Saturday, January 24, 2015

2015 Daytona 24 Hours - Prototype Preview

Well, we've made it through the week and all of the previews of the other three classes in the Tudor United Sports Car Series, so that means that it's time to tackle the big dogs: the Prototype class. The car count is down two, from 18 last year to 16 this year, but the overall quality of the field is just as strong, and maybe even stronger. While we had specifications changes galore coming into Daytona last year due to the merger of GrandAm and the American Le Mans Series (the GrandAm DPs gained some power and downforce, the ALMS LMP2s lost a little downforce and had to run the harder GrandAm-spec Continental tires), there have been no major tweaks for this year's race in Prototype, apart from a couple minor car weight adjustments. With that being the case, let's get into who's who in the Prototypes this year.

The No-Hopers

#50 Fifty Plus Racing Endures for a Cure Inc./Highway to Help Race Team Riley DP-BMW - I think we're probably three years and running now that I've mentioned this team first in the "no-hopers" section, and their chances to win in 2015 are no better than in any of the prior years they've taken part. That's OK, though. Their main reasons for being here are raising money for charity and competing for the sake of competing. Good on these guys. I hope this group of over-50 drivers keeps coming back for many years to come. Odds - 1,000 to 1.

#66 RG Racing Riley DP-BMW - Shane Lewis is a pretty good driver. Outside of him, I basically don't know anything about the rest of the drivers or the team itself. A top-15 overall would probably be considered a win for them. Odds - 500 to 1.

#70 Speedsource Mazda LMP2 - It's not for lack of great drivers (Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez, Sylvain Tremblay and IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe are all as good as it gets) or technical innovation (Mazda is the only engine manufacturer using diesel at Daytona), but the car is just not yet developed to the point where it's going to challenge for wins, or even top-5s. It's made a quantum leap since last year (now qualifying 20th and 34th instead of dead last and deader last), but there needs to be another quantum leap before it'll be a contender. Odds - 500 to 1.

#07 Speedsource Mazda LMP2 - See above for #70, substitute in drivers Joel Miller, Tom Long, Ben Devlin and Sylvain Tremblay. Odds - 500 to 1.

The Little Chancers

#1 Tequila Patron ESM Honda HPD ARX - The team is certainly up to the task. And so are the drivers (Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Heinemeier-Hansson). But the car is BRAND new. Teething troubles relegated this car to 52nd in qualifying. "Never raced before" does not usually equal "winner of a 24 hour race in its debut". Odds - 100 to 1.

#2 Tequila Patron ESM Honda HPD ARX - See above for #1, substitute in drivers Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Jon Fogarty. Odds - 100 to 1.

#31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP - While this is a Corvette Daytona Prototype entered by the defending champion Action Express Racing, you shouldn't confuse this car for the #5 sister car. While Eric Curran, Dane Cameron, Max Papis and Phil Keen are plenty capable, I don't see this car having the firepower to take down the big dogs unless everybody else hits trouble. I'm thinking they'd be thrilled with a top-5. Odds - 50 to 1.

The "Rear of the Front" Pack

#57 Krohn Racing Ligier JS PS2-Judd - The drivers (team owner Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson, Alex Brundle and the lightning fast Olivier Pla) are definitely on the pace of the front running guys, but the Ligier is a new-ish car and the Judd engine is probably not up to the top-line engines. This team can win, but only if a few things break their way and they hit no trouble. Odds - 40 to 1.

#0 Claro/TracFone DeltaWing Racing Delta Wing DWC13 - It's been a rocket in a straight line, and it's qualified 5th, but I just can't really imagine everything (including their new gearbox) holding on for 24 hours. Odds - 40 to 1.

