While each of the six IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype class cars participating in the pre-season test at Daytona International Speedway competed in the 2015 Rolex 24 At Daytona, all have made significant changes in preparation for the 2016 endurance classic.
The two-day test concluded Wednesday with 24 cars representing all four WeatherTech Championship classes.
While Action Express Racing is bringing back both sets of season-long drivers for its cars that finished first and third in the 2015 Prototype standings, three veterans tested at Daytona for possible inclusion in the team’s endurance races.
Scott Pruett, the driver with the most wins in major North American sports car racing with 60 career victories, and 2013 Rolex 24 GT winner Filipe Albuquerque took laps in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Corvette DP. They joined defending Prototype class champions Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa.
Four-time IndyCar race winner Simon Pagenaud shared the No. 31 Whelen Engineering/Team Fox Corvette DP Eric Curran and Dane Cameron.
“It’s been awesome to be working with Action Express,” said Pruett, who is seeking an unprecedented sixth overall victory in the upcoming Rolex 24.
“It’s a great organization, and they’ve won the championship the last two years. It’s interesting to feel the differences in this type of car, because this is the first time I’ve driven a Prototype other than a Ganassi car.”
The biggest change for Michael Shank Racing was a new Honda HPD engine in the No. 60 Ligier JS P2. Ozz Negri and John Pew will return for 2016, and will be joined by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular AJ Allmendinger at the Rolex 24.
“I like getting back in this race car, it’s a lot of fun,” Allmendinger said. “It’s great coming back and seeing Mike Shank and all the guys – I haven’t seen them in a while. I also like getting back into the car; I wish I could drive it a lot more throughout the course of the year.
“I haven’t driven the Ligier since January, and there are a few new nuances with it to get used to. They have made a lot of improvements since last January and they’ve made the car a lot better.”
VisitFlorida.com Racing will have two new drivers in the No. 90 Corvette DP in 2016, Marc Goossens and Ryan Dalziel. Tristan Vautier and Peter Dumbreck joined Goossens at the test in consideration of joining the team in the four endurance races at Daytona, Sebring International Raceway, Watkins Glen International and Road Atlanta that make up the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup. Dalziel was not present.
Sean Rayhall tested with Claro/TracFone DeltaWing Racing, with the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites powered by Mazda graduate and previous Prototype Challenge competitor taking his first laps in the No. 0 DeltaWing DWC13.
“Looking at the car, I expected it to drive a lot differently than it did,” said Rayhall, who was joined by returning drivers Katherine Legge and Andy Meyrick. “But the only thing different about it was how reactive it really is. It actually drives really well around here.
“It’s super-fast on the straightaways, and it’s a pleasure to drive. It’s a really well put together car, and a well put together team. Katherine and Andrew are great to work with – they’re like my best friends. Right now, I’m evaluating all my options before making my decision for next year.”
Mazda Motorsports came to Daytona with a new engine, going to gasoline power for its No. 70 Mazda Prototype.
“We’re definitely in the ballpark,” said SpeedSource owner Sylvain Tremblay. “We knew the car would be good at the shorter circuits; here, we’re competitive with all the other Prototypes – save one – but everyone else is in that category.”
Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot tested with the team for the first time, joining returning drivers Tristan Nunez, Joel Miller and Tom Long. Jonathan Bomarito sat out the test to participate in the L.A. Auto Show, where he is driving in the unveiling of the new Mazda CX-9.
Four Prototype Challenge Teams Turn Testing Laps At Daytona
CORE autosport brought back two-time defending Prototype Challenge (PC) champions Colin Braun and Jon Bennett in the No. 54 Flex-Box/Composite Resources ORECA FLM09. Joining them at the test was Mark Wilkins – who will drive in the Patrón Endurance Cup races – along with new full-time race engineer Jeff Braun and data engineer Colin Mason.
“Our team is continuing to build its chemistry,” Bennett said. “This test was a nice opportunity to work together as a team formally preparing for 2016. The weather also provided a good opportunity to test our new Continental Tire rain tires, with reasonable success. Like always, it’s great to keep the team exercised during the long break between the Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda and the Rolex 24. This is a good sound check for us.”
Starworks Motorsport used the test to evaluate potential drivers Jack Hawksworth, Connor Kearby and Robert Alon. Hawksworth – an IndyCar regular – looks at doing the Rolex 24 in the No. 88 Starworks ORECA with team drivers Alex Popow, Renger van der Zande plus Chris Cumming.
Two-time Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race winner, Ashley Freiberg – who co-drove to victory at Road Atlanta in October’s season finale at Road Atlanta with Trent Hindman – also turned laps in the No. 88 machine late in the test.
“It was great getting Jack here, introducing him to the team and having him spend time in the car,” team owner Peter Baron said. “It was interesting to see how he felt our car compared to other PC cars he’s run in the series. We’re about a week away from announcing the lineup for our second car.”
BAR1 Motorsports had Johnny Mowlem testing with the team, joined by Ryan Eversley, Adam Merzon and team owner Brian Alder.
“We had Johnny set the pace for us, giving us a target,” Alder said. “He won the PC pole here last year with a different team. We had him running as a baseline and giving the other drivers something to shoot for. We’re comfortable in the car, and I think we’re better already than we were here last year.”
JDC-Miller Motorsports had 2015 regulars Stephen Simpson and Mikhail Goikhberg joined by Chris Miller, working on getting the car set up for the Rolex 24. The team has yet to announce its fourth driver for the event.
The next official IMSA WeatherTech Championship activity will be the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona, set for Jan. 8-10 at Daytona International Speedway. The 2016 season opens with the 54th Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 30-31.