A number of new cars that will potentially compete in the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship made their official on-track debut Tuesday, in the opening of a two-day preseason test at Daytona International Speedway.
Twenty-four cars representing all four WeatherTech Championship classes participated. No times were published for the session.
The Ford GT and BMW M6 GTLM turned their first laps in public, joined by the updated Corvette C7.R in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.
“It’s exciting to be here,” said Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team manager Mike O’Gara. “It’s great to see it here in the new paint scheme, and to show the car to other people. We no longer have to be secretive about the project.
“We’re still sorting out the car and cycling our potential drivers through the Ganassi system. So far, the car’s working flawlessly. Our main objectives here are to put miles on the car and work on durability, see what’s going to break, and get the drivers comfortable with the car and working with each other and the engineers.”
Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan was happy to see the new Fords in the paddock.
“I think it’s a testament to the power and influence that road racing in North America has on the global world of automobiles, when you can attract full-factory efforts such as we have here, with Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette, BMW, and now Ford,” Fehan said.
“I think everyone in this paddock sees Ford as a definite benefit, moving us all down the road to road racing success.
“Ford, Chevy, Ferrari – we’ve all had great battles back and forth – but it’s been a long, long time since we’ve had this level of expertise being presented by the top manufacturers of the world. It’s a great testament to what we’re all trying to achieve.”
Fehan said the biggest differences from last year’s Corvette were a redesigned roll cage to add a removable hatch in the roof, along with a larger front splitter, larger rocker sill splitters, new rear diffuser and different placement of the rear wing.
Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia return in the Daytona-winning No. 3 Corvette C7.R, joined by Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin are back in the No. 4 entry.
On Monday, the team announced that Mike Rockenfeller and Marcel Fassler for the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida.
Early this morning, Corvette Racing also announced that WeatherTech Championship Prototype racers Jordan and Ricky Taylor will complete its driver lineup in the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“I think that anyone who looks at our driver lineup would be reasonably impressed with those we are presenting at this point in time,” Fehan said.
“Marcel has been with us before, and we’ve had great success with him before, so getting him back was a no-brainer.
“When Mike (Rockenfeller) became available we went after him as well. I talked to Dr. [Wolfgang] Ullrich (head of Audi Motorsport) to get permission to do that, and he was thrilled to help as he was in years past.”
BMW Team RLL hit a snag on Tuesday morning when a transmission part broke, sending the team to the garage until a replacement part arrived early in the afternoon.
“We’re still working on the logistics with the new car, and we have parts in transit,” said Victor Leleu, BMW North America motorsports manager.
“We had a good test at Sebring, and the car is showing promise. We look to perfect a few things here – and we’re happy with it so far. Now we need to put the mileage in and get ready for the race in January.”
Returning to the team were Bill Auberlen, John Edwards and Lucas Luhr. Canadian driver Bruno Spengler also joined the team for the test.
New GT3 Cars Take to Track in GT Daytona
The GT Daytona (GTD) class featured a variety of exciting new race cars, including new models from Lamborghini, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes and other returning cars from Aston Martin and Dodge.
Change Racing fielded the No. 16 Lamborghini Huracán GT3. The car, campaigned in Europe by Grasser Motorsports, was used for the test to give WeatherTech Championship teams Change Racing, O’Gara Motorsports and Paul Miller Racing the opportunity to test in the car at Daytona while they were awaiting their 2016 cars.
A fourth team, Konrad Motorsport, used that car in the recent HSR Classic 24 Hour at Daytona Presented by IMSA historic event.
“Wow, the car is really nice – smooth as silk,” said Bill Sweedler, the 2014 GTD champion who will join Townsend Bell in the O’Gara Motorsports Lamborghini Huracán GT3.
“I’m still getting acclimated to the car, but I’m surprised it’s as smooth as it actually is. Lamborghini has put in a lot of effort this past year working on the GT3 specs to get the car dialed in. We get our car in two weeks, and I hope to be competitive right out of the box.”
Also testing the Lamborghini were Madison Snow, Bryan Sellers and Bryce Miller for Paul Miller Racing, and Corey Lewis, Richard Antinucci and Justin Marks for Change Racing.
Some Lamborghini teams will be in action this weekend at Sebring International Raceway for the Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Final, the culmination of the Super Trofeo North America, Europe and Asia series seasons.
Turner Motorsport car owner Will Turner watched as BMW development drivers worked on a BMW M6 GT3 similar to the cars his team will field in 2016.
“We’re receiving our two cars in December,” Turner said. “I’m happy because everyone has been smiling while out of the car. They’re doing a lot of development work, because this is the first time the car has been to Daytona.”
Turner will release his full driver lineup in the near future, although Michael Marsal will return to the No. 97 and Bret Curtis will be in the No. 96.
Like their Lamborghini counterparts, Audi Sport Customer Racing fielded the No. 76 Audi Sport Customer Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 for several drivers representing different teams at the test.
“This car is a huge difference from the car we raced here last year, especially for driver comfort,” said driver Christopher Haase.
“The old car was not very easy to drive, but the new one is just great. Of course, the ABS and traction control helps, and even the balance of the car is much more stable.
“This is our first time on the Continental Tire, but the balance was quite good from the start and the car easy to handle. Now we are trying to be comfortable with everything, and do some setup work.”
Team owner Kevin Buckler turned in a few laps in the No. 007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin GT3.
“The car’s happy and easy to drive,” said Buckler, who was joined by Tim Pappas and Nicky Catsburg. “It’s a good car for the Rolex 24 – we’re going for win number five next year.”
Mercedes had three cars at the test. Thomas Jager and Yelmer Buurman of the Mercedes-AMG Test Team drove the newest Mercedes-AMG GT3, while DragonSpeed has a pair of Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 cars that it plans to run on Wednesday. Frankie Montecalvo and Nick Mancuso will share the team’s No. 18, while Victor Gomez will drive the No. 19.
Also participating in GTD were Riley Motorsports, running the No. 33 Viper Exchange Dodge Viper GT3-R with Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Marc Miller, a sister car to last year’s Rolex 24 class winner; and Autometrics Motorsports, with Cory Friedman and Joe Toussaint in the No. 24 Porsche 997 GT3-R.
Testing continues on Wednesday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday’s report will focus on the Prototype and Prototype Challenge teams. The test is closed to the public.