Race Weekend Central

Time to Set Your Watches: Your 2012 Rolex 24 Preview, Part I

With full apologies to Billy Fuccillo, quite possibly the most annoying car dealership owner in all of New York (we’ve got at least four of his dealerships here in the Albany area, and they run commercials daily for them), this year’s Rolex 24 is shaping up to be quite huge.

To that end, we must preview the action so that when pre-race coverage at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday (Jan. 28) starts, you’ll have at least some idea of what to expect.

Now, this preview is going to be all-inclusive. The goal is to talk about every team (currently, there are 59 entries). I know what you’re thinking, “Good lord, that’s going to take forever.” Well, it doesn’t create itself, that’s for sure. Today, we’ll cover the Daytona Prototype entries.

Daytona Prototype 2012 Rolex 24 Preview

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates
Cars: No. 01 BMW Riley DPG3, No. 02 Target BMW Riley DPG3
Sponsors: Telmex, Target (both cars)
Drivers: No. 01 – Joey Hand, Scott Pruett, Graham Rahal, Memo Rojas; No. 02 – Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya

Thoughts: The Chip Ganassi-owned cars should never be doubted at any time. Ever. The No. 01 has the same foursome that won the race overall last year. They’ve completed every lap in the race the last three years in a row, something that is amazing, especially knowing that they didn’t win all of those races (Action Express Racing won the 2010 Rolex 24).

Somewhat lost in last year’s victory from the jaws of defeat is the fact that it was actually a Ganassi 1-2. The second car, shared by the same group of Izod IndyCar Series and Sprint Cup drivers listed above, finished just 2.5 seconds behind.

In testing, the new Riley DPG3s were slower than the Corvettes, but gained on them as the test continued. Additional time back at the shop with the DPG3s should see Ganassi’s challengers right on pace when practice opens on Thursday. From there, both cars should be right in the hunt.

Team: Starworks Motorsport
Cars: No. 2 Ford Riley Mk XX, No. 8 Ford Riley DPG3
Sponsor: Motorola (both cars)
Drivers: No. 2 – Ryan Hunter-Reay, Lucas Luhr, Scott Mayer, Miguel Potolicchio, Maurizio Scala; No. 8 – Ryan Dalziel, Luhr, Allan McNish, Alex Popow, Enzo Potolicchio

Thoughts: The No. 8 is the primary car for Starworks Motorsport. This is the car that would be most likely to take the fight to the Corvette DPs and the other top Rileys. However, the No. 8 team did not use the car that they will be racing in the Roar test. Their DPG3 was not quite complete at the time of the test, so they broke out the reliable Riley Mk XI.

The driver lineup is quite solid. Dalziel is the undisputed lead driver for the team. Last year, Dalziel was able to lead the race early before an unfortunate off-course excursion in the Bus Stop chicane. McNish is an Audi factory driver with multiple 24-hour starts under his belt, as well as a full season in Formula 1 for Toyota back in 2002. However, to many readers here, he might be a little better known for the huge wreck he had in the first hour of Le Mans last year.

Popow and Enzo Potolicchio have a year of experience under their belts with the team and greatly improved their form as the season wound on.

The No. 2 last year was a last-minute third entry for the team with an inexperienced driver pairing that was seconds off the pace of the rest of the class. The team was originally shaping up to be stronger with the addition of veteran talent, but a sponsor pulling out at the last minute took the open-wheel guys out of the car.

Now, the lineup includes Luhr, a strong for Porsche factory driver as the lead driver and Mayer also involved. The No. 8 could be a legitimate podium threat if things go their way during the race. However, racing a brand-new untested car in the Rolex 24 at Daytona does carry some risks. Meanwhile, the No. 2 might be back in the pack a ways.

