While the new-look GT Daytona class has seen an influx of new GT3 machinery, it’s also ushered in a new manufacturer to top-level IMSA competition in Lamborghini, which is set for its highly anticipated Rolex 24 debut.
The Italian manufacturer has turned out in force to Daytona, with five of its new Huracán GT3s entered across four teams, and at least three expected for the entire IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
Lamborghini’s impressive arrival into top-level IMSA competition has been a vision of Giorgio Sanna’s, Head of Lamborghini Motorsport, for a number of years, culminating with the brand’s first-ever appearance in the 24-hour classic this weekend.
“For us, it’s more than a dream,” Sanna told Sportscar365. “Two years ago I was here to see the race for the first time. We had the vision to participate in the 24 Hours of Daytona.
“So to be here, 24 months later with five cars, competitive teams, a very good lineup of drivers, teams that are trusting in us… It’s already been a big success for us.”
Lamborghini has opted for a mix of teams for its first full-season of customer GT3 racing, and the Huracán GT3’s first appearance on U.S. soil.
Both former Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America champions Change Racing and O’Gara Motorsport step up to the WeatherTech Championship, while GTD front-runners Paul Miller Racing makes the switch from Audi for 2016.
Additionally, Konrad Motorsport fields a pair of Huracán GT3s at Daytona. The German squad, confirmed for the four-round Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup, competed in Super Trofeo Europe last year.
While the majority of its teams have experience and achieved success with the new-for-2015 Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2 Super Trofeo, the Huracán GT3 has proven to be a completely different car altogether in coming to grips with.
“Obviously it’s a big learning curve for us, in learning this car,” Change Racing team principal Robby Benton told Sportscar365. “While we do have a really good rapport and track record with Lamborghini, this car is completely new from what we’re used to.”
Benton, a veteran NASCAR team co-owner, heads into his first 24-hour race with some added experience, having employed several key members from the Grasser Racing Team, including engineer Wim Everaets, who worked seven 24-hour races in 2015.
GRT team principal Gottfried Grasser, who fielded the factory Huracán GT3s in the Blancpain Endurance Series last year, is also playing a hands-on role in providing technical and engineering support to all four customer teams this weekend.
“We reached out to Gottfried,” Benton said. “He’s become a good friend of the team and made a deal with him to have a few of his key guys come in and work in parallel with us.
“It’s hard to shun their experience with the car. They know the car so well that I want to have one on each side of me during the race.”
O’Gara, another newcomer to GTD competition, has noted the level of support from Lamborghini and Squadra Corse, as well as the sister Lamborghini teams, in helping overcome the learning curve.
“This whole Balance of Performance, we’re unfamiliar with,” team owner Tom O’Gara told Sportscar365. “I think Robby Benton is also in our shoes; he comes out of NASCAR. But Paul Miller is quite sophisticated, obviously, and have been there and done that before.
“That’s the nice thing about the teams, we meet and talk. There’s a lot of support among us there.”
Paul Miller Racing team manager Mitchell Simmons said Lamborghini’s technical support has surpassed his initial expectations and was one of the selling points in the championship-contending team switching to the Huracán GT3.
“We wanted to make sure that once we made the move to GT3 that we would be competitive and we would have the backing to give us a real shot at the championship,” Simmons told Sportscar365.
“Obviously we talked to Audi, at length, and we ended up going with Lamborghini after meeting with them. This is the highest tier of racing for Lamborghini. That was very, very appealing to us.”
Simmons said the team was offered 15 days of testing with a test car for free — only paying for fuel and tires — prior to taking delivery of its own Huracán GT3 last month.
“They’ve been fantastic in offering all the data they have on the car, which is substantial,” he said. “I think the technical capability is a lot higher than I thought it would be.
“Gottfried Grasser has been absolutely instrumental in helping us along. He’s been really, really good and his crew that he’s brought has been fantastic.”
While Konrad is coming off an encouraging debut in the 24 Hours of Dubai — which saw its Huracan GT3 contend for a podium finish until retiring with engine failure with less than 30 minutes remaining — the three other teams are optimistic of achieving strong results in their first time out with the car.
O’Gara’s lineup, featuring reigning GTD champions and 2014 Rolex 24 class winners Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell, is considered to be one of the strongest in the class, alongside Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow, who join the new-look Paul Miller effort.
The No. 28 Konrad entry, meanwhile, qualified second in class on Thursday in the hands of Marc Basseng, with Lamborghini factory driver Fabio Babini among the driving force in the car this weekend.
“I really think we can win our class,” O’Gara said. “We have to stay out of trouble for 23 hours; we have to be careful. We understand what it takes.”
Benton, who is carrying the No. 16 on his team’s Huracan GT3 in celebration of company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini’s 100th birth year in 2016, realizes the importance of having a good result and flying the flag.
“There are a lot of things culminating together that are making this a special event,” Benton said. “I can tell you we will at least do our part in making sure the brand has a good showing.
“We’re all here to race against each other, but at the same time, I hope that we can all, at least to a certain degree or a certain point, put the brand up on a pedestal and have a good showing for Lamborghini.”
As has been the case in the car’s two previous 24-hour races, Sanna has learned you also need a bit of luck.
“Every 24-hour race is like a long poker game,” he said. “You also need to be lucky, to be in the right moment when the time comes.”