• Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
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  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
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  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
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  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
  • Image Credit: AOL - Jonathon Ramsey
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Reigning Indy 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay summarized our feelings on every year's Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona when he said, "The 24 kind of kicks off the year and has become part of my calendar... It definitely helps you get in race shape after a long layoff." Speaking of IndyCar drivers, 14 of the 33 pilots who started last year's Indy 500 are driving in Daytona this year, and an IndyCar driver has been part of the overall winning team for the last four years.

The race starts at 2:10 pm Eastern Standard Time, here's where you can watch it:
  • 2-4 pm: Fox Sports Network
  • 4-8 pm: Fox Sports 2
  • 8-10 pm: Fox Sports 1
  • 10 pm-7 am: IMSA TV on IMSA.com - commentary available here for the full 24 hours
  • 7 am – 2:30 pm (Sunday) – Fox Sports 1
  • Timing and Scoring
  • Andy Blackmore's typically awesome Spotter's Guide
  • Video primer on the four classes: Prototype (16 in this year's race), Prototype Challenge (8), GT Le Mans (10), GTD (19), and how to identify them.
  • Daytona International Speedway: tri-oval with an infield road course, 3.56 miles long, 12 turns
  • Entry list
  • Qualifying results
We've tagged along with Audi for the 53rd running of the race, which marks the first event in the Tudor United SportsCar Car Championship. After a difficult first year of teething – IMSA president and COO Scott Atherton said, "Everybody on our staff and everybody that raced with us last year would tell you it was the most challenging season on record" – some things are smoother this year, some things aren't, starting with the field: 53 cars are expected to line up, 14 fewer than last year, the smallest field since 48 cars lined up in 2011. The Prototype class shed three teams from 2014 and the GT Daytona class lost ten, so there's a 19-car field in that class (nine Porsche 911 GT Americas, three Ferrari 458 Italias, two each of the Aston-Martin V12 Vantage, Dodge Viper SRT, Audi R8 LMS, and one BMW Z4).

Truth be told, last year's number was probably inflated by having the previous American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Championship combined to make the USCC; the field in 2013 was 57 cars, in 2012 it was 59 cars. Another factor in this year's race is that the GT class adopts FIA GT3 rules from next year. Brad Kettler, manager of Audi's customer motorsport program, said they'd sold five R8 LMS cars last year but zero for this year – there are undoubtedly teams waiting on the sidelines for the rules unification before spending the money.

However, some of the difficulties the Audi teams had last year with the sanctioning body might speak to the wariness team owners have about coming in. Kettler said that after Daytona last year – when the Flying Lizard squad won for five hours, then was demoted to second – the technical officials changed the balance-of-power regulations to shrink the restrictor on the R8 LMS from 42 millimeters to 40 mm, which Kettler said meant a drop of about 30-40 horsepower, and they added 50 kilograms of weight, taking the car from 1,250 kg to 1,300 kg. For the rest of the year, the car was nowhere. Then, just before the last race at Petite Le Mans, the officials restored the restrictor to 42 mm, without taking off any weight. The No. 48 Audi R8 LMS of Paul Miller Racing won that race. After the season, the officials took all the engines and ran them at the NASCAR dyno in Charlotte. When they saw the R8's performance numbers on their own machines, they changed the BOP schedule to give Audi a 47.2 mm restrictor to start this year. It still has the weight, but now at least it can breathe - but that didn't come until the end of the season, a major concession that would have changed the series for Audi teams.

At the front of the field one of the most vexing issues appears to have been addressed, though, the BOP regulations looking to have brought the Daytona Prototype and P2 prototype chassis' much closer to par. Atherton told Autoweek, "It's no longer an issue, it's not worth discussing. They're right on top of each other," but the race will tell us if that's the case. The P2 cars are little heavier than the DPs and both kinds of car run on a Continental tire that was developed for DPs.

Nevertheless, qualifying makes a better case for P2 ability this year. There's a new Ligier chassis in the field, and Oswaldo Negri, Jr. put the No. 60 Michael Shank Racing (MSR) with Curb/Agajanian Honda HPD-powered Ligier JS P2 on pole. It's the second time MSR has snatched pole for the 24-hour race, but the first time a P2 car has secured pole here and also a first for a Honda-powered car in the overall lead. One of the drivers on the team is 17-year-old American Matt McMurry, who drove and finished Le Mans last year with Caterham Racing, the youngest starter and finisher in the French race.

That pole-sitter is followed by three DP cars: Scott Dixon in the No. 2 Chip Ganassi Riley/Ford EcoBoost DP and Scott Pruett in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi DP, then last year's winner, the No.5 Action Express Racing DP. In fifth comes the No. 0 DeltaWing Racing Cars with Claro/Tracfone DWC13, with Ganassi exile and former Rolex 24 winner Memo Rojas joining the team to drive with Katherine Legge, Andy Myrick and Gabby Chaves. That team is now led by another Chip Ganassi Racing exile, Tim Keene. The first six spots on the grid are covered by less than a half a second.

Behind them, the No. 16 BAR1 Motorsports ORECA FLM09 in the Spongebob Squarepants Movie livery heads the Prototype Challenge class, the No. 4 C7.R Corvette leads GTLM with a gap of half a second to the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari, and the No. 007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage leads GTD for the fourth time in four USCC races. The No. 45 Audi R8 LMS of Flying Lizard Racing qualified sixth in GTD, the No. 48 R8 LMS of Paul Miller racing qualified eleventh.

While we're writing this it's a sunny 62-degree Saturday morning at the beach in Daytona, after an early morning rain. Up until yesterday there was an 80-percent chance of thunderstorms tonight, but as of right now there's only a 40-percent chance of showers in the afternoon, with a clear evening predicted. However, there is a wind advisory and we have been told that 50-mph winds could make an appearance. That shouldn't upend things like rain could do, but it might slow the field for a while.

We'll be back with more in the wee hours. For now, enjoy the large gallery of Daytona sights and pre-race action from practice, the pits, the Ferrari Challenge race and the classics section above.

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