Roger Diez: Testing begins for Rolex 24 | NevadaAppeal.com

Roger Diez: Testing begins for Rolex 24

Roger Diez

As you read this, the sound of racing engines is in the air at Daytona International Speedway. Yes, it's the three-day "Roar Before the Twenty-Four" test weekend for the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Forty-seven of the 50 entered teams and more than 150 drivers are taking part in this year's test session, including some familiar names. Remember Alex Zanardi, the Champ Car/CART driver who lost both legs in a racing crash in Germany in 2001? He'll be co-driving a BMW in this year's race.

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Although many of the drivers in the race are European or American sports car specialists, there are some familiar names on the roster. From the Indy Car ranks, we find both current and former stars, including Sebastian Bourdais, Ryan Briscoe, three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, five-time champion Scott Dixon, Christian Fittipaldi, Jack Hawksworth, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Katherine Legge, Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal, Sebastian Saavedra, Tristan Vautier, and Juan Pablo Montoya (who also carries NASCAR and Formula One credentials as well). Recently retired two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso is also competing. Two former NASCAR drivers will also compete; the aforementioned Montoya and A.J. Allmendinger, who will also provide commentary for the TV coverage of the race.

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There are some familiar team names entered as well, the most prominent of which are Team Penske and Ganassi Racing. Penske is fielding two Acura prototypes in the P1 category, while Ganassi has a pair of Ford GT entries in the GT Le Mans class. The manufacturers represented are a who's who of performance vehicles. They include Porsche, BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet Corvette, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mazda, Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, Nissan, Ford, and Acura.

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The race itself is just three weeks away, and will be televised on the NBC Sports Network, starting with a preview show and qualifying on Thursday, Jan. 24 and ending with the checkered flag and post-race interviews on Sunday, Jan. 27.

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The NASCAR season also opens at Daytona two weeks later on Feb. 10 with the Advance Auto Parts Clash, followed by the Daytona 500 a week later. It will be the last restrictor plate race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup cars. The hated plate will be replaced this year with a tapered spacer implemented to cut horsepower. The spacer will have a diameter of 1.17 inches for shorter tracks and 0.922 inch for tracks over a mile in length. The smaller spacer will cut horsepower by about 200, down from 750 to 250. The cars will also have a higher downforce package achieved by a taller eight inch rear spoiler, aero ducts, and a two inch front splitter overhang coupled with a 37 inch radiator pan tapering to 31 inches. The changes are an evolution of the 2018 aero package, intended to put more control into the driver's hands and provide closer racing. The aero ducts, which channel air out to the sides of the car, will be used primarily on the 1.5 mile tracks. They won't be used on superspeedways, short tracks, or road courses.

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The final package came about due to a collaboration among NASCAR engineers, original equipment manufacturers, and engine builders. The intent was to have two basic packages that would suit the majority of tracks, thereby reducing costs while providing closer racing. Reaction from drivers and fans were mixed, but I think we should wait and see how the new rules work out. NASCAR is certainly willing to tweak things if needed to improve the show.

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So hang in there, race fans. Relief is just around the corner!