Story and photo by Vickie Miller
This past weekend was the â€œRoar Before the 24â€ at Daytona International Speedway with the Ferrari Challenge cars first on track starting on Thursday, January 7 (which wasnâ€™t on the IMSA official schedule due to continuing the tradition of not combing all the race series attending the event onto one schedule just to irritate me again this year. Donâ€™t even get me started on the spelling errors on the entry list. Well done.)
The cars on track from Friday through Sunday were the IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC) series with classes P (Prototype), PC (Prototype Challenge), GTLM (GT Le Mans) and GTD (GT Daytona). To learn more about these classes, please visit http://www.imsa.com/imsa101/car-classes
The Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge (CTSCC) series was also at DIS with two classes: GS (Grand Sport) and ST (Street Turner). To learn more about these classes, please visit http://www.imsa.com/imsa101/classes-0
While the January month end weekend is primarily referred to as the â€œRolex 24â€, there is a 2-1/2 hour CTSCC race on Friday, January 29 beginning at 1:45pm. Many of the CTSCC teams do not have the big budget dollars and unable to attend the Roar, so the Rolex weekend will be their practice at DIS.
If you are like me, you read all the articles from Sportscar365 and Racer regarding the changes during this â€œsillyâ€ off-season and tried to follow along. But when I sat down and looked at the Roar entry list, my first reaction wasâ€¦â€What? What? Who is in which car? What happened to <insert driver name here>?â€
Over the years, the Roar has become its own event. I remember years ago it was just considered â€œtest daysâ€ and few people knew about it or attended. It seemed like it was me, and about 10 other fans walking around and we had the place to ourselves.
Now if you buy tickets to the Rolex 24 weekend, you can attend the Roar for free. Also the Boy Scouts make it a camping weekend and at certain scheduled times the scouts and parents can go into the paddock area. Itâ€™s a big deal now. Starworks Motorsport driver, Renger van der Zande tweeted on Saturday, â€@Rengervdz â€œNever seen so many fans at a testing day.â€
With all the team line-up and manufacturer changes, the Roar is like private school orientation day. Itâ€™s where drivers learn their new home room location (garage), find their locker (hauler), find the new class room (pit box), and meet new class mates (team and crew).
Orientation day is spent walking around saying hello to old friends and making new friends, who might have just transferred into the neighborhood. Also you try on your new uniform (fire suit) and get the classmates team photographs taken for the yearbook.
Whether seen or hidden, at every race, there is a sewing or alternations area with volunteers who are handy with a needle and thread ready to fix a tear or rip on the fire suits. With the last minute changes, this group will be kept busy adding new team or sponsor logos on many a fire suit the week of the Rolex 24.
Before each yearâ€™s Roar or Rolex, I review the entry list looking for my GrandAm favorites such as Burt and Brian Frisselle, Gunter Schaldach, Johnny Kanavas, Jeff Bucknum, Craig Stanton, and James Gue. This year was no different. Not only would I find their names missing, many drivers found themselves walking the paddock looking for a ride, which included Shelby Blackstock, Trent Hindeman, Guy Cosmo, and Michael Valiante just to name a few.
Last year, Valiante was with Spirit of Daytona Motorsports and I had the pleasure to chat with him at Road America. Here is my article and my Q&A with Michael Valiante: http://motorweeklive.com/just-the-way-i-see-it-imsa-at-road-america/
Each year there is a little shifting in drivers changing teams, but I cannot remember a year when I have seen so much winning proven talent walking around the paddock in jeans instead of a fire suit. When you are a professional race car driver, thatâ€™s what you doâ€¦.you race cars. If you arenâ€™t racing, about the only other opportunity is coaching.
After winning the 2015 CTSC championship with the Chevrolet Camaro, and retaining the same driver line-up, the owner, John Stevenson, moved to Audi R8 LMS and will compete in the GTD class. The winning team of Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell will remain in the No. 6 car with Matt Bell and Lawson Aschenbach in the No. 9 Audi.
But you need more than two drivers in the car for the Rolex 24, which sent much of the Roar weekend paddock buzz was regarding Audi winning driver, Dion von Moltke testing with Stevenson Motorsports Audi. While Dion is no stranger to Audi R8, heâ€™s never driven this car before but that didnâ€™t stop him from going straight to P1 in his first laps.
