With a tried-and-true chassis and a solid lineup of eight cars in the GTD class, Ferrari hopes to achieve something that’s eluded it so far since the introduction of the GT3-based 458 Italia: a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
A class win would be Ferrari’s first in any category at Daytona since Gianpiero Moretti’s MOMO Ferrari 333 SP won overall in 1998. The closest a Ferrari has come since was when Risi Competizione finished second overall and in GT in 2003 with a Ferrari 360 GT.
The Ferraris have been among the fastest cars this week after the teams made minor tweaks and setup modifications from the Roar Before the Rolex 24.
Interestingly, the success has come after IMSA’s post-Roar Balance of Performance adjustments, where the Ferraris were issued a 5mm smaller air restrictor, but received a 29 kg weight break and 200 rpm boost to compensate.
“It’s really been a lot of fine tuning,” Level 5 Motorsports’ Jeff Segal told Sportscar365. “Our battle for the Roar was to get everything done on time. In the time since, there’s been a lot to refine. We’ve been able to think about the setups and the data we collected.”
Segal would know. The 2012 Rolex Series GT class co-champion drove with the AIM Autosport Team FXDD and R.Ferri/AIM Motorsport Ferrari squads each of the last two years. He was able to carry his knowledge and expertise to Level 5, which is fielding two of the eight 458s in class after switching from its recent background in prototypes.
Level 5 has brought on AIM veteran engineer Ian Willis as a consultant for at least the Rolex 24, and potentially further races depending on AIM’s 2014 plans. He explained the dynamic that Level 5 is undergoing as a result.
“You measure things in prototypes in fractions of a millimeter and in GT it’s not that critical,” Willis explained. “It’s the same as when our team (AIM) went from a prototype to GT car. The philosophy is different. You work from the top down there compared to the bottom up on a GT car.”
While Level 5 is new to the class, the veteran squad in the class is the three-car Scuderia Corsa squad, led by Giacomo Mattioli. The No. 63 Ferrari 458 and sister No. 65 will start second and third in the field with two dependable lineups.
Mattioli told Sportscar365 the team didn’t need to make many changes to the championship-winning car of a year ago, other than window installation. Fine tuning and understanding how the car behaves with the Continentals should also be keys to success.
He also hailed the pace of Daniel Serra, son of former Formula One driver Chico, who anchors the all-Brazilian No. 65 lineup with co-drivers Xandy Negrao, Marcos Gomes and Francisco Longo.
“We missed the Roar being on the waiting list,” Mattioli said. “But he drove last year in the 64 and was very impressive. He’s very talented, and just needs a little more seat time. Sure enough he’s put together a really good lap.”
The No. 63’s best lap in qualifying was slightly better, and was turned in by Toni Vilander. Vilander shares the car with Jeff Westphal, Lorenzo Case and defending class champ Alessandro Balzan. Balzan still said he has more to learn as he enters his second full season in America.
“I’m not comfortable, because if I don’t win I get fired,” Balzan joked. “Daytona for us is where we almost have a championship race inside the championship, especially when there is an anniversary. Even though I never had an issue with the car last year, I know we can improve a lot.”
The aforementioned anniversary is that of Ferrari’s 60 years in North America, a yearlong celebration that begins this week. As part of the occasion, Ferrari’s GTO 250, which won the Daytona Continental 50 years ago in 1964, is on site at Daytona this weekend.
But while the past has been kind to Ferrari, the teams know they’ll have to work even harder in 2014 to stay on top in what is a seriously stacked GTD class.
The top 18 cars in GTD qualifying, from all six manufacturers, were separated by only 0.776 of a second.
“You saw the session on Friday, where 10 cars were covered by three tenths or so,” Mattioli said. “The BoP seemed to work. All cars are very close, and they all have great lineups. By definition, this field is very stiff.”
Scuderia Corsa starts second and third with the No. 63 and 65 cars, while the No. 64 car will start 26th.
Level 5’s pair of cars clocked in fifth with the No. 555 car, and seventh with the No. 556.
The other three international GTD Ferraris, which were revealed as either Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup or Rolex 24-only entries, will start a little further back.
The SMP/ESM Racing No. 72 entry qualified a respectable ninth in class, while the Spirit of Race entries will start 24th (No. 51) and 28th (No. 49).
Whether Ferrari can deliver an anniversary Daytona win, with the collective efforts of its four GTD teams, will be known in a little more than 24 hours.