Team: Action Express Racing
Cars: No. 5 Chevrolet Corvette DP, No. 9 Chevrolet Corvette DP
Drivers: No. 5 – David Donohue, Christian Fittipaldi, Darren Law; No. 9 – Joao Barbosa, Terry Borcheller, JC France, Max Papis

Thoughts: Continuity is the name of the game at Action Express. The No. 5 is entering their 10th straight season with the full-season pairing of Donohue and Law, while the No. 9 team returns with the same foursome from last year that finished third. I had the opportunity to talk with Papis the day before the race, where he mentioned that his No. 9 V8 Porsche Riley Mk XI was a little bit off in outright speed, but very easy to drive consistently.

See also
Beyond the Cockpit: Max Papis on Rolex, 2011 Truck Series Transition

The No. 5 was also right in the hunt despite a clutch issue. However, that issue effectively ended any chance at a decent finish when Donohue spun the car in the Bus Stop and stalled, costing the team multiple laps.

This year, with the new Coyote-built Chevrolet Corvette DP in play, both of the team’s cars should have no issues with outright speed. However, the Corvettes do have a flaw. High brake temperatures and high wear were noted on the brake pads during the Roar test. That could end up hurting the team in their quest to take back the overall title from the Ganassi squad.

Team: Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian
Cars: No. 6 Ford Riley Mk XX, No. 60 Ford Riley DPG3
Sponsors: No. 60 – LiveOn.org
Drivers: No. 6 – Jorge Goncalvez, Michael McDowell, Felipe Nasr, Gustavo Yacaman; No. 60 – AJ Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri Jr., John Pew, Justin Wilson

Thoughts: Michael Shank Racing is a different outfit this year. Last year, they were effectively running three cars, the Nos. 6 and 60 by themselves, and the No. 23 in cooperation with Zak Brown’s United Autosports team. The No. 6 appears to be running the same car that the No. 23 team ran to a fourth-place finish.

However, there is a new driver lineup in play this year. Only McDowell returns from the No. 6 that finished seventh last year. He is joined by three unknown quantities (as far as sports cars go). Goncalvez and Yacaman both drove full-time in Firestone Indy Lights last year and impressed. Nasr, last year’s British Formula 3 champion, earned his ride by winning the Sunoco Rolex 24 at Daytona Challenge, a points championship between multiple series in the United Kingdom that use Sunoco Race Fuels.

Lack of endurance experience will probably hurt this team, but the equipment is solid. A top-10 finish is likely without issues.

Meanwhile, the No. 60 team should be quite strong. Allmendinger moves over to this ride from the No. 6, along with the very fast Wilson. They are joined by full-time campaigners Negri and Pew. This should be a strong outfit that should be up in the hunt if mechanical gremlins don’t get in the way.

Team: SunTrust Racing
Car: No. 10 Chevrolet Corvette DP
Sponsor: SunTrust Bank
Drivers: Max Angelelli, Ryan Briscoe, Ricky Taylor

Thoughts: The No. 10 turned in the fastest lap overall during the Roar test and has a very fast trio of drivers, all returning from last year. Angelelli and Taylor return for their second full season together as teammates, while Briscoe has a fairly substantial amount of experience in sports car racing, even though open-wheel racing is his day job. He drove for Penske Racing in the American Le Mans Series when they were fielding factory supported Porsche RS Spyders. He has driven the No. 10 in two previous Rolex 24s (2006 and last year).

This trio managed to finish fifth overall, one lap down to the leaders last year with the Chevrolet-powered Dallara. With the new Corvette DP, there is a good sporting chance that the team just might be in overall contention for the win come 3:30 on Sunday afternoon.

Team: 50+Predator/Alegra Motorsports
Car: No. 50 BMW Riley Mk XI
Sponsor: Highway to Help
Drivers: Bryon Dafoor, Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Brian Johnson, Jim Pace, Carlos de Quesada

Thoughts: This team was the slowest of the 14 Daytona Prototypes in all preseason testing sessions by a sizable margin. The organization has had success in the past in the GT class, winning back in 2007 with a Porsche 911. However, success in the DP class has been fleeting. The team has not raced regularly in the class since 2009, but still owns the car (now seven years old) that they raced then.

