Despite being the only full-season all-Silver driver lineup, WeatherTech Racing’s Gunnar Jeannette believes he and Cooper MacNeil can still fight for the GT Daytona class title, as well as Rolex 24 class honors with their new Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Alongside newly crowned Virgin Australia Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen and Mercedes-AMG factory pilot Thomas Jaeger, the Riley Motorsports-run team is gearing up to take on one of the most competitive GTD fields in recent memory later this month.
Jeannette, who will be making his 11th start in the Florida endurance classic, said the competition across all four classes figures to be as tough as he has ever seen.
“I come from a very long background of sports car racing, and I remember doing this race when I was first getting going when there was 70-plus cars here,” Jeannette told Sportscar365.
“But the difference [now] is, pretty much in every category, everybody’s got a shot.
“In that time a decade-plus ago, there were so many people that were here to tick off ‘Daytona’.
“It was a bucket list thing, and there were whole teams like that, whereas now with everything going on in the WeatherTech Championship and in IMSA with the regulations they have, and sports car racing in general, every single car here except for just a handful all have the potential to win the race.
“It’s going to come down to not just being fast, but more so than ever keeping your nose clean.”
Jeannette, who saw his role with WeatherTech Racing expand mid-season last year, said a strong finish to 2016 helped pave the way for his larger presence with the team this season.
“I would definitely say [the end of 2016] had a decent part of why I’m here in the current role that I am, which is awesome,” he said.
“Obviously a lot of things have changed for WeatherTech Racing this year. Lot’s of big changes, and we’re all really looking forward to it.
The 2011 ALMS Prototype Challenge champion acknowledged that GTD is going through a transition with fewer traditional Pro-Am lineups like their full-season duo, but said he feels the team should still be able to compete for class honors.
“It makes it a little bit more difficult for us, personally at WeatherTech Racing, because we still have more of a ‘per-the-letter-of-the-law’ [GTD team],” Jeannette said.
“I can’t really throw stones though because I got my gig because I got a downgrade from Gold to Silver, and with the current driver ranking era that we’re in, it’s just the nature of the way racing is.
“You just have to play to your strengths and we still have a frickin’ awesome lineup with Thomas Jaeger and Shane Van Gisbergen joining us.
“Cooper has been doing a really, really good job, particularly the second half of last year and into this year. He really likes the new car that we’re in.
“I certainly wouldn’t say for the 24 Hours of Daytona that we are at a disadvantage for any of our competitors and I fully believe that we have a really good shot of winning this race.”
The team has made two previous visits to Daytona for pre-season testing, but this weekend’s Roar Before the 24 marks the first time all four drivers have been at the track together.
Jeannette said that makes this a critical weekend of preparation for the team ahead of the grueling 24-hour race later this month.
“We still have a decent amount to do just as far as ironing out detail stuff with seats and all of that,” he said. “That stuff is going to be very important. With the regulations, your last pit stop can kill you.
“If you have a driver change that takes three seconds too long, there can easily be 10-plus cars on the lead lap and you can come in in the lead and if you give up three seconds on a pit stop, you can leave in seventh or eighth and there goes you chances of winning this.
“So you really have to have everything nailed down to perfection.
“There definitely is stuff that we need to work on car wise, but from my perspective getting that stuff ironed out is equally as important as what we’re doing with the setup of the car.”