and is among the crew that scored this year's class pole. When we spoke to Bryce, who said he's been driving Porsche's since he was six, he said he's still coming to terms with a car the team received 60 days ago and trying to get rid of his Porsche driving techniques. On the differences in driving the two cars, he said the Audi is kinder to its tires and the driver because "it's a little bit more forgiving and slightly easier to drive on a long run, it's easier to find the ideal operating window and the settings for it." He also said the more even tire wear keeps that ideal operating window open for a longer time.
"But the biggest thing," he said, "is to be in a position of taking delivery of the car two months ago to putting it on pole."
Elsewhere on the Grid
- Outright pole position was claimed by one of the six Corvette-engined Daytona Prototypes, Alex Gurney in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing DP averaging 130.416 mph around the track in 1:38.270. He's followed four more Corvette DPs, the second just 0.217 behind.
- The SRT Motorsports No. 91 Viper GTS-R grabbed pole in the GTLM class with a lap of 1:44.617, the second Viper coming in third. The top five cars were separated by 0.240 seconds. Both Corvette C7.Rs were hit by electrical problems, with only the No. 4 C7.R setting a time to take fourth on the grid, the No. 3 car not setting a time.
- The six fastest GTD cars were separated by 89 thousandths of a second, with just one second separating the top 20.
- Ferrari is celebrating its 60 th anniversary in North America this year, beginning with this race. It won here in 1964 with a 250 GTO Series II, and has taken four more overall victories since then as well as several class victories. There are seven Ferraris in the running, two in GTLM, five in GTD. Alessandro Balzan, last season's Rolex Series GT driver's champion, said "compared to last year, the car is much better here at Daytona."
We'll be back in the wee hours with more pictures and video of the overnight action.