Rebellion Racing team manager Bart Hayden has been pleased with the progress made with the team’s new Oreca 07 Gibson in the opening two days of testing at Daytona, despite questions over the ultimate pace of the new-look Prototype class.
The Anglo-Swiss squad, in its return to IMSA competition for the first time in three years, has topped the time charts in four of the five sessions at the Roar Before the 24, heading into Sunday’s final day of pre-season testing.
While Neel Jani’s 1:38.944 lap from Saturday night has so far set the pace, it’s still more than one-second slower than the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R’s best time from the December test.
With the Cadillacs having been given aero adjustments from IMSA, and the global-spec LMP2 cars unchanged, the early advantage appears to have gone to the Gibson-powered prototypes, although Hayden isn’t fully convinced just yet.
“We’re not quite sure,” Hayden told Sportscar365. “We don’t quite understand what changes have been made [to the DPis] and also why there’s such a difference in the lap time here compared to what they were doing at the test.
“Whether that’s due to the changes that’ve been made or whether that’s, shall we say ‘pacing’ going on, it’s not really 100 percent clear.
“Obviously I think everyone has been a bit careful about the hand that they show, but from where we are I think we’re pleased.
“The Oreca car out of the box is obviously quite well suited to the track. Neel’s learned it quickly.
“I think we’ve benefited from the fact that Neel has been able to drive the car alone for the first couple of days just through the fact that the other guys had to be in Las Vegas for the Formula E event.
“When they arrive [today], Neel will step aside and they’ll have to do what they can to learn. That’ll be a bit more of a challenge I think.”
Jani’s Rolex 24 co-drivers Stephane Sarrazin, Nick Heidfeld and Sebastien Buemi are all set to get seat time today, in what’s a different chassis the team began its U.S.-based program with last month.
An accident by Sarrazin in the Dunlop tire test at Sebring resulted in a complete rebuild of the car around a spare Oreca 05 tub, upgraded to 2017 specification, which arrived at the team’s U.S. based in Atlanta on Dec. 30.
“Myself and some of the guys were there over New Years Eve and New Year’s Day, and we left there on [Jan.] 4th ready to go,” Hayden said.
“We thought we would be tight getting prepared anyway, but when we had that accident it made life a bit more tricky.
“But we achieved it, and that’s a testament to the guys over at ORECA and also the hard work from the crew at Rebellion Racing. I’m really proud of that.
“To get the car out [on Friday] at the front of the grid was an awesome feeling after so much hard work the last few weeks.”
With the team set for the full Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, including Daytona and Sebring, Rebellion will be one of only two European-based teams to gain race experience with the new LMP2 platform prior to the start of the WEC or ELMS seasons.
Hayden feels that could play into their benefit heading into their first year of WEC LMP2 competition but hasn’t discounted other teams’ previous experience of the Oreca platform in the cost-capped prototype ranks.
“I think from an understanding the systems point of view, probably yes,” he said.
“From a car setup point of view, I think a lot of the folks that have run the ORECA P2 cars previously in the 05-spec will probably have data and an understanding of the cars that helps them to shortcut.
“I don’t think there’ll be a massive advantage, and the fact is that the guys who have been driving the car to date are not part of the WEC driver lineup.
“So there’s an element of learning from the driver’s point of view.”