Digging Deeper Into Rolex 24 Qualifying
By: Tony Rizzuti - @tonyrizzuti on January 25, 2013 | 11:52 A.M. EST
Scott Pruett's BMW-powered entry flexed its muscles Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, putting Chip Ganassi Racing on the pole for this weekend's Rolex 24. (Photo: Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Qualifying is in the books for the 51st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. Scott Pruett captured the pole for Chip Ganassi Racing, his third at "The World Center of Racing."
Scott Dixon, Pruett's CGR teammate, qualified second - giving BMW engines a sweep of the front row. Add a surprising run by Team Sahlen's Dane Cameron and you have a one-two-three start for the "Beemers." But what did we actually learn from Thursday's session?
Are the BMWs truly the fastest Daytona Prototypes on the track?
The answer is "Yes," according to qualifying. However, if you dig a little deeper, the answer may not be as obvious as it looks. Inside the garage, rumors and accusations of "sandbagging" ... not showing your full speed ... are running rampant. The Chevrolet Corvette teams were handed a restrictor to bring their rpm band down to 7,000, the same as Ford and BMW. The bow tie's fastest qualifier was the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona entry, which is fifth on the grid. Max Angelelli, who drives the No. 10 DP Corvette for Wayne Taylor Racing, was quoted as saying he would get lapped by the BMWs before the end of his first stint in the race. So where does the truth lie? I don't think we'll really know until the checkered flag falls on Sunday.
How impressive was the third-place qualifying run for Team Sahlen?
It was unbelievable considering this team ran Mazda RX-8's for the last few years in the GT class. Jumping up in class for some of the major factory teams isn't all that difficult. But for this small, seemingly independant team, there was a ton of blood, sweat and tears to get it up to speed. Maybe it was a David-versus-Goliath approach? Maybe it was Dinan BMW horsepower? Or whatever secret ingredients they put into those awesome New York State hot dogs? Whatever it was or is, it's great to see. It would truly be a Cinderella story if they were to podium at Daytona International Speedway.
Can Michael Shank Racing repeat in 2013?
Absolutely. MSR once again fields a two-car tandem for the Rolex 24 but this year, both entries are the Generation 3-model Ford/Riley. AJ Allmendinger and Justin Wilson return to defend their overall title with John Pew and a recovering Ozz Negri, who injured his leg training in the off-season. Add NASCAR shoe Marcos Ambrose to the mix and Michael Shank may once again shed tears of joy in Victory Lane. His cars will start fourth and sixth on Saturday.
Will Porsche once again dominate the high banks?
That appears to be the case in the Grand Touring (GT) class. The German manufacturer claimed the top three starting spots with Nick - not Jessica - Tandy fastest in the No. 32 for the Konrad Motorsport/Orbit team. Last year, it was Magnus Racing sneaking through the darkness to take the victory. John Potter has once again put together a top-notch team with Andy Lally returning to the No. 44, so Magnus will be one of my favorites to win this weekend. Add a strong Brumos Porsche team and multiple entries by Kevin Buckler's TRG organization, and you have a GT blitzkrieg.
If not Porsche, then who?
How about that tiny little company over in Italy? You may have heard of it ... Ferrari? Last year, Ferrari took the GT class championship with Aim Autosport and drivers jeff Segal and Emil Assentato. The boys in red have six teams entered this year, highlighted by the No. 03 Extreme Speed 458 and the Scuderia Corsa group, whose car was the fastest horse in qualifying at fifth-best. AF Waltrip shows off its NASCAR muscle with Clint Bowyer joining Michael Waltrip this year in the No. 56 entry, but overall straightaway speed is not what this car does best and unless Porsche has issues, a podium may be the best result for Ferrari.
What is this GX I keep hearing about?
Well, it's a new class in GRAND-AM for 2013. Designed to show off new technology, including alternative engines like diesel and hybrids, GX is where a lot of manufacturers see a real consumer return back to their showrooms. One such company is Mazda, who has three of the six teams in the new class. Yet, their SkyActive Turbo-Diesel powerplant has seen some issues. Speedsource had to change an engine due to the "idiot" light showing a problem that their engineers couldn't verify. Those teams also have the smallest fuel cell of the group at 14 gallons, due to the incredible fuel mileage they produce. Mazda qualified third thru fifth and has the experience in this race to pull out a victory. The other car in the series is the Porsche Cayman. It raced succesfully in the Continental Tire Series last year and took the top two spots in qualifying, with Shane Lewis grabbing the pole for Napleton Racing.
How do you survive and prosper through 24 hours?
That's what we're asking ourselves at Motor Racing Network. MRN will broadcast/stream 25 hours of coverage this weekend starting Saturday at 3 p.m. (ET). It is the first time that our talent has called the entire twice-around-the-clock action. Each team of announcers will work 11-hour shifts, with a few hours to rest in between. It will certainly be a challenge, but one we are all ready for.
Which brings me back to the orginal question. What did we learn Thursday?
While this may be the last Rolex 24 before the future GRAND-AM and American Le Mans Series merger, this race features some of the best story lines in years. And while all the teams will race for the checkered flag and that one-of-a-kind Rolex watch, the real winners will be the fans.