Saturday, January 25, 2014

2014 Daytona 24 Hours - Prototype Preview

It's been a long, (not so) strange (typing on a computer screen) trip, but we've made it to the end of the GBS Daytona 24 Hours class previews. Tonight, it's the final class, the Prototypes. This class is not just interesting (to me) in that it will likely be the class that the overall winner comes from, but it's also a merger of 2-3 classes of cars from the 2013 sports car season. The GrandAm Daytona Prototypes have been sped up slightly through higher horsepower and a little more downforce, the ALMS LMP2 cars have been slowed ever so slightly through the use of spec Continental Tire rubber, and the Delta Wing...well, it's been carried over and added into the P class. Let's get right to this thing.

The No-Hopers

#50 Highway to Help Riley-Dinan BMW DP - This car and team show up every year, and good on them for doing so. It's great to see a team come out with the goal of just simply competing, even if the absolute ceiling of performance would be about a 10th place overall, and that's if things go exactly as they'd hope. It's teams like this that make super-underdogs fun to keep track of during a long race like the 24 Hours. Odds - 500 to 1.

#70 and 07 SpeedSource Mazda Skyactiv Diesel LMP2s - As I covered in last year's preview, it's going to be a tough row to hoe for the Mazdas, now even more so that they're in the Prototype class. Both cars were fragile at the Roar Before the 24 test, along with being dreadfully slow (the quicker of the two qualified 11.5 seconds off of the overall pole, and both cars were behind every other car that set a time in qualifying). It would appear that Mazda is in the TUDOR United Sports Car Series for the long run, as there appear to be no illusions about winning, or maybe even finishing at Daytona. Getting the cars to run until the fireworks get shot off at 10:00 or 11:00 PM would be a massive personal victory for the team. Odds (both cars) - 400 to 1.

The "We've Got Quite a Bit of Hope, Thanks Very Much"-ers

#0 Delta Wing Racing Cars Delta Wing DWC13-Elan - The Delta Wing made its competitive debut (albeit with a Nissan powertrain) at Le Mans in 2012, where it was bumped off track and into a wall by a Toyota LMP1 car. Since then, the Delta Wing has gone through a couple of different iterations, to a spectacularly unreliable Elan-powered roadster at the beginning of 2013, to a much more reliable and actually sort of quick (it led overall briefly at Road America) coupe version for the last bundle of races of 2013. The coupe version returns this year, driven by Andy Meyrick, former IndyCar driver Katherine Legge, (hopeful future Formula 1 driver) Alexander Rossi and Indy Lights standout Gaby Chaves. All four are more than capable hands, but the Delta Wing has yet to finish a race longer than 10 hours (and that one 10-hour finish was when it was Nissan powered at Petit Le Mans in 2012). Can it run all day and all night? Signs point to...maybe. Winning, an entirely different animal. Odds - 100 to 1.

#31 Marsh Racing Corvette DP - The longtime GrandAm GT class stalwarts step up to the top class, and they brought their excellent driving crew (full timers Eric Curran and Boris Said, plus Bradley Smith and "Mad" Max Papis) with them. Plus: they've got a Corvette DP, which looks to be the hot ticket to run up front this year. Minus: new team to the Prototypes, in a field of teams who have been running these cars for a whole lot longer than one year. Odds - 50 to 1.

The "I Think We Might Have Brought a Knife to a Gun Fight"-ers

#1 and 2 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD-ARX-03b LMP2s - The integration of the LMP2 cars from the ALMS into the same class with the GrandAm Daytona Prototypes never looked like it'd be simple. The run up to the Daytona 24 Hours has borne that out. The LMP2 cars have lacked speed, specifically straightline speed, and so have been at least 1.5 seconds off of the top DPs in just about every session of testing, practice and qualifying. As a result, it is going to be nearly impossible for an LMP2 car to win this race without a bunch of help in the form of attrition and crashes on the part of the DPs (which isn't totally out of the question with 67 cars on track). After all, at a 1.5 second per lap deficit, the LMP2s will get lapped every 67 laps or so. Ouch. It'll be an entirely different story at basically every other race on the calendar, when the LMP2s can use their extra downforce to their advantage, but Daytona is not a downforce track. Anyway, even though ESM has a bunch of extremely talented drivers (Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Brabham in the #1, Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek, Simon Pagenaud and Anthony Lazzaro in the #2), it'd take a near miracle for them to win at Daytona. Odds - 30 to 1.

#42 OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan LMP2 - See above. Odds - 30 to 1.

