After coming up short in last year’s race, expectations are high on Lamborghini’s return to the Rolex 24 at Daytona, as the Italian manufacturer seeks redemption from a controversial debut outing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Twelve months ago, the five-strong Lamborghini Huracan GT3 contingent were the class of the field in GT Daytona, but faced post-race penalties for an alleged air restrictor anomaly, which IMSA discovered days after the event.
Ultimately it mattered little in the final reckoning, as despite managing a fastest lap an entire second faster than the best non-Lamborghini, none of the Huracan GT3s managed to convert their strong performance into victory.
Lamborghinis have been fastest through the speed traps during the weekend so far, but while it’s on-track advantage may not be so explicit 12 months on, as Ferrari locked out the front row in qualifying, the ‘other’ Italian marque is in an even better position to challenge.
With eight cars in the race, almost 30 percent of the GTD field, Lamborghini has stacked the deck in its favor.
And with a year’s experience of running the car in IMSA, Head of Lamborghini Motorsport Giorgio Sanna said he’s confident of being in the mix again.
“I think that last year was a learning year for everybody,” Sanna told Sportscar365.
“For us, it was the first year ever with customer teams in GT3, it was the first year in America [and] it was the first time for IMSA to have GT3 FIA cars.
“In the end we finished third [in the GTD championship] with Paul Miller Racing, which is a great result also considering the two pole positions and one victory.
“After a learning season of course we expect to get better results this year, but just because we can put in place more experience in the field, we cannot forget that we compete against other manufacturers that were here 30 or 40 years ago, we started last year!
“We just have to improve step by step and I’m sure that an important victory will arrive soon.”
Grasser Racing Team is among the new additions with two cars, after providing technical support to Lamborghini customer teams last year.
Team boss Gottfried Grasser admitted that he was disappointed not to have brought his own cars when he realized how strong the Huracan GT3 was last year, and is hoping to make up for lost time, with factory driver Mirko Bortolotti qualifying fifth in the No. 11 car.
“This was a shame last year because [the] chance the guys had was a present you may never get again,” Grasser told Sportscar365.
“I had a small teardrop in my eye to not bring a team here last year because this advantage of the car and this history of this place; to win a race there, when you have everything in your hands and you don’t make it is a bit of a shame.
“But anyway, it’s a new year, a new game and we’re really looking forward.
“We go here for sure to bring one car on the podium, otherwise we would have stayed at home and gone skiing.”
Marc Basseng experienced the heartache first-hand last year, as Konrad Motorsport co-driver Fabio Babini was forced to relinquish the lead to Rene Rast’s Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS with less than five minutes to go with fuel pickup problems.
The manner of defeat was even more galling for the team, having fought back from several laps down to get into a winning position.
However, Basseng believes that Lamborghini is better prepared across the board this time around.
“The race was quite busy, we had a lot of ups and downs, in total I think we lost nine laps during the whole race, but we were always able to come back,” he said.
“It was clear for me already on the [opening] stint that we had the car to win the race and this chance with this benefit comes not so often in racing to you. So the disappointment was quite big that we didn’t nail it in the end.
“We definitely hope for better preparation for the race.
“Last year, the car was completely in pieces… engine, gearbox, fuel tank, everything. So definitely, [the] preparation is much better and I hope this will all work out.”
This view is echoed by Change Racing boss Robby Benton, whose car was on course for a strong result last year when Justin Marks tangled with the Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini, eliminating both from contention.
“We learned a lot [from 2016], I wish we’d have learned the lessons we learned in not so hard of a manner,” Benton said. “I think we’re much better prepared, we know what to expect at this point.
“We put ourselves in a good position here last year and unfortunately caught a bad break mid-way through the race while we were leading. We need to not do that again!”
As for Sanna, everything Lamborghini has done since 2015 has been building towards this weekend, as the marque seeks its first 24-hour race victory.
“Absolutely I cannot be not happy, I can only be satisfied and proud,” he said.
“Especially me personally because I know very well how much effort and work we have out in place in the last three years to be here today, with 200 cars sold in just 24 months and eight cars in the field in one of the most important races in the world like Daytona.
“Eight teams is in my opinion a very good number. It means we are working in the right direction and our teams can appreciate this kind of effort – we are not here for a joke.”
John Dagys contributed to this report.