Dionâ€™s hard work and talent paid off as he was given the well-deserved seat to be in the Stevenson Motorsports car No. 9 with Tristan Vautier, Boris Said, and Kenny Habul.
â€œIt was amazing to have the chance to test with Stevenson Motorsports and be confirmed for the race,â€ said Vautier who brings a wealth of racing experience ranging from IndyCar to the European Blancpain GT series. â€œI am very happy and grateful for this chance. The car is really good, I really like the Audi R8 LMS. I am very confident about Stevenson Motorsports and their abilities. With all of their experience and everything they have achieved, they are an amazing team to be able to work with for this famous race. We also have a really solid driver lineup, everyone is fast and Kenny (Habul) has been very impressive considering itâ€™s his first experience in a GT3, especially around Daytona, so it has been a really great experience.â€
You can read more at Dionâ€™s website https://dionvm.com/news/
The Michael Shank Racing car, Honda HPD Ligier JS P2, was very impressive with times at the top of the charts for Practice sessions 1, 2, 5, and 6. It was also interesting to see the DeltaWing and the Mazda Prototype putting up some fast times. I am hoping both have a great showing at the end of the month and complete all 24 hours.
The Roar weekend was the backdrop for the Michael Shank Racing press conference announcement regarding attending the 24 hours of LeMans with drivers John Pew, Oswaldo â€œOzzâ€ Negri Jr and Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium). It was mentioned Michael Shank racing earned the invitation to complete as a result of John Pew winning the 2015 Trueman Award as the top semi-pro driver in IMSA.
After the press conference, I had a very nice chat with Laurens, where I learned he had raced in 2015 at the Stock Car in Brazil opening race at Interlogos in the Red Bull racing car. The opening Stock Car race of the season is the only race on the schedule using co-drivers. In 2014, Ozz was in this race driving in the No. 90 Eurofama car where his co-driver was Ricardo Mauricio.
Until I mentioned this to Laurens, the two drivers did not know each other had participated in the Stock Car racing in Brazil. I enjoyed listing to the two varied background professional drivers discuss their Interlagos experience! It really is a small world sometimes.
Now about the facility. Entry into DIS was improved. If fans bought at ticket to the Rolex 24 weekend, they received an email which, once printed and brought to the track, gained you free admission and infield parking for the Roar weekend. The gate security guards handled the â€œemailâ€ tickets much better than in years past.
There was still only one place to eat in the Fan Zone area where the food was expensive, terrible, cold and service was slow. Nothing changed.
DIS decided to test the emergency sound system so periodically throughout the day sirens would start screaming which, once you knew what it was, the sound was annoying but ignored. Thank goodness there was no real emergency or no one would have paid attention.
Saturday morning test session for IWSC was delayed due to fog which changed the time schedule for the day. The Roar is the weekend where teams try different set-ups and the drivers get comfortable with a possible new team and car. Some teams have been accused of â€œsand-baggingâ€ during the Roar or any test day.
According to Urban Dictionary, this term refers to â€œwhen a player in any game chooses (on purpose) to not play their best.â€ In motorsports, itâ€™s basically saving your best for qualifying. Maybe itâ€™s a mental tactic to let the P1 cars assume being the fastest time means the setup is great and donâ€™t change a thing or the ploy is not intentional and the drivers are just learning the car and no reason go to all out, just yet.
By Saturdayâ€™s day end, Patrick Lindsey in the Park Place Porsche would find the wall and limp the car back to pit road. I was impressed to see the team work late into the night to have the car back out on the track Sunday morning.
Even before the haulers left the paddock on Sunday, the countdown began for the start of the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona, which will see those same haulers back on Monday, January 25 for unloading day. The Rolex 24 is the first of four events in the Patron North American Endurance Cup series, which includes 12 hours of Sebring in March, Six hours at Watkins Glen end of June, and 10 hours of Petit LeMans end of September.
In mid-December, I had lined up a BIG name in the racing world for a two part interview for the Roar and the Rolex 24 weekends. I was informed late last week, that this person would not be attending either event due to a last minute commitment to the 24 hour Hankook Dubai race being held January 14 â€“ 16, 2016. Trust me, I will keep trying to get this driver in the near future, and already will have another driver for Rolex 24 interview.
Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, WeatherTech, etc. just a fan. There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is â€œjust the way I see itâ€. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @Viclovesracing