Roger Diez: Prep for Rolex 24 hour race begins Saturday
The 2018 racing season gets underway today with the first race of the year. An hour and 45 minute race today will be part of the mandatory “Roar Before the 24” three-day test session in preparation for the 56th running of the Rolex 24 hour race Jan. 27-28.
In addition to the regular WeatherTech Sportscar series drivers, stars from other racing disciplines with join the fun. Roger Penske has rejoined the series, fielding a pair of Acura prototypes. They will join the four Cadillacs, two Nissans, and two Mazdas in the Dpi field.
Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, now a full-time WeatherTech series driver, will head one team along with IndyCar driver Graham Rahal and prototype veteran Ricky Taylor. IndyCar champions Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud will join series regular Dane Cameron in the other Penske machine. IndyCar pilot Ryan Hunter-Reay will co-drive one of the Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillacs, and two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will be aboard the United Autosports Ligier LMP2 prototype.
In addition to the 20 prototype machines, 30 GT cars will take part in the test. Nine will be GTLM (Lemans) cars, and 21 GTD (Daytona) machines. IndyCar regulars Sebastien Bourdais and IndyCar champ Scott Dixon will each co-drive one of the Ganassi Ford GT entries in the GTLM class. A.J. Allmendinger is the only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver in the 24 this year, driving the Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3.
The IndyCar series had a glimpse of the future at Sebring in December, when selected drivers tested the new universal aero kits for the first time. Tony Kanaan summed up the new package with the comment, “It’s just different…I like it, but it’s different.” The intent of the change is to remove some of the aerodynamic grip from the cars, leaving car control in the hands of the driver. The December test completed six months of work by the engine manufacturers and the series itself. The changeover was much more than simply changing the wings at both ends of the cars. The safety structures at the sides of the car had to be redesigned, the radiators moved, and the then electronics relocated due to those changes. Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia did most of the testing, and both drivers felt the package created less turbulence, which will allow more passing. Team testing will be allowed beginning this coming Monday, but the real proof of concept with come at the March 11 season opener in St. Petersburg. That’s when a full field of cars will experience the reality of the changes in heavy traffic.
Also in IndyCar news, a driver has been selected to run the road and street course races in the No. 20 car for Ed Carpenter Racing. Carpenter, the sole owner/driver in the series, only does ovals, so 23-year-old British racer Jordan King will take over road and street course driving duties. King is a veteran open-wheel racer, winning the 2013 British Formula Three series. He spent last year in Formula Two, finishing in the top 10 in more than half of his races. Prior to that, he was a test driver for the Manor/Marussia Formula One team.
And speaking of Formula One, the mystery still remains of who will be the second Williams driver in 2018, following the final departure of Felipe Massa from the series. The team has said it will announce its choice sometime this month, but the two front-runners to join Lance Stroll on the team are Robert Kubica and Sergey Sirotkin. Kubica is 33 and a former F1 race winner who’s coming back from severe injuries suffered in a rally accident in 2011. Sirotkin is a three-time winner in the F2 series (formerly GP2), and was Renault F1 test and reserve driver for the past two seasons. In a test at Abu Dhabi at the end of the season, Kubica was the faster of the two by half a second, although he was running the hypersoft tire versus the soft compound for Sirotkin. Personally, I’d like to see Kubica back in the sport, because he was fun to watch.