The team will get a lot of attention in Daytona thanks to their driver lineup. For the most part, it’s quite the experienced lot. Forbes-Robinson is a past overall winner in the race in his days driving for Dyson Racing, while Pace won overall in 1996 as part of Wayne Taylor’s team (now SunTrust Racing). De Quesada was on the team when they won the GT class in Daytona in 2007. However, the driver that will bring the most attention is Johnson. Yes, that’s the same Brian Johnson that is the longtime lead singer of AC/DC, making his professional debut at age 64.

If the team can be consistent with their lap times and avoid trouble, they could potentially put up a decent overall finish. Unfortunately, this team is not in any real contention.

Team: Krohn Racing
Car: No. 76 Ford Lola
Sponsor: Krohn Aviation
Drivers: Colin Braun, Nic Jonsson, Tracy Krohn, Ricardo Zonta

Thoughts: Krohn Racing returns three of their four drivers from last year’s Rolex 24, with Braun being the only new driver in the lineup. The Lola last year was decent, but dropped off in the final few hours of the race. The team standing pat with the same chassis they’ve run for the past four seasons may hurt them.

Team: Doran Racing
Car: No. 77 Ford Dallara
Sponsors: Combos, Circle K
Drivers: Brian and Burt Frisselle, Dr. Jim Lowe, Paul Tracy

Thoughts: The Doran team was up in the air heading into Daytona. Last year’s primary sponsorship from Office Depot is gone, as are the team’s 1-series coupes that raced in the Continental Series. Dr. Lowe, who drove the No. 8 for Starworks here last year, signed on very early, along with the Frisselle brothers. However, Tracy only just signed on last week and brought the team’s sponsorship with him.

With the new chassis from Coyote and Riley this season, Doran Racing is the only team running a Dallara in the field. While this is often a bad thing, the Dallara chassis has proven to be quite the potent piece over the past couple of years. The Frisselles should do very well in the car, while Dr. Lowe will likely run to the pace that he feels comfortable running (despite years of experience in the GT class, he’s more of a gentleman racer).

Tracy, despite all of his experience in open-wheel racing, is all but a rookie. However, he will give it his all behind the wheel. If trouble can be avoided, a top 10 should be had.

Team: Spirit of Daytona
Car: No. 90 Chevrolet Corvette DP
Drivers: Antonio Garcia, Oliver Gavin, Richard Westbrook

Thoughts: Last year, Spirit of Daytona campaigned the lone Coyote chassis on track. That car was relatively fast, but kinda fragile. That statement encapsulates last year’s Rolex 24 for the team as well. They were in the hunt until a crash exiting the Bus Stop in hour seven put the team behind the wall for suspension repairs.

A blown tire in the final minutes of the race ripped most of the rear bodywork off of the car and nearly the entire right-rear corner of the Coyote right at the end of the race. This brought out the full-course caution that set up the green-white-checkered finish.

Garcia returns to the team for another season while Paul Edwards has left. He has been replaced by Westbrook, a past champion of the Porsche Supercup Series in Europe who spent last season racing a Nissan GT-R in the GT1 World Championship. Oliver Gavin, a former Corvette factory driver, joins in. Testing shows that the team is right on pace. All they have to do is keep out of trouble and they should be contenders.

Team: GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing
Car: No. 99 Chevrolet Corvette DP
Sponsor: GAINSCO Insurance
Drivers: Jon Fogarty, Memo Gidley, Alex Gurney

Thoughts: The “Red Dragon” is always a team to be reckoned with, whether in sprint races or endurance events. The Fogarty-Gurney duo returns for another year, while Jimmie Johnson is replaced by Gidley, who drove for Team Sahlen last year in the GT class. This team, like all of the squads that will run the Corvette DP, was very fast at the Roar test, but the chassis is unproven over a 24-hour distance. If the car is reliable and the drivers can stay out of trouble, a great result will be on tap.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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