Roar Before The Rolex 24 At Daytona - Day 1 Notebook
Friday, January 5, 2018

Alonso Turns First Daytona Laps As Roar Before The Rolex 24 Gets Under Way

Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso turned his first laps at Daytona International Speedway on Friday during the opening day of the three-day Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona test.

And while the Spaniard has driven on a variety of road racing circuits throughout his storied career, it’s safe to say he hadn’t previously experienced anything like the unique, 3.56-mile Daytona course.

“I did, unfortunately, only three laps this morning, but enough to have a feeling in the car and on the Speedway as well,” said Alonso regarding his maiden DIS laps aboard the No. 23 United Autosports Ligier LM P2 car. “The coolness and the high banking were special. You feel the compression in the body and you feel the visibility change, because when you are in, let’s say, the normal part of the circuit, you have a view in the car that is a little bit longer ahead.

“When you are in the corner with the banking, you see the next 200 meters of the track and only that. I was trying to look where the track was going. It was good fun and a fast feeling.”

While already an established worldwide racing superstar with his F1 titles, Alonso’s popularity among many U.S. race fans soared last May when he contended for the win in his first Indianapolis 500 before a mechanical issue removed him from contention. He was competitive throughout the month of May at Indy and was focused on the singular goal of winning the race, even as he learned a new racing format. He’s taking the same approach at Daytona.

“It’s more or less the same goal as Indianapolis, first of all, to try to learn different driving techniques,” Alonso said. “I’m trying to learn from the specialists of endurance races and try to be a better driver when the 24 hours finish. That’s the first aim. It’s the first time for me in an endurance race, first time in a Prototype car, first time driving at night, the first time driving with GT around, so many new things will come step-by-step.”

Albuquerque Quickest in No. 5 Cadillac DPi on First Day of Roar

Portuguese driver Filipe Albuquerque got the first day his inaugural full-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season off to a strong start, leading both of the day’s practice sessions at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Albuquerque’s best lap in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi-V.R was 1 minute, 37.196 seconds (131.851 mph) in the car he is sharing with two-time WeatherTech Championship Prototype champions Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi. Albuquerque and the team finished second in last year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona.

“So far, so good,” Albuquerque said. “I was P1 in both sessions, but it’s so early. Everyone is still checking out their cars, but as we’ve already been together one year and the car is ready, so we are just as ready as you could be and we are flat out already. We are not really playing the games of sandbagging whatsoever, but we are careful with the pace of everyone. We’re still waiting for them, because we don’t believe in the pace of some cars.”

What may offer a clearer picture in terms of pace is Sunday’s qualifying session in which teams will earn their pit and garage spaces for the Rolex 24 At Daytona weekend based on their speeds.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be, to be honest,” Albuquerque said. “Especially with the Roar, nobody wants to show their hand, and blah, blah, blah. I go to Iain (Watt), my engineer, and just say, ‘Look, I’ll do whatever you want. In the car, I do my best.’ Hopefully, it’ll be like this.

“I think everyone will be afraid to push. We are showing our hand, and I hope that they come back, the other guys, because to walk so far away, it’s not great. So, let’s see how it goes, this qualifying. I think it’s a great thing that IMSA did for some guys to show their hand, because they will know that they have more in the pocket. I like the idea, let’s see how it goes.”

Vanthoor Leads the Way in GTLM to Start Second WeatherTech Championship Season

After a debut season in the 2017 WeatherTech Championship in which he learned many of the nuances of the series, Belgian driver Laurens Vanthoor is looking to take a step forward this season as full-time co-driver of the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR with Earl Bamber. He’s off to a good start so far, posting the quickest GTLM time of the day at 1 minute, 44.065 seconds (123.148 mph).

“It’s going to be quite different compared to last year, because last year when I came here, basically everything was new,” Vanthoor said. “It was like I was starting over in my career. I didn’t know the team, the car, I didn’t know the championship, the tracks, the rules, I hadn’t been in America so much, so I was a bit panicking in the first race, because it was like going to school and starting something completely new. This year, I’m standing here and I know everything. I know what’s coming and I’m far more prepared.”

Vanthoor, Bamber and endurance racing teammate Gianmaria Bruni will continue to prepare over the next two days as the Roar Before The Rolex 24 continues.

Perera Quickest in GTD in American Racing Return

French driver Franck Perera turned the fastest lap of the first day at the Roar in the WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) class, posting a best time of 1 minute, 47.175 seconds (119.574 mph) in the No. 11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Hurcán GT3.

What made the feat somewhat more impressive was the fact that it was Perera’s first time on the Daytona International Speedway circuit, and his first time on an American racetrack in a decade. He previously completed in IndyCar, Indy Lights and the former Atlantic Championship open-wheel racing series.

“It was amazing,” he said. “First of all, it’s quite emotional to be back in America. It’s been 10 years since I left America from IndyCar and Indy Lights. It’s a different category for me. This is a new start for me, because I just signed with Lamborghini and Grasser. This is the beginning of our work together, so first time in the car, with the team and the track, so everything is completely new for me, but everything went well.

“I tried to learn everything and go step-by-step. I’m quite happy about the car and the track, I was quite impressed. I remember when I driving IndyCar and with the GTs it’s different, but to feel the banking again, it’s nice.”