Friday, January 3, 2014

A Chilly Day in Daytona Town

First things first, I’m so happy to be back in a heated room. Today was COLD! Fully grown men with thick skin were huddled around propane heaters, begging for hand warmers, and grumbling about how it was colder when they left their northern homes. With a high temperature of 48 degrees today, Daytona International Speedway was populated with scarves instead of shorts. Drivers who would normally change into street clothes for lunch wore their firesuits, completely zipped up, in hopes of salvaging some warmth.  Days like these do not usually allow for much useful data to be acquired. Since the likelihood of this weather repeating in a few weeks time isn’t great, teams didn’t take away as much from this first day of testing as they would’ve liked. A few told me they are more optimistic about race setups for tomorrow’s sessions, namely the night session. Night at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is about half as long as the night during the 24 Hours of Daytona. Tomorrow’s temperatures are predicted to hover around 70 (thank the Heavens).
Still, not all was lost for today. Here are some notes and tidbits learned today around the track:

The Mazda P2 car had some growing pains today, spending several hours in the garage. One car, being driven by ALMS and Grand-Am standout Tristan Nunez, recorded only 8 laps in the second session.
Corvette still hides their new C7.R livery from public cameras. The car’s look, which is to be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show, is rumored to have a paint scheme almost neon in color. No matter the livery, today both Corvettes showed great speed, topping the charts in the first session in a proper 1-2 fashion.
Corvette driver Jan Magnussen will not be able to attend his son’s first and much anticipated Formula 1 start for McLaren; the Australian Grand Prix falls on the same weekend as the 12 Hours of Sebring, where the proud dad will be trying for a 4th class win.
The Snow Racing entry had to be rebuilt after suffering issues entering Turn 1 fairly early into the first session. The Porsche 911 GT America logged only 4 laps before what looked to me like a tire failure under severe braking. The car, which lurched and jumped on the brakes in front of me, swerved and hit two cones, which caused the front end to explode in debris, showering the exit of the pit lane. The car skidded and avoided 2 other cars before coming to a rest in the grass where cars rejoin the oval. Snow Racing rebuilt the car for the second session, where it was 12th quick in class.
SRT added Rob Bell and brought Ryan Hunter-Reay back to the driving line-up. Bell, a factory McLaren GT driver, is no stranger to endurance races. He finished 2nd in class at the 2011 Rolex 24 Hours and is a 2-time ELMS champ. Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champion, returns to the SRT line up after racing in the 2011 Petit Le Mans, where he finished 8th.

Most drivers added to new teams (with the exception of Chip Ganassi Racing drivers) were wearing either white or team firesuits. One noticeable standout was Alexander Rossi, who wore his Caterham overalls instead. Rossi is a reserve driver with the Caterham F1 team and raced last year in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series for Arden Caterham.

The closing speed of the DPs on the P2 cars out of the tri-oval and into Turn 1 is astonishing to see. While the P2s are inherently faster through the infield and the DPs are designed to be faster on the oval, to see these principals put into action is something special. Before today, I thought the DPs had a big mountain to climb to be competitive. In fact, the balance falls more the other way. The top 3 times of the day went to Daytona Prototypes.

Which leads me to class leaders:
P -  90  Spirit of Daytona
PC – 87 BAR1 Motorsports
GTLM – 911 Porsche North America
GTD – 45 Flying Lizard Motorsports


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