#6 Muscle Milk Pickett Racing ORECA-Nissan LMP2 - As much as I don't want to say it, see above. This car gets slightly better odds, due to being the WEC-dominant ORECA-Nissan combo, and for having Lucas Luhr, Klaus Graf and Alex Brundle in it. Odds - 25 to 1.

The "New Car Blues" Candidates

#60 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian Riley-Ford EcoBoost DP - The production-based, twin-turbo Ford V6 is new to GrandAm this year. It's been pretty quick (they qualified fifth, eighth and ninth), but there were also dramas surrounding the exhaust systems overheating at the Roar Before test. I haven't heard much of that sort of chatter thus far in practice and qualifying (the Ford teams were still tinkering with their exhaust systems during the Roar, and have likely come back with a more conservative solution), but we've yet to run a session longer than 2-3 hours. What are the Fords going to do in a 24 hour run? If they can hold it together, they can contend. There's a rather big "if" in that last sentence, though... Odds - 20 to 1.

#01 and 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford EcoBoost DPs - See above. These cars get a slight bump in odds, due to it being Ganassi Racing, who have won five of the last eight Daytona 24 Hour races. Odds (both cars) - 15 to 1.

The "Might Be Able to Keep It Together"-ers

#78 Starworks Motorsport Riley-Dinan BMW DP - A well-proven car, with a couple of well-proven drivers (Brendon Hartley, Alex Popow), a couple of open wheel refugees with less than stellar finishing rates (EJ Viso, Sebastian Saavedra) and Scott Mayer (who has a certain Twitter hashtag following him around like a black cloud). The car is up to the task of 24 hours. Is this set of drivers, though? Odds - 15 to 1.

The Front Runners

#5 and 9 Action Express Racing Corvette DPs - The top-5 Corvette teams have basically been lights out in the run up to Saturday's race, taking five of the top-6 spots in qualifying, and five of the top-7 spots in Friday's final practice. It's more or less a question of which one of the Vettes can run more trouble free than the rest. The AXR Vettes are certainly loaded for bear in the driving department, with Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais and Burt Frisselle driving the #5 and John Martin, Fabien Giroix, and Brian and Burt Frisselle (Burt pulling double duty) in the #9 car. Every last one of those guys is a winner, and the team won the 24 Hours in 2010. Can they win this one? Odds (both cars) - 8 to 1.

#10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP - Wayne Taylor has basically gotten the band back together for Daytona from the 2013 GrandAm DP championship team (Corvette DP, Jordan Taylor, Max Angelelli). To that, he's added his other son, Ricky (who drove for Spirit of Daytona last year), and himself (can't hate on the guy for wanting to try to win the Rolexes with his two sons). Wayne hasn't driven a DP in several years, so you'd have to think that he might be the weak ling among the drivers, but he was certainly no slouch as recently as five years ago. They'll be just fine. Odds - 8 to 1.

#90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP - They suffered a massive accident in November testing at Daytona, but they've come back stronger than ever, running in the top-5 in just about every testing, practice and qualifying session since then. They're on the outside of the front row, and Richard Westbrook, Michael Valiente and Mike Rockenfeller are all proven winners in GrandAm DP. It might finally be time for the SoD guys to break through and win a big one. Odds - 8 to 1.

#99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette DP - They've yet to come up with the funding to run the entire 2014 TUSC season, but they have committed to running the North American Endurance Championship races (Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta). They certainly haven't lost a step, though, since Alex Gurney put the car on the pole. Gurney is joined by longtime driving partner Jon Fogarty, plus Darren Law and Memo Gidley, all of whom have won races (many multiple races, in the case of Gurney, Fogarty and Law) in the DP class. They've had rotten luck at Daytona in the past few years, but this could definitely be the year they put it all together into a flawless run. Odds - 8 to 1.

So, there you have it. Everything you probably didn't want to know about this weekend's 24 Hours of Daytona. Stop on back tomorrow, for all of the assorted nonsense and craziness that Mike, Allen and myself have planned. You might learn something (other than that the three of us are basically out of our minds...which you probably knew anyway).


Mike said...

At least I don't think I drafted any of the "no-hopers."

Pat W said...

I'm pinning my hopes on the P2 cars being able to make it up on strategy, though I'm worried IMSA just ruled that out with the fuel tank capacity regs and the pitstop rules. Maybe the P2s could short-fill and double-stint and make it up that way, assuming Conti's can be double-stinted.

But yeah I see a Corvette benefit and if that's the case I'm backing Spirit of Daytona. Westbrook, Rocky, Valiante. Huge lineup.

Pickett to be first P2 car home.