The "Middle of the Front" Pack

#90 Racing Corvette DP - At this point, we're really starting to get serious. Richard Westbrook, Michael Valiente and Mike Rockenfeller are all proven winners (and Rocky's won the 24 before) and the Corvette is still clearly one of the three fastest cars in the race (along with the Riley DP and the Ligier). It's not hard to see a few things breaking the way of the #90 and them winding up on top. With some of the horrible luck they had last year, they're pretty much due for a break or five. Odds - 10 to 1.

#7 Starworks Motorsport Riley DP-BMW - All of the drivers in this car (Porsche factory LMP1 driver Brendon Hartley, ex-Formula 1 driver Ruben Barrichello, defending Indy 500 champion and 2013 IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and longtime sportscar stalwart Tor Graves) minus one (Scott Mayer) are freaking jet pilots. The're likely to limit Mayer to about two total hours in the car and have the other four guys split up the other 22 hours. The Riley-BMW is a proven, reliable combination and Starworks is a proven winning team. They might be just a tick off the front running pace (qualified 8th, about a second off of the pole speed), but 24 hours is a long time for things to unfold. Can't be counted out. Odds - 10 to 1.

#60 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian Ligier JS PS2-Honda HPD - Even though this car has dominated practice and is on pole after a fantastic lap by Oswaldo Negri, the Michael Shank squad is brand new to running an LMP2-style car. The drivers (Negri, John Pew, NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger and Matt McMurry) are all capable of front-running speed, but will some unknown issue reach up and smack down the lightning fast Ligier? Odds - 10 to 1.

The "Front of the Front" Pack

#10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP for Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP - One of the longest car names belongs to the defending 2nd place squad. One more break going their way last year would have them as the defending champions, so it's pretty easy to picture them in Victory Lane tomorrow afternoon. The goofy Taylor brothers (Jordan and Ricky) are joined yet again by longtime team driver Max Angelelli, so the team has plenty of speed. It's basically just a matter of if they get enough breaks to win. Oh, and if Jordan's cutting of his mullet really hasn't sapped all the teams' mojo. Odds - 5 to 1.

#02 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Riley DP-Ford EcoBoost - The usually dominant Ganassi cars suffered from a slight case of "new car blues" at Daytona last year, with issues with their brand new Riley-Ford EcoBoost twin turbos relegating them to 15th and 43rd in the standings. They promptly went and won the next race at Sebring, and a full season of development has seen them jump right back up to the top of the time charts (the #02 is qualified 2nd, just 0.108 seconds off the pole winning pace). The #02 "Star Car" driven by IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan and NASCAR drivers Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray should have no problem keeping pace. If the car holds together for all 24 hours, they're basically guaranteed to be in the top-3. Odds - 5 to 1.

#01 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Riley DP-Ford EcoBoost - See above for #02, but substitute in drivers Scott Pruett ("Hi to Scott's family at home!"), Joey Hand, IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball and hopeful IndyCar driver Sage Karam. Odds - 5 to 1.

#5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP - They're the defending race and series champions. And they basically haven't changed a thing since last year except for the paint job. All three drivers (Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais) return, as does the crew that executed last year's race perfectly. If no screwy misfortune befalls them, they'll be in the lead group in the scramble for the checkers. Odds - 5 to 1.

Once again, I more or less copped out and couldn't pick a favorite. I truly think it'll be a battle between the top two Corvette DPs and the two Ganassi cars all the way through the race, with the Shank #60 and a couple others periodically mingling with them. Gun to my head, I'll go with the Taylors to break through and take the win, but it's seriously too close to call.

We made it! The race kicks off in just a few hours, and it looks like it's shaping up to be a classic. Enjoy, and we'll be giving you lots of great Blogathon goodness all day (and all night, and all day) long. See you in a couple hours!


Pat W said...

I really want Shank to win because it'd be great have a Ligier win, but that car hasn't been reliable enough in other team's hands and I see no reason for that to change just yet.

The BoP seems to favour the Ganassi Fords this year so I think the 01 will get it, but I want the 02 to win so Dixon and Kanaan can have a nice new watch.

Mike said...

02! 